Indiana Pacers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves 10/21/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Indiana Pacers looked to get their preseason back on track on Tuesday when they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Pacers looked to find a rhythm without star Paul George, and they faced a talented young T-Wolves squad, led by Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Dallas Mavericks vs. Indiana Pacers 10/18/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Indiana Pacers looked to use their stalwart defensive rotation to shut down a revamped Dallas Mavericks squad Saturday night in preseason action.

Check out the full highlights.

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The Reinvention of George Hill Is Critical to the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers are facing a steep challenge at the offensive end this season. Scoring efficiently will be an uphill battle that requires big contributions from some of their new additions and some big changes from point guard George Hill. 

The Pacers’ offensive challenges begin with the enormous hole they dug themselves last season. From January first onward they scored at an average rate of 100.1 points per 100 possessions, trailing only was the JV roster of the Philadelphia 76ers. Roy Hibbert went in the tank. Paul George stopped hitting his mid-range jump shots. Any semblance of a system broke down, and they basically just alternated isolations and pick-and-rolls to nowhere as they limped into the playoffs.

As one illustration of the team’s struggles, here’s Roy Hibbert‘s shot chart from last season, showing points per shot.

From that enormous disaster, the Pacers now need to find a way to rebuild an functioning offense. They’ll also have to do that without their two best offensive players from last season—Paul George and Lance Stephenson. 

George is expected to miss the entire season with a catastrophic leg injury suffered this summer in a Team USA scrimmage. Stephenson took advantage of unrestricted free agency and found himself a new home with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Pacers have acquired some reasonable pieces in their stead—Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez—but no real offensive game-changers. If they are going to build a respectable offense it will have to come from rapid player development or a burst of organizational creativity. In either case, they will probably have to accomplish with it with the underwhelming offensive talent they have.

However, George Hill stands apart as a player who has shown much more offensive potential than what was asked of him the past few seasons. If there is a player who can assume a larger share of the scoring responsibilities this season, and do it in a successful way, Hill is the most likely candidate.

Pacers Head Coach, Frank Vogeltalked recently with NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan about what the team needs from Hill this season:

He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more. We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot. So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.

His peak offensive season came in 2009-2010, when he played 29.2 minutes per game for the San Antonio Spurs as an offensive spark plug, moving between the second unit and the starting lineup. That season, he posted per-36 minute averages of 15.2 points and 3.6 assists, shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 39.9 percent on three-pointers.

Over his three seasons in Indiana, Hill’s field goal and three-point percentages have been almost identical each year—right around 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from behind the arc. The career-low 11.6 points per-36 minutes he averaged last season were mostly a function of his decreasing role in the offense as George and Stephenson blossomed.

During his first three seasons with the Spurs, Hill was seen as a combo guard who’s natural tendencies leaned more towards scoring. Hill and the Pacers had to work together to bring the “floor general” point guard experiment to fruition. Now it seems the Pacers may need to have him turn back the clock to the type of player he was when he entered the league.

This graph shows just how much Hill’s offensive role has changed since his time in San Antonio. The black and yellow lines, representing his time with each team, show his ratio of scoring chances (shot attempts plus trips to the free throw line) to assists. 

Flipping that ratio back towards scoring is going to be crucial for the Pacers this season. It also means Hill will need to do a lot more creating for himself. His remarkable passivity in pick-and-rolls, often looking exclusively to pass even when driving lanes were available, was an enormous drag on the Pacers offense last season. 

The percentage of his field goals which were assisted on last season was a career-high 52.9 percent. That number will need to come way down as a Pacers offense with very few avenues of attack will need to him to drive the basketball looking to score for himself.

In the article mentioned above, Caplan also pointed out how much the Pacers need from Hill in terms of breaking down the defense off the dribble:

He [Hill] ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

Hill is capable of playing a much more central, attacking, scorer’s-role. We saw him succeed in that style for three seasons in Indiana, albeit under slightly different circumstances. While there will be much more pressure in Indiana, and much less support around him, the Pacers desperately need him to shift his mindset this season.

