Eight new players and a shift toward a more up-tempo style to boost scoring have the Indiana Pacers eager to get started in Saturday’s home preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Between now and when the Pacers open the regular season at the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 28, there are several questions to be answered.
For starters, the Pacers have 16 guys on their overhauled roster, which means one will have to go. That might not seem like a pressing concern, but it’s certainly on the minds of those players at the end of the roster.
“It’s wide open,” Pacers president Larry Bird said recently on media day. “There will be a lot of opportunities for a lot of different players to step up to the game. We’ll let it play out.”
Paul George is more than a year removed from a broken leg and sounds refreshed and ready to prove he’s one of the NBA’s best players. His goal, aside from taking on a more leadership role, is to be the league MVP in his sixth season.
“I am a leader this year,” George said. “I plan on taking a larger role in preparation and just relaying messages. At the end of the day, they want to depend on me.
“I’m ready for it. I feel like it’s my time. It’s really my opportunity. I’ve always been the one who has loved the most pressure. I’ve got big shoulders. I can handle it.”
The Pacers will be asking him to play some power forward, a switch he’s not exactly thrilled about, but the idea is to make the team faster and more difficult to guard on offense. Pacers president Larry Bird played power forward during his legendary career and is convinced, along with head coach Frank Vogel, that George will eventually take to the position.
Some would say George doesn’t have the strength to play inside, but the Pacers see a versatile 6-9, 200-pound player who is still just 25, is their best defender and capable of doing just about anything, expect play center.
Rookie center Myles Turner, selected with the 11th overall pick, has a lot of talent but he’s just 19 and has some growing to do in terms of adding some muscle. Forward Lavoy Allen was re-signed and is important because he proved last season he’s the team’s best rebounder. Center-forward Jordan Hill, another of the new additions, brings six years of NBA experience.
Although Hibbert was inconsistent offensively, he was an undeniable rim protector. Not having him as a back line of defense will require players to be more reliable in man-to-man.
“Our defensive principles are going to stay the same,” said Vogel, who has a 205-144 record in five seasons. “The plan here is to be as proficient as we’ve been defensively, or as close to it as possible, and stick to our defensive concepts that have worked for us here the last couple of years while adding more offensive firepower and being more prolific on the offensive end.”
What the Pacers have in abundance are shooting guards. While George Hill returns for his eighth season and is expected to play point guard, he’s more of a two. So, too, is 11th-year-pro Monta Ellis, the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here,” Ellis said, “great coaching staff, great organization. That’s the key. We have all of those things and we put it together, I think we can do some wonderful things.”
Re-signed Rodney Stuckey was the team’s best bench player a year ago and is comfortable sparking the team as a reserve, although he finished his share of games last year.
The Pacers used a second-round draft choice on Joseph Young, a shooting guard out of Oregon. The rookie will have to show a lot to get into the rotation.
Guard-forwards C.J. Miles and Solomon Hill return. Miles is confident he’ll still be leading this team in 3-point shooting. It’s an important year for Hill, who improved last season with more quality minutes and is looking to take another step.
Not having George until the end of last season as well as too many key injuries prevented the Pacers from making the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. They almost made it at 38-44, losing the final game and being edged for a postseason berth by virtue of a tiebreaker.
Bird has said this season’s goal is still the same, to make the playoffs. If the up-tempo style flourishes in this trending NBA era of small ball, making the postseason shouldn’t be an unattainable goal.
“Well, yeah, there are a lot of unknowns,” Vogel said. “I don’t know if it changes our approach. Every year, you have things you have to get accomplished with whatever your roster looks like.
“Every year has different challenges. This year, we have a lot of new faces and we’re going to implement a new style of play. Both of those things, we’re very excited about.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.