Paul George sure has regained the spring in his step and should flourish in a spread-out, faster-paced offense. And his Indiana Pacers have plenty of perimeter scoring options.
These two truths were most evident from Saturday night’s preseason opener.
The work-in-progress issues, as expected with a small-ball lineup, are defense and rebounding.
Just five days into training camp, the Pacers’ 110-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse provided a preview of what to expect from an overhauled Indiana team in transition.
“Plenty of positives,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, “and plenty to work on.”
Vogel didn’t seem too concerned about the defense just yet. He admitted his squad hasn’t concentrated on that end of the court just yet. And he said his offseason conversations with other coaches who play small ball advised that rebounding will be a continual struggle and repeated point of emphasis.
Accentuating the positives, the Pacers outrebounded the Pelicans 62-55 (although the starters were outrebounded 20-18). And they do look stronger on offense, which was to be expected given the healthy return of George. More than a year removed from breaking his right leg, the two-time All-Star scored 10 of his team’s initial 19 points as the Pacers built an early lead.
Still, the Pacers were out of control at times in their zeal to run. They had 20 turnovers to the Pelicans’ 11.
Alas, this is merely the beginning of a long road, and the part of the schedule where the games don’t count. The Pacers are bringing together a roster with eight new players, and it’s going to take some time to get used to the fast-paced change in style on both ends. The regular-season opener isn’t until Oct. 28 at Toronto.
“I like the weapons that we have,” said George, who scored a team-high 18 points in about 24 minutes of playing time. “As far as our wings, we’ve got the best tandem of wings, at least top five in this league.”
When the Pacers led 19-15, George had 10 points and guard-forward C.J. Miles scored the other nine. Both were hot from the outset, although Miles sat down after playing about 9 1/2 minutes. The 11th-year pro rested, which gave others a chance to play more minutes.
“With the talent we have in that group, all five of those guys know how to play basketball,” he said of the starting lineup, which had Ian Mahinmi at center, George at power forward, Miles at small forward, Monta Ellis at shooting guard and George Hill at point guard.
“It’s like, ‘Man, we can get out and go.’”
The offensive spacing allows these players to flourish, but the Pacers need to learn when to go and when to pull back. Ellis, the team's biggest offseason addition in free agency, was questionable with a sore lower back and played like he was affected by it. He scored just two points, missed all four of his field-goal attempts, and wasn't overly aggressive in his Pacers debut.
The Pacers also have to figure out how to match up defensively when outsized. George, who isn’t thrilled about playing power forward, drew probably the toughest matchup he could face in 6-10 forward Anthony Davis, who scored 18 points.
The 22-year-old Davis is arguably the NBA’s best young talent, but the Pelicans were just 16th in scoring last season at 99.4 points per game and tied for 11th at 98.6 points allowed. They finished 45-37 and earned the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed by virtue of a tiebreaker, and were swept by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the first round.
The Pacers finished 38-44 last season and lost out on the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed by virtue of a tiebreaker. It's the first time they've missed the playoffs since 2009-10. President Larry Bird and Vogel decided to get with the trending times of the league and go with a faster small-ball style.
This team needs to score more after finishing 23rd in the field goal percentage (.439) and 24th in points scored at 97.3 per game. The 30-team league average was 100 points. The upside to the statistical look back is the Pacers allowed just 97 points per game, which tied for third.
So looking ahead, without the departed interior presence of center Roy Hibbert and forward David West, the Pacers will be trying to play the same consistent defense while at least getting into the top half of the league in scoring.
Hill scored 11 points and the bench trio of forward Solomon Hill, center Jordan Hill and Glenn Robinson each scored 10. Rookie center-forward Myles Turner, the team’s first-round pick, had just three points on foul shots and missed his five field-goal attempts. Second-round pick Joseph Young, a second-round pick, didn’t shoot well, either, as he made just 3-of-11 shots for seven points, but showed decent quickness in handling the point. He did commit four turnovers.
“The small lineup looked good at times,” Vogel said. “We struggled to rebound and if we don’t turn the ball over so much, we probably would have even a lot more effective, but I thought it was pretty effective early. You saw what it’s capable of from an explosive standpoint in the first quarter.
“But, we’ve got a lot to work on.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.
Pacers preseason schedule
Tuesday, Oct. 6 — at Detroit Pistons, Palace of Auburn Hills, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 8 — vs. Orlando Magic, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 7 p.m. (Note date change due to Indiana Fever playing in WNBA Finals. Game originally scheduled for Oct. 9.)
Tuesday, Oct. 13 — vs. Detroit Pistons, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 15 — at Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans Arena, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 20 — at Chicago Bulls, United Center, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 22 — vs. Charlotte Hornets, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, Ind., 7 p.m.