 

All statistics from NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted 

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Indiana Pacers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers 10/15/14: Video Highlights and Recap

Two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams squared off on Wednesday, when the Indiana Pacers faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in a preseason matchup in Cincinnati.

The Cavs’ new-look lineup jelled against a stingy Pacers squad, winning 98-93.

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How the Indiana Pacers Can Remain in the Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

No Paul George. No Lance Stephenson. No good for the Indiana Pacers.

Only a year after finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, Indiana would find itself fortunate if it were playing in May. Injuries and general roster attrition have seemingly killed the Pacers’ season, but in a weak conference, it’s too soon to count the team completely out of the picture.

It almost feels like the basketball gods have banned Indiana from the East’s top eight with the same vigor as the Soup Nazi would reject a loud customer.

No playoffs for you.

And unfortunately, the Pacers didn’t even get to pull a Constanza and leave last season on a high note, losing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals after dropping 13 of their final 23 regular-season games.

The aforementioned basketball gods seemed to have it out for Indiana over the summer. The Pacers lost All-Star Paul George for the season when he broke his leg during a Team USA scrimmage back in August. But not all of the 56-win Pacers’ summer downfall was due to bad luck. At some point, the organization has to take on blame.

The Pacers didn’t exactly put themselves in the best situation for the upcoming season when they let Lance Stephenson walk to Charlotte for only $27 million over three years. You get the feeling, though, that ridding themselves of Stephenson wasn’t completely a basketball move.

The 23-year-old may have vastly improved in each of the past couple seasons, but he hasn’t necessarily shed his abrasive reputation, which helped him earn far fewer dollars on the open market than he could’ve if he were known for a more peachy personality.

So now, Stephenson heads to the Hornets to make up an all-NYC backcourt, and the Pacers are stuck with a George Hill-Rodney Stuckey tandem capable of throwing up so many bricks that “the Commodores” are already starting to write songs about it. But even with the potential to be the worst-shooting team in the league (yes, there’s certainly a real possibility of that after losing its two best wings), Indiana still has an outside shot of sneaking into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

It is, after all, the Eastern Conference. When we talk about the “picture,” this isn’t exactly an Annie Leibovitz. It’s more of an unwanted selfie from that vain girl who made you follow her on Instagram. You know, the one who literally can’t even believe she took such a gorg pic.

Like the ones on Facebook or the insufferable Snapchat, we don’t really care about the Eastern Conference playoff picture. In today’s NBA, it’s all about the West. But sadly, that’s exactly why the Pacers have a chance.

38 wins got the Atlanta Hawks the No. 8 seed last season. Even if there’s been an infusion of talent at the top (the Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors all have good chances to improve), the depth of the East is still relatively nonexistent. The bottom feeders are as present as the annoying Instagrammer

The losses of Stephenson and George won’t exactly help an offense that finished 22nd in points per possession last season. But we are missing one major point: Even with all their struggles down the stretch, this was still the NBA’s top-ranked defense a year ago.

Of course, George and Stephenson were tremendous contributors to Indiana’s success in preventing points, as well. Those guys are two-way players. And both of them mastering the über-aggressive closeout has done wonders for Frank Vogel‘s defense, which calls for taking away the long ball, running opposing shooters off the three-point line and funneling them in toward the league’s best rim-protector, a guy who conveniently still plays for this organization.

That’s right. Roy Hibbert still exists. Shocking, I know. 

How quickly we forget where Hibbert finished in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year (second, and deservingly so). He’s not the style defender of Joakim Noah or Marc Gasol. Hibbert is a stationary guy who does stationary things. That’s part of what makes the wing defenders so important on this team.

That “funneling” strategy the Pacers have performed so well the past few years—it’s completely predicated on Hibbert‘s strength: defending the rim. But even though the Indiana center has become one of the league’s premier defensive players, Hibbert has his fair share of weaknesses.

He doesn’t move quickly laterally. He doesn’t defend the perimeter. He just kind of stands there and does his “verticality” thing. And in that respect, he’s brilliant. He’s probably the best in the league. But this year, it’s going to be harder than ever for the Georgetown alum to implement his greatest attribute.

