Often, in an attempt to come across as profound thinkers and intelligent minds, one ignores the most obvious answer.
Riddle me this: How in the world do we not anoint Indiana Pacers?
A team that was, for the most part, built and successful by utilizing a strength in numbers approach has lost its two most skilled pieces. Lance Stephenson has emerged as one of the most productive and impactful two-way shooting guards in the conference, but instead of flanking Paul George, Stephenson is down in Charlotte with fellow New York City native, Kemba Walker. The Hornets are considered to be a team on the rise out East, but the Pacers, obviously, are now the opposite. They were considered so even before George’s gruesome leg injury sustained over the summer.
In time, George will return, but there is almost no chance of him returning at any point during the regular season. The Pacers will attempt to qualify for the playoffs without him, and that will be no easy task. While the club does have a few things going for them—David West, Roy Hibbert and Frank Vogel, the latter recently signing a three-year extension with the club—they are now functioning with at a talent deficit.
A look around the Eastern Conference reveals that things are getting a bit tougher. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls look to be the head of the class, while the Miami HEAT, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors will likely round out the top five. Stephenson and the Hornets will almost certainly be a playoff team, which means that the Pacers will likely be vying for one of the final few playoff spots amongst a mix of teams that includes the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons.
Under the recently re-signed Vogel, the Pacers have become one of the league’s top defensive teams, and if there is one thing that Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls teams have taught us, it’s that a good defensive coach can get good defensive play out of anyone. West will do his best to lead this team and lead by example and together, if they play as a team, share the ball and execute a good offensive game plan, they can be a greater sum together than they are individually.
Still, though, the odds are stacked against the Pacers. A team that has struggled to score at times in the past has lost its two best offensive weapons in Stephenson in George. The team that went 105-58 over the past two seasons and appeared in the Eastern Conference for two consecutive years will not make it to three. After losing their two most valuable pieces, the Pacers will need increased contributions from both West and Hibbert and their playoff chances may hinge on the productivity of C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey and Chris Copeland.
No disrespect to Vogel, his staff or the members of the Pacers, but if the discussion is team most likely to falter, the easy answer is the Pacers.
– Moke Hamilton