Sitting atop with an NBA-best 44-13 record and 28-3 at home, the Indiana Pacers are geared for a serious run at the title. The surging Pacers are favorites to dethrone 2-time defending champions Miami Heat and represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The Pacers arguably have the best and well-balanced starting unit in the league—All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert, emerging superstar Lance Stephenson, forward David West, and George Hill. This unit has been together for nearly two seasons and their cohesion is obvious. The starting unit is also very versatile, with each complementing one another. For instance,Hill, George and Stephenson are good 3-point shooters, allowing more spacing when one of them decides to attack the basket. Hibbert, meanwhile, is their defensive anchor.
Key to their success is their defensive prowess. The Pacers are the best defensive team in the league allowing only 91 points per game. In contrast, the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers are allowing 111 points per game. The Pacers also have the best point differential in the league beating opponents by an average of 8.1 points.
It also helps that you have 6-9 Paul George (22.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists) and the 6-5 Lance Stephenson (14.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists) in the line-up. Both can literally do it all—score, shoot, defend, rebound, and assist. George is now the “man” on the team and his length and skills make him a match-up nightmare at small forward. Stephenson, meanwhile, is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player. He is efficient and his game is very aggressive although he manages with his high basketball IQ. Just how good is Stephenson? The last player who did what he is doing now (based on stats) while 23 years old or younger was Magic Johnson.
The Pacers also upgraded their bench in the off-season bringing in veteran big man Luis Scola and guard C.J. Watson. Before the trade deadline, the team scored a coup by trading injury-prone Danny Granger in exchange for the versatile Evan Turner. In Turner, the Pacers add a well-rounded player who is averaging 17.6 points, 6 rebounds and nearly 4 assists for the season. He is also versatile enough to play multiple positions giving coach Frank Vogel more flexibility in his rotations. The team is hoping that he gives them the added punch that will push them past the Miami Heat.
As a small market team that can’t afford bloated salaries, this line-up may be broken up by season’s end. George and Hibbert have max contracts and the Pacers may have to let Stephenson walk. The Pacers already have $49 million invested in Hibbert, West, Hill, and George for the 2014-2015 season and Stephenson can easily command anywhere north of $10 million a year. Turner is the insurance since he has a player option of only $8.7 million next year.
The Pacers are now built to go all the way this season and their time to win is now.