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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 19. Indiana Pacers

2014/2015 Projection: 38-44, fifth place Central Division, eleventh place Eastern Conference 

Actual Finish: 38-44, fourth place Central Division, ninth place Eastern Conference 

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 97.3 (24th)
  • Points Allowed: 97.0 (4th)
  • Team FG%: .439 (23rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .435 (3rd)
  • Team FT%: .756 (13th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .352 (12th)
  • Rebounds per game: 44.9 (5th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.7 (10th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.3 (12th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.1 (26th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): George Hill (16.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Roy Hibbert (7.1)
  • Minutes per game: George Hill (29.5)
  • Assists per game:  George Hill (5.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Ian Mahinmi (.552)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  CJ Watson (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Damjan Rudez (.406)
  • Steals per game: George Hill (1.0)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Roy Hibbert (1.8)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: Frank Vogel

Last season Frank Vogel would have been castigated for the poor utilization of his players and the even more disgraceful anemic offensive production which showed both a lack of creativity or any real thought on his part; however, this season, it was the same weaknesses that he has been chided for that kept his team from becoming a complete disaster and kept Indy in playoff contention until the very end.  The man was left with virtually nothing to start the regular season as his team were without their star player, Paul George, who had suffered a season ending injury during the summer as well as the lack of foresight of his boss, Larry Bird, to allow Lance Stephenson, the Pacers' second best player, to walk away in free agency.  All that remained were a bunch of over the hill veterans in David West, Luis Scola, Roy Hibbert and George Hill who spent much of the season on the injured list along with a list of no names and castaways from other teams.  Instead of throwing his hands up in despair, Vogel managed to take the little he had and still kept the Pacers a rather strong competitive force despite the limited offensive output and complete lack of scoring.  Even in the worst of times when it seemed so bleak that his team would never recover, he still managed to keep his team focused and playing together to the best of its collective ability thus making him the most crucial part of the Pacers' troubled 2015 season.

SDH’s Face to Forget: +Larry Bird 

Pacers fans: want someone to blame for the sad shape your team is in?  
Then look no further than the man you people so reverently worship because it was Larry Bird who chose to cheap out on Lance Stephenson which led him to jump ship to the +Charlotte Hornets.  Stephenson certainly would have been useful considering the loss of Paul George for the season and the fact that he chose to replace him with cheaper and less effective alternatives makes his errors even more grievous.  Instead of finding ways to improve the team in the wake of the reemergence of the +Cleveland Cavaliers and the +Chicago Bulls, he chose to stand pat at with same time of tired, worn out, and over the hill players resulting his team to fall from first place last season to second to last in its own Central Division. To make matters worse, he did not see the writing on the wall choosing to allow the team to make a playoff push instead of scrapping it altogether, tanking, and make a bid for a top three pick the same way the +Los Angeles Lakers and +New York Knicks did. Now not only has Indy missed the playoffs, but at best will have the number 12 pick in this upcoming draft to look forward to.   It just goes to show how Larry Bird is so out of touch with today's NBA and needs to do the right thing and step down because things will not get any better as long as he is at the helm.   

How the mighty have fallen--just a year ago, the +Indiana Pacers had finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and had reached as far as the Conference Finals until they were taken down by the +Miami HEAT; however, now all of that glory is gone as the team fell from being the top dog in its division for the past two years to dragging near the bottom of the barrel this season.  Pacers fans would blame their team's sudden crashing downfall to the fact that they missed their star player, Paul George, due to the horrific season ending injury that he suffered during a summer exhibition game; however, even before then there were signs that Indy's ride on top of the wave of the NBA's elite was about to come crashing down.  It first came with the news of +LeBron James returning to the place he once called home signing to the team that originally drafted him, +Cleveland Cavaliers, and the team's acquisition of All Star power forward +Kevin Love from the +Minnesota Timberwolves during the off-season thus completely removing any competitive advantage the Pacers ever had.  Fellow Central Division rival, the +Chicago Bulls also got into the act as they significantly upgrading their roster thanks to the addition of All Star big man and two time +NBA Championship winner +Pau Gasol; nonetheless, that was not the worst of the turmoil as the final blow came from the Pacers' boss, Larry Bird, when he refused to pay Lance Stephenson--the Pacers' third leading scorer who also led the team in rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage--the money that he deserved.  That led to Stephenson, who many arguably considered as the heart and soul of that 2014 Pacers team, to jump ship and sign for less money and a shorter contract to the +Charlotte Hornets as both an act of defiance and disgust towards both Bird and the Pacers organization leaving the team with no real go to guy on offense as well as an excellent passer and lock down defender.    