Without the wing defense Stephenson and George provide, the Pacers may not be able to properly funnel guys to the middle. That would lead to open shots near the basket, forcing Hibbert to stray from the paint without the quickness to recover. If people were worried about him during the Miami Heat playoff series, when the sharp-shooting Chris Bosh found himself with loads of open looks, there’s reason to fret this year, as well.

So, what needs to happen? Hibbert has to adjust. From the outside, we haven’t necessarily seen how change will occur, but an intelligent and talented defender can evolve and adapt. Now, it’s Hibbert‘s turn, and it’s possible the transition will be slightly easier for him than it would for another big man who might be changing teams and schemes.

Defense has as much to do with personnel continuity and coaching as anything else. Just look at the NBA’s best defensive teams. They’re all squads who have been together for long enough to develop some semblance of chemistry.

The Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder all have consistent cores who know each other’s tendencies. 

Chicago’s Taj Gibson heads toward the outside to defend a ball-screen, and Joakim Noah intuitively understands exactly how to recover. Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies beats up opponents in the post with such physicality because he knows that Marc Gasol will be right behind him to clean up any potential messes. When OKC’s Russell Westbrook jumps passing lanes, it seems like Serge Ibaka almost moves to recover for him before Russ even takes off for the attempted interception.

That’s partly on the fact that those teams all have good-to-great defensive schemers on the bench. Tom Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich, Dave Joerger and the lot know what they’re doing when it comes to putting together defensive sets. But it’s also because those guys just know each other. They know everything about each other. And that’s not something which can be contrived. It can only happen over time. That’s it. 

The Pacers have that time. And they have that coach in Vogel. They still employ Hill, David West and Ian Mahinmi among others who have worn blue and yellow in the past. That’s hardly an All-Star lineup, but it does breed some sort of familiarity. That’s a trait which, with some help from other teams expected to finish ahead of it, could bring Indiana up to a possible No. 8 seed.

Because of that, in an Eastern Conference that is improved but still weak, the Pacers have the potential to finagle enough victories to squeeze themselves into the playoff hunt, even if the chances are slim.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNTrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Oct. 10 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com

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Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers 10/10/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Indiana Pacers looked to score a preseason win Friday when they faced the Orlando Magic. The Pacers were looking to jell despite the absence of injured star Paul George, and their clash with Orlando’s rebuilding roster provided a good chance to do just that.

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Indiana Pacers Smart to Extend Frank Vogel’s Contract Right Now

The Indiana Pacers and head coach Frank Vogel didn’t need another distraction in what could be an agonizingly long 2014-15 season.

Between the unanswered questions left from last year’s second-half swoon and the casualties suffered over the summer—Lance Stephenson’s free-agency exit, Paul George‘s gruesome leg injury—the reigning Eastern Conference finalists could dramatically descend this time around.

For all the hurdles awaiting Vogel, the uncertainty of a lame-duck status is no longer one of them. The team announced Wednesday it had inked the 41-year-old coach to a multiyear contract extension:

Terms of the deal have not yet been reported, other than the fact that this should keep Vogel in the Circle City for the foreseeable future.

And that should bring a sigh of relief from a franchise in desperate need of one. After being ravaged by some of the worst offseason losses in the business, the Pacers needed something to put their belief behind.

Or someone, rather, and Vogel has certainly earned that type of respect. Since taking over on an interim basis during the 2010-11 season, he has guided the Pacers to four consecutive playoff berths and an overall record of 167-100. His tenure has included five playoff series wins, the last four of which powered the Pacers to back-to-back conference finals appearances for the first time in more than a decade.

It might be a while before Indiana starts competing for something of substance, but this team has been on the short list of title contenders the past few seasons. Looking back at the Pacers’ recent success, it’s hard not to notice Vogel‘s fingerprints all over Indy’s winning formula.

“You can’t look at the Pacers’ roster and think that it was all talent; for the most part that talent was developed into star power by Vogel and his staff,” wrote CBS Sports’ Matt Moore. “Vogel was a huge part of their success, building the best defense in the league and finding ways to create offense with limited skills.”

In 2010-11, a season overseen by Jim O’Brien for the first 44 games, the Pacers finished 12th in defensive efficiency. Since Vogel‘s first full campaign—which wasn’t technically full due to the work stoppage preceding the 2011-12 season—Indiana has made tremendous strides at that end of the floor.

Some might attribute some of that success to Indiana’s personnel. After all, George has been an All-Defensive team selection in each of the past two seasons and Roy Hibbert received the honor in 2013-14.

However, that fails to recognize Vogel‘s role in these players’ performances.

Hibbert, the 17th pick in 2008, had a 105 defensive rating and 7.0 defensive win shares to show for his first three seasons in the league. Over the last three years with Vogel, those numbers have improved to 98 and 12.8, respectively.

As a rookie, George was a part-time player (20.7 minutes) and a 7.8-points-per-game scorer in 2010-11. He’s been an All-NBA third-teamer each of the last two seasons, and he set personal bests in points (21.7) and player efficiency rating (20.1) in 2013-14.

Stephenson averaged 10.3 minutes in the 54 games he played during his first two years in the league. Last season, the swingman posted career marks across the board—including points (13.8), rebounds (7.2), assists (4.6), PER (14.7) and true shooting percentage (56.4)—before scoring a three-year, $27 million deal from the Charlotte Hornets this summer.

Vogel had help bringing his players along, as former assistant and current Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw had a heavy hand in Indy’s talent development, but the head coach has fully supported his guys and, in turn, made them want to give him their best.

“Frank is one of those coaches that are really close to his players,” reserve center Ian Mahinmi said, per VigilantSports.com’s Scott Agness. “We have his back 100 percent and I think that everybody in this locker room is willing to do whatever for Frank. We’re really ready to go to war for him.”

The Pacers need to be ready to fight, because nothing will come easily this season.

Between George and Stephenson, this team lost nightly doses of 35.5 points, 14 rebounds and 8.1 assists. And this group had plenty of problems scoring (101.5 offensive rating, 22nd) and setting the table (56.0 assist percentage, 26th) even when it had the versatile wings in action.

What’s worse is that the Pacers didn’t have the resources to replace that production.

Indiana’s largest investment was made in 27-year-old swingman C.J. Miles, who landed a four-year, $18 million contract. The Pacers also picked up combo guard Rodney Stuckey on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, and they brought in European sharpshooter Damjan Rudez on a three-year pact.

It’s hard to say what Rudez can add to this offense, and the book that’s out on Miles and Stuckey isn’t great. Last season, while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, respectively, the two averaged a combined 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists. While each could see those numbers rise with expanded roles, it is worth noting that each player outperformed his career scoring average.

And the question marks aren’t restricted to the perimeter.

The Pacers still need to figure out how to bring Hibbert back from wherever he went down the stretch last season. The big man, who averaged just 8.9 points on 39.0 percent shooting and 4.7 rebounds after the All-Star break, had eight points on 40 percent shooting and five boards in Indiana’s preseason opener.

David West, Indiana’s rock in recent years, turned 34 in August. His backup, Luis Scola, will be 35 by season’s end. Both suffered statistical declines last season, and both could see the same this time around as Father Time bears down on them.

It figures to be an exhausting campaign for the Pacers, but as Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix observed, Vogel‘s extension at least moves him—and, to a lesser extent, his players—off of the hot seat:

The Pacers know who will be leading them, and Vogel knows he still has a team to lead.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to continue my tenure as Pacers’ coach,” he said in a statement on the team’s website. “It’s an honor to represent the franchise and lead this team. I look forward to the challenge ahead.”

Maybe that makes him sound like a glutton for punishment, but he doesn’t see it that way. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds in front of his club, the coach isn’t even considering finding a white flag to wave.

“We’re going to be fine,” he told NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner last month. “We’ve got more than enough to compete with the best and we’re going to have another great season. Our approach is, we’re going to try to not skip a beat.”

