Switching back to the East, the Pacers are up. They didn’t make any significant moves over the off-season but remain on the bubble as a playoff team. The guest preview today was done by Jared Wade of many a blog fame.
Given the lack of impact talent on their roster, the Pacers have very little chance to make any real noise in the Eastern Conference. But if the injury woes that have derailed the past few seasons prove less damaging this year, the team certainly has a chance to sneak into the playoffs and may even surprise a few of the experts expecting the Pacers to slide below 30 wins this season.
A lot of the hopes for moderate success in Indianapolis hinge on the health of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. The offseason loss of Jarrett Jack means that TJ Ford, Danny Granger and the recently acquired Earl Watson are really the team’s only capable perimeter ball-handlers other than MDJ, who was essentially the Pacers de facto “point forward” much of the time he was on the floor the last time he was, you know, actually on the floor. So if he can’t suit up and be 100% for more than, say, 60 games, that doesn’t bode well at all for Indiana.
In all, Dunleavy missed 64 games last year and may as well have missed them all given his poor shooting and overall awkward play during his “comeback.” But the season prior, he posted career-high stats pretty much across the board and showed a nuanced ability to facilitate an offense that I doubt anyone in the NBA who isn’t the current coach of the Clippers believed he had in him.
Unfortunately for Pacers fans, MDJ is now doubtful to be ready for the season opener, which means Granger will once again be overworked, and TJ Ford and Earl Watson will be exposed as middling talents. So for the Pacers to remain competitive without Dunleavy, the team will need a lot of progress from sophomores Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert, both of whom showed nice flashes at the end of last season, and some significant offensive contributions from offseason acquisitions Dahntay Jones and Watson, something that few outsiders will believe possible until they actually see it.
No matter who is on the floor, however, Coach Jim O’Brien’s offense will play fast, score a lot and feature the three-ball prominently. The Pacers were the third “fastest” team in the league (with approximately two possessions per minute), shot the fourth most threes (21 three-point attempts per game) and scored the fifth most points (105.1 per game). Since, however, the roster is essentially Granger and, with apologies to Troy Murphy, a cast of flawed role players, this style creates giant peaks and valleys of success throughout the game, which essentially means that no lead is safe — for either team. The offense is seemingly as likely to score 19 points in a quarter as it is to score 40. For stretches when the team is hitting its threes, getting out in transition and forcing turnovers, it looks like a poor man’s version of the 2006 Suns. When it is missing on all cylinders, something that happens for at least one 6-minute stretch out of every 48, it looks like an unathletic version of the 2009 Warriors.
Ultimately, the very fact that the loss of Jarrect Jack is going to be hard for this roster to overcome does not bode well for the Pacers chances this season. But they have a system coach that runs a system offense and a bench full of capable, if unspectacular, role players. It’s a team that is very difficult to get excited about, sure, but its also a team that can be very hard to keep out of a game. Unless, of course, Mike Dunleavy is out of the game. Then, well…
Last Season Record: 2-2
The teams split the series and for the most part, the winning team each time was enjoying a blowout. Danny Granger and Chris Bosh both did their thing to give their teams a chance to win but it came down to the role players who were able to give some extra scoring punch. There was little to no defense played in the series but it was surprising to see the Raptors average 48 rebounds per game as a team. The Pacers have always been known to kill Toronto on the glass but were out rebounded significantly even in a game they ended up winning.
The Bigs: The Pacer front court is raw. That’s the only word I could come up with when I looked at their roster. There is no player who demands a double team on the offensive end but with so many unknowns, the Raptors can’t ignore the potential of Josh McRoberts, Hibber and Hansbrough. Each of these guys had great college careers but Bosh and Bargnani should be able to use their veteran smarts and get these guys in foul trouble early. The one X factor here is Jeff Foster. While he may not be a guy you plan for, year in and year out he has schooled the Raptors on the glass. If Bosh and Andrea do not box out its going to be a long night of 2nd chance points and FT shooting from the Pacers.
The Wings: Danny Granger has to be the least talked about potential all-star in the NBA. He can put the ball on the floor, hit jumpers and more importantly has found his range over the past season or so. Hedo Turkoglu can do all three as well, just not nearly as efficiently as Granger. If the Pacers have a healthy Mike Dunleavy Jr. they should be able to make some noise in the East. Both their wings are injury risks but when they are on they can burn their opponents in a hurry. Defensively, once again this will be a challenge for Hedo and will need a team effort to contain the two. Closing out on shooters is key in this series with other guys like Brandon Rush and Luther Head on the team. Hedo, and for the most part, all the Raptors guard and wings have the height advantage they need to exploit on the offensive end.
The Guards: As most Raptor fans know, TJ Ford is a warrior. He had his best season scoring wise last year in Indiana while playing with his usual reckless abandon. If there were ever a PG who was the exact opposite of Calderon, Ford’s name would be the first to pop in my head. The addition of Jarrett Jack, who coincidentally managed to take over as the primary point guard for the Pacers, gives the Raptors a good balance. With both guards at his disposal, Jay Triano has the option to put in one guy over the other for a different pace. The SG spot on both teams is occupied by young players who have yet to reach their potential but the athleticism and height on the Raptor side should give them a chance to flourish against a very small Pacer back court.
Predicted Record: 3-1 (Pacers will take their first home game of the series)