All that coupled with the fact the Larry Bird did absolutely nothing in terms of improving the team led to Indiana coming into the 2015 regular season with a hodgepodge roster off broken down and over the hill players blended in with a group of rejects and no name garbage players.  Their returning key players were already in bad enough shape with David West, Indy's second leading scorer and rebounder last year, missing the entire month of November due to injury and starting point guard George Hill missing almost half the season as well due to injury; however, that was further amplified by the poor play of +Roy Hibbert, whose game continued to decline and +Luis Scola, whom at 35 years old was initially running on fumes throughout the season.  Despite his near 15$ million price tag and having the opportunity to take a greater role on the team with George and Stephenson no longer there, Hibbert's play was uninspired to say the least as he was barely a factor on the offensive end while his rebounding at just 7.1 per game was not much to write home about either, considering he was the team's primary presence in the paint.  To make matters worse for the Pacers' front court production, upon returning from the injured list, David West would prove to be a shadow of his former self as he finished the season with one his worst performances in his career averaging a paltry 11.7 point per game--down from his near 16.0 points per game that he has produced over the last two years.  And despite putting up rather respectable numbers for a player headed towards the twilight of his career with 9.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while being the sole member of that group to play the entire season, Poor Luis Scola simply could not give any more than the 20.5 minutes he played which left the Pacers struggling to search for ways to put the ball in the basket.

Fortunately, despite their crumbling core of veterans, the Pacers still managed by some miracle to scrape up and pool what very few  resources they had to kick, bite scratch for every single points thanks to the team's scrappy play which actually helped them to outscore their opponents by +0.3 margin as well as out shoot them by an even slimmer +.004 margin; however, what actually kept them in their games was their all out effort on defense and on the glass as they ranked in the top five in the league in points allowed, opponents' field goal percentage and rebounds per game. Give head coach Frank Vogel plenty of credit for motivating his players and encouraging his players to battle the odds and go beyond their limits even if it did not mean winning in the end because it is doubtful that any coach in the NBA would have been able to keep the Pacers treading water until the very end of the season with the little that he had to work with.  With all the injuries and adversity that both he and his team faced throughout the season, Vogel had to scrape way down to the bottom of the roster to find someone ready, willing and able to contribute regardless of the outcome.  Thankfully, he found what he needed from every player on his roster and it was not pretty to say the least with seven players averaging in double figures and six of them putting up more than five points per game; sadly, however, none of the players--save for George Hill, who only played just 43 games--managed to average at least 15 points per game for the season thus showing how the team struggled to find a go to player that the team can count on scoring baskets.

Nevertheless, in spite being unable to find at least one player who can consistently put points up on the scoreboard on a regular basis, Vogel and his crew of misfits managed to keep their opponents scoring low enough for them to at least catch up and have a shot at winning; however, with that style of play being so physically grueling, the Pacers simply could not hold on to grab wins and their inability to score made it even more difficult since they could not score at the other end of the court to save their lives.  Without anyone really capable to execute and be even somewhat offensively efficient, much of the team's defensive effort was often wasted which often resulted in the Pacers to essentially run out of gas thus giving way for their opponents to push past them and worst of all, all the blood sweat and tears that Indy shed means anything as they failed to make the playoffs.  To add insult to injury, not only did all that effort and hard way fail to get them into the post season, but the Pacers have to suffer an even more stinging blow in that their 38-44 record essentially eliminated them from any chance of attaining the number one overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft and the best they can hope for is a pick between the 10 to twelve range.  In hindsight, instead of putting all that effort and suffering the heartbreak of falling barely out of playoff contention, it would have been more advantageous for the Pacers to  simply tank the season and lose enough games to increase their chances of securing at least a top four or five pick; however, that did not happen and fans in Indy will have to grit their teeth and watch teams such as the +Minnesota Timberwolves+Los Angeles Lakers, +Philadelphia 76ers and +New York Knicks walk away with a potential star player while they get left with whatever table scraps that are left behind.  For Pacers fans, that has to hurt the most because just a year before their team was on top of the world and vying for an NBA championship, but now they find themselves wallowing at the bottom with little if anything to look forward to.                        

To say that the future for the Pacers looks bleak is putting it mildly because even with Paul George back in the lineup and at full health, Indy is at at best a marginal playoff team capable of attaining the seventh or possibly the eighth seed which is not necessarily an achievement considering that they are in the Eastern Conference.  With Lebron at the helm, the Cavs, short of an act of God, will most likely hold the Central Division crown for the next five to six years with the Bulls falling shortly behind leaving the Pacers to fight for third place against the +Milwaukee Bucks and the +Detroit Pistons which is not an easy feat to say the least.  Head coach Jason Kidd has turned the Bucks from a team that won just 17 games in 2014 to an immediate playoff contender transforming it into one of the up and coming young teams in the league while Stan Van Gundy's Pistons, although they finished last place, were just six games behind Indiana making them a potential threat next year.  Unless something big happens in the off season, it looks as if the only place that the Pacers will be heading is down and Larry Bird will have no choice but to tear the current team down and rebuild it from scratch; however, will that go well with Paul George--a player who has been tabbed as the face of the franchise and may not be patient to have to look forward to a long and painful rebuild?  Nonetheless, it will be a long off season and there will be plenty of time to prepare until opening tip off in November so hopefully the Pacers can get something done from now to then in order to at least stave of their eventual collapse.