Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 49-32, No. 1 in Central Division, No. 3 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill (Rookie, No. 23 overall), Luis Scola, C.J. Watson
Roster subtractions: D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Pendergraph, Miles Plumlee, Sam Young
The Indiana Pacers front office opted to stand by the roster that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, bolstering it with the services of a couple veterans and bringing in a few young players to compete for minutes.
Small forward Danny Granger, who played in only five games last season, is back and expected to contribute at or near the level he has since 2008 when he signed a five-year deal with the team. In Granger's absence, however, Paul George had a breakout season for the Pacers and earned a long-term extension with the team worth about $90 million. Occupying the other wing position was shooting guard Lance Stephenson, who elevated his game across the board and proved himself a capable starter.
So now, coach Frank Vogel is left to decide how to split the minutes up for this talented crop of wings, all of whom deserve playing time. He's said that both Granger and Stephenson will see starter's minutes, and there's no reason to think otherwise, as rookie Solomon Hill and second-year man Orlando Johnson provide the only depth on the wings.
George Hill and C.J. Watson form a solid point guard tandem. Hill is a better scorer and distributor, while Watson has the edge in outside shooting. Both players value possessions and don't turn the ball over much, which will be important in an offense that had the worst assist/turnover ratio in the league last season. With Granger back and George emerging as an All-Star, Hill and Watson should be able to pick up plenty of assists.
Last season, Indiana had probably the best defense in the entire league. They were top-10 in every meaningful defensive category, leading the league in total rebounds per game, opponents points in the paint per game and opponents fast break points per game. Opposing teams didn't shoot well against the Pacers at all last year; Indiana was also No. 1 in opponents two-point, three-point and effective field goal percentages. Anchoring this defensive force is 7'2'' center Roy Hibbert, who alters any shot attempted near the lane. And though Hibbert's strength is clearly defense, he's also put in a lot of work on his offensive game this summer.
GM Kevin Pritchard brought in veteran power forward Luis Scola to back up David West. Both are 33 years old, so they will both benefit from the depth at the position. Scola and West are capable scorers, and both bring toughness to the floor. Across the paint, Hibbert is backed up by Ian Mahinmi, a capable role player.
The Pacers have all the tools to come back as one of the league's elite defensive teams, but can their offense keep up?
Last season, the offense dipped with Granger on the bench. The team ended the season among the bottom third of the league in several categories. Vogel's slow-paced offense explains some of that, but the Pacers also had terrible percentages shooting the ball and getting assists.
With a healthy Granger back on the wing, opposing defenses will have to decide who to focus on between him and George. Forward Chris Copeland, who signed with the team in the offseason, shot the three-pointer at 42.1 percent last year for the Knicks. He has an opportunity to earn some minutes and space the floor for a team that could use all the help it can get shooting the three.
George, one of the best individual defenders in the league, expects to continue his rise to super-stardom and there's no reason why he shouldn't, following the performance he put on throughout last year's playoffs. If Granger can reintegrate into the rotation, he'll be one of the best second options in the league when fully healthy.
Indiana should not see any drop off in defense, as they lost no one of real consequence on that end of the ball. If new additions Scola, Watson, Copeland and Hill contribute on offense as much as they are capable, the Pacers will be a tough matchup for just about every team in the league on any night. No team will want to face them come playoff time, when defense and toughness often win the day - both of which Indiana has in spades.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter