Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog - A Pacers roster refresher course
A Pacers roster refresher course
Indianapolis (Dec. 5, 2011) -- Remember that exciting young team that pushed the Bulls to the brink of elimination in the playoffs last May?
The postseason starting five -- Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert -- all return under contract. To that young core, add George Hill, the electric guard acquired from San Antonio on draft night.
Those top six players have an average age of 25, so this is a team with a combination of youth, experience, talent and chemistry that expects to begin climbing the ladder toward the upper echelon of Eastern Conference contenders this season.
Mix in an enthusiastic young head coach in Frank Vogel complemented by veteran assistants Brian Shaw, Jim Boylen and Dan Burke.
In the front office, team President Larry Bird has the salary cap space and roster flexibility to make a few key strategic moves that could have a major impact without making wholesale changes.
So you can see there is no shortage of reasons for optimism as they head down Route 66.
To bring you back up to speed as quickly as possible, here's a quick refresher course on the roster, position by position.
When it comes to evaluating Collison (13.2 points, 5.1 assists, 2.5 turnovers), it's important to know this will be the first time in his young NBA career he enters a season with the same head coach. It has been tough for the talented young point guard to assimilate so many different philosophies, personalities and systems in such a brief time so having Vogel back on the bench should be a stabilizing influence. Collison has the skill set; he just needs to continue to develop the command a point guard needs. Hill has played both guard positions well and will most certainly average at least 30 minutes a game in the backcourt, providing a taller, longer-limbed option for defensive matchups at the point. A.J. Price was a solid backup but did not take a step forward last season, perhaps because he was coming back from a major knee injury. He'll need to show real all-around progress this season.
For a guy known mainly as a scorer when drafted No. 10 overall in 2010, George showed impressive defensive ability when assigned to Derrick Rose in the playoffs, using his length and quickness to harass Chicago's biggest star. Oddly enough, George never really found his shooting stroke, hitting 29.7 percent from the arc in the regular season and then 3-of-13 in the playoffs. Should George find his offensive groove, he has the tools to become a star. It's possible he'll come off the bench behind Hill, who was more effective off the ball with the Spurs last season, averaging 11.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting .463 overall and .407 from the arc at shooting guard compared to 11.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting .434 overall and .333 from the arc at the point. Vogel now has the flexibility to employ a small, quick backcourt with Collison and Hill, or a bigger, more defensive oriented combo with Hill and George. After three remarkably inconsistent seasons, Brandon Rush is fighting for his future in Indiana, while Dahntay Jones stands ready to accept whatever defensive matchup problem arises. A wild card in the backcourt is Lance Stephenson, the hugely talented but extremely raw prospect capable of playing both spots if he can harness his gifts.
After a solid but unspectacular regular season, Granger rose to the occasion in the playoffs, showing signs he does possess the leadership instinct necessary to be a guiding force for this young team. After making huge strides in each of his first four seasons, Granger has leveled off the past two. It isn't a bad level -- 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal per game -- but the sense is there's more to his game that has yet to be mined. Improved ballhandling and a renewed commitment to defense will be paramount if he is to reach another level. If he doesn't start at shooting guard, George will be the backup at both wing spots. Veteran James Posey did not make an appearance in the postseason, a sign his future may lie elsewhere.
This is the position Bird appears to have targeted for a major upgrade either through a trade or free agency, but that doesn't mean the franchise has given up on Hansbrough. Critics would categorize him as something akin to the basketball version of Tim Tebow -- admirable passion, energy and college pedigree but somehow lacking in elite talent. Like Tebow, Hansbrough tends to find ways to get the job done but do not underestimate his skill set. When he played at least 30 minutes, he averaged 19.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting .506 from the field. Because he is slightly undersized for the position, Hansbrough has some challenges to contend with defensively.
This is an extremely important year for Hibbert, who has made steady progress in his first three seasons but needs to show he has the stuff to be an anchor in the middle. By any measure, last season represented marked improvement. Because he cut way down on fouls (to 5.5 per 48 minutes, compared to 7.9 his first two seasons), Hibbert was able to stay on the floor longer (27.7 minutes) and produce more (12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.75 blocked shots). After trimming down a bit too much last summer, Hibbert promised to focus more on building strength for this season, which should bode well for his ability to hold down the middle long-term. He has the work ethic, passion and leadership skills to become a true force both on and off the court.