The Pacers got their guy Paul George back last season in all his glory, worthy of a big Indianapolis sigh of relief even if it had been the only positive development. It wasn't, though; Indiana finished eight games over .500, then pushed the Toronto Raptors to seven games before losing the first-round series. Then there was rookie Myles Turner, a promising young franchise pillar. Now some newly acquired vets have the Pacers poised to pursue a top-four seed in the East. It's on new coach Nate McMillan to keep the pace up offensively while rebuilding defensive habits.
Pacers president Larry Bird didn't seem to have his heart in it but he got rid of coach Frank Vogel all the same, saying he wanted the team to sizzle more offensively. Eleven days later, Bird promoted Vogel's lead assistant McMillan, whose reputation from stints in Seattle and Portland suggested he'll focus more of defense. Go figure. … Indiana used the No. 20 pick in the 2016 Draft on Michigan's Caris LeVert, then picked Georges Niang from Iowa State at No. 50 overall. … Bird got busy in July, trading for point guard Jeff Teague in a three-team deal that sent longtime Indiana guard George Hill to Utah. He also shipped LeVert to Brooklyn in a package for Thaddeus Young. Veterans Al Jefferson and Aaron Brooks were signed as free agents. … In September, NBA journeyman Kevin Seraphin came aboard as a late addition.
- The switch from Hill to Teague is widely considered an upgrade offensively, but that will only hold if Teague is permitted to play as fast as he did in Atlanta. Teague is excited to be back home, adding to the energy he can provide the Pacers.
- Here's where the hiring of McMillan -- and what his track record suggests is more of a defensive focus -- makes sense: Indiana's attack is going to be more potent thanks to the personnel it added. But now, with Hill and center Ian Mahinmi gone, the new crew will need to find its own defensive identity.
- Monta Ellis isn't the shiny new scorer anymore. At 31, after what he considered the worst of his 11 NBA seasons (14.8 points per 36 minutes), he opted for more serious offseason conditioning. If it doesn't pay off in better production early, the Pacers have enough depth not to wait for Ellis.
MAN ON THE SPOT
This is Paul George's team, his town and -- assuming his goal of capturing the NBA's Most Valuable Player award is legit -- quite possibly his league. With more help on the offensive end, George won't have to provide so much, leaving more of his energy for the stifling defensive work he showed so effectively for Team USA in Rio. George has welcomed every challenge he's encountered as a pro, so leading Indiana two or three rounds deep in the East playoffs should suit him fine.
Jeff Teague | 15.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.9 apg
He wasn't completely healthy but his 3-point shot was (40 percent).
Monta Ellis | 13.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.7 apg
Ellis knew it was time to dedicate himself to the back end of his career.
Paul George | 23.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.1 apg
So much for that PF duty of last season. Opposing SFs dread this matchup
Thaddeus Young | 15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.8 apg
The PF Paul George was asked to be last season joins a team worthy of his game
Myles Turner | 10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.7 apg
Expect to see big strides from the 20-year-old at both ends, health permitting
Al Jefferson | 12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 apg
Every team should have such a reliable low-post threat. Bench role suits him
C.J. Miles | 11.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Accessed actual scouting report on him and tried to address his weaknesses
Rodney Stuckey | 8.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.4 apg
Injuries cost him 24 games in lowest production of career, but he's healthy now
THE BOTTOM LINE
With upgrades at two starting spots and more scoring prowess overall, the Pacers look capable of satisfying Bird's call for a higher-caliber attack. George is one of the league's five-best players, and while Turner has a ways to go defensively, Indiana and its fans are happy to wait for him. McMillan will go nine or 10 deep on a nightly basis and a second or third seed would keep the Pacers out of Cleveland's way till the conference finals. That's quite doable.
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