Think a team that has been publicly picked apart for the better part of the last year couldn’t use a bit of that confidence? Vogel is the right coach to guide this team, both today and tomorrow.

Now, his players won’t have to worry whether he will have the opportunity to do just that.

“Whether the Pacers become a ‘surprise’ team that Vogel expects or descend into the lottery, one thing is certain—there will be stability on the sideline,” wrote Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star.

For a franchise still reeling from a pair of brutal blows this summer, stability can be invaluable.

The Pacers needed a strong, confident voice to lead them through a potentially treacherous present. They made the right move tying their future to the man most responsible for their incredibly productive past.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Was Evan Turner completely misutilized in Indiana?

I’ll be the first to admit it. I initially was not pleased when I heard the Celtics were planning on signing Evan Turner. Truthfully, I was not all that familiar with his game but what I did see was he was absolutely abysmal for the Pacers last season in the playoffs.Now, even though it’s just been one pre-season game and it was against the 76ers, I’m beginning to wonder if Indiana completely misused him last season and whether he would have been a better option at the starting PG for the Pacers than George Hill.I know hindsight’s 20-20 and chemistry is a delicate balance especially for a team that pushed Miami to the brink just a season earlier. The thing is George Hill just was not getting it done for Indiana. In the Conference Finals he averaged just 2.2 assists.Watching Turner last night one thing was evident that he can do that George Hill cannot is he can get to the rim. This discombobulates the defense which would have allowed for more opportunities for Lance …

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Roy Hibbert Must Silence Critics for Indiana Pacers to Survive Paul George Loss

The Indiana Pacers and their fans had a nightmare offseason.

They saw young burgeoning star, Lance Stephenson, leave for the Charlotte Hornets, bona fide star Paul George horrifically break his leg during the FIBA World Championships and watched as division rivals Cleveland added the planet’s best all-around player in LeBron James. And all of that was after watching a historically bad collapse by their team following the All-Star break. This collapse corresponded with the surprisingly bad play of All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who will be called upon to return to form if the Pacers want a return trip to the postseason.

Roy Hibbert’s struggles following the All-Star break were well-chronicled, with some even calling for his benching. Hibbert, who averaged three points less, three rebounds less and .75 blocks less following the break, was lost on offense and abused on defense. This obviously corresponded with the success of his team as his pre-All-Star-break +/- was +12.7 whereas his post-break +/- was -3.1.

Hibbert was bad, we get it, but what does that mean for the future?

The Pacers lost 36 percent of their scoring from last season (George and Stephenson), as well as 49 percent of their three-pointers. This is a devastating amount of offensive production to lose, but the real loss may be on the defensive end.

In George, Stephenson, forward David West and Hibbert, the Pacers sported four players in the top six as far as defensive win shares contributed are concerned. Not to say that Hibbert is offensively incompetent, but this is the area he can most help the Pacers succeed. They are a team that prides itself on defense. This is a team that won 56 games last season despite being the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league.

The Pacers know how to win without offense, so it will fall upon Hibbert to help them succeed through their defense. He will make players like West and Luis Scola better on the defensive and offensive ends if he can return to his All-Star form. A return would require him to hide defensive incompetency and draw the occasional double-team on offense.

The Pacers will have less talent than last season and, as a result, will need to be a better TEAM. This begins with good defense, but will also require smart offensive play.  According to Candice Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, Hibbert texted his long-time friend Tim Duncan for advice on ball movement:

 

This is the exact type of play that will make the Pacers a better team despite their obvious losses.

The Pacers will likely live and die by the play of their frontcourt, but specifically Roy Hibbert, who will have to lead them defensively in order to make the playoffs. Hibbert may have regressed some last season, but can prove his skeptics wrong with strong leadership and a higher level of play. Pacers’ fans certainly hope this is the case, as it is likely the only way they can return to the postseason.

 


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Two Indiana players enter pretrial diversion program

Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson enter pretrial programs after drinking citations.

      
 

 

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