The Indiana Pacers have one more preseason game left against the Chicago Bulls before they open their 2012-2013 campaign on the road against the Toronto Raptors.
Expectations are admittedly mixed with this year's group. On the one hand they lost solid guys like Darren Collison, Jeff Foster, Lou Amundson, Dahntay Jones and Leandro Barbosa. But on the other they picked up Gerald Green, DJ Augustin, Ian Mahinmi and drafted Miles Plumlee. On paper, it's hard to discern whether the team has improved or taken a step back, but what is clear is that their key competition in the East (being Miami and Boston) have improved, and perhaps New York and Brooklyn will pose a much bigger threat than last year.
Even though preseason games are usually meaningless, it is interesting to take a look at how the team has performed and what observations can be gathered.
So far, the Pacers are 4-2 in 6 preseason games, including a 3-0 record on the road. The team's projected starting 5 has only played one game together, their most recent, a 100-82 blowout of Cleveland which saw Danny Granger play his first preseason game after tweaking a knee injury during the offseason. In the 6 games, the Pacers scored and gave up an average of 91.2 points, demonstrating that they are still trying to figure things out.
These are the things I have personally observed from the offseason:
- Roy Hibbert (Mr Gangnam style), after flirting with leaving the team over the summer, is getting kudos left, right and center for his fan and community work since. He is undoubtedly going to be the future face of the franchise, if not already. Remember, he was ranked higher than Granger in ESPN's player rankings. However, while we know that he worked hard on his conditioning, it's still unclear whether Hibbert's game has been elevated to the next level following the signing of that big contract, or whether it's starting to plateau. Hibbert played in 5 of the 6 preseason games and so far his performance has been patchy. He had a monster game against the Hawks (16, 11 and 6 blocks) but failed to score more than 5 points against the Wolves and the Cavs. Consistency has always been Roy's achilles heel, so it will be interesting to see if he has turned the corner.
- Danny Granger has always been a slow starter and it appears he will be one again. He played a restricted 12 minutes (6 per half) against the Cavs and performed well (9 points on 4-7 shooting), but chances are he won't be 100% when the season starts. That's not good news. Hopefully, having grown used to sharing the load last season, he will start to contribute more in other ways, especially in rebounding and assists.
- David West has played sporadic minutes in the preseason but he has been great when he's on the floor. It's time to forget last season's David West, who spent most of his time recovering and finding his legs after surgery. This year's David West, the true leader of the team, will be in beast mode all year. Something to look forward to.
- Paul George and potential seem to go hand in hand, and this year is supposed to be the year where he takes off. Year 3 usually is, right? And you can tell from the preseason games that PG is trying to assert himself more after having worked on his most glaring weakness -- ballhandling -- diligently during the offseason. It hasn't necessarily translated to great shooting nights but PG has filled up the stat sheet every game so far, averaging 16 points and grabbing boards, getting dimes, blocking shots and intercepting the passing lanes all over the place. I don't think he'll be a star this year, but he could be getting close.
- George Hill has been sitting out with a hip injury and hasn't played a single preseason game, which is a concern for the team's supposed starting point guard. I like what Hill brings to the team in terms of his shooting and fearlessness but I'm still not sold on him as a distributor.
- Which brings me to newcomer DJ Augustin, who did not racked up many assists until the most recent game against the Cavs, where he came away with 11. Every Pacer fan knows that it has been an extremely rare thing to see a Pacers point guard dish double-digit assists in a game since Mark Jackson left (and when Jamaal Tinsley was still a stud), so I suppose that is a promising sign. My guess is that Augustin has been a little timid with the new squad because he was the go-to guy in Charlotte but just a backup in Indy. He should get better as the season progresses, and so far all the talk coming out of training camp is that he has impressed with his court vision during practices.
- Gerald Green is going to be great this year. I can already feel it. I was worried when the Pacers decided to let Barbosa go because I wondered where the bench points would come from, but I've been ecstatic with what I've seen from Green so far. He had 18, 6 and 4 against the Wolves in 27 minutes, 10 against the Hawks, 13 against the Magic, 18 against the Grizzlies and 13 against the Cavs. I have no doubt he will average double digits this season and be in the running for Sixth Man honors.
- The guy that might turn out to be Indy's most surprisingly positive addition is Ian "Mini Me" Mahinmi. People criticized his acquisition in the beginning but I'm starting to feel optimistic after seeing him put up 17 and 8, 13 and 9, and 10 and 6 in 3 of the 4 games he has played in. His offensive game and rebounding appear to be more refined than advertised, and he actually seems to fit in quite well with Roy in the PF spot. Perhaps he was indeed a talent wasted on the Mavs bench. He might be the best all-round Pacers big man off the bench in years.
- Tyler Hansbrough took a step back last season and he knows it. This preseason he has shown the vicious relentless drive he is well known for, and the results have been mixed. Apart from an anomalous 23 points in a blowout loss against the Magic, Hansbrough has shot horribly. But he has grabbed a lot of boards. His brother Ben Hansbrough, who is an undrafted guard, might not get much burn on the Pacers and might get dropped eventually.
- One guy that gets more chatter than he deserves is Lance Stephenson, who despite being "Born Ready" has not been ready for two years. He is now, the Pacers say, but the preseason hasn't shown that at all. I once again hope he will finally prove me wrong.
- Jeff Pendergraph looks more NBA ready than he did last year, but does that really mean anything?
- The rookies, Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson have been okay considering where they were drafted. Plumlee has actually been solid every game (his best game was 9 and 4 in 24 minutes) whereas Johnson just continues to miss shots. I don't think Johnson will get any minutes anyway.
Coming up, player reviews and predictions.
Update: Pacers lost their final preseason game against the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, 97-90. George Hill still did not play and Granger came off the bench to play 22 minutes. DJ Augustin had 13 assists to go with 10 points in another stellar effort.