Are the Pacers the real deal?

Are the Pacers the real deal?

The Indiana Pacers have started out the 2013-2014 season on an absolute tear. After starting out the season with a nine game winning streak, the Pacers now stand at an impressive 13-1. They are tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league, but aren’t widely regarded as the best.

Nowadays, whenever people are talking NBA, it is always about the Miami Heat. The two-time defending champs are widely projected to bring home a third straight championship, but this Pacers team has different plans. The Pacers have been eliminated by the Heat in the past two playoffs, and the teams have a budding rivalry.

A large reason for the Pacers early success is their budding superstar, Paul George. George has begun making that large stride that the Pacers front office was hoping for. In order for any team in today’s game to win a championship, a superstar is basically mandatory, and the Pacers lacked that last year.

So far this season, George is averaging 24.3 points and 6.4 rebound while also dishing out 3.2 assists per game. One of the more obscure stats for George is that he is getting to the line a little over 6.2 time per games, almost doubling that number from a year ago. The ability to get to the line will be key to George’s success this year.

Pacer fans have also seen another one of their young players evolve right  in front of their eyes – Lance Stephenson. The former Bearcat was a second round draft pick and no one thought he would be where he is today.  Stephenson was brought under the wing of the legendary Larry Bird, and has proven Mr. Bird proud. With the injury of All-Star forward Danny Granger last season, Stephenson stepped up immensely and showed he had what it takes to compete in this league.

Most likely the biggest advantage the Pacers hold over the Heat, and the rest of the Eastern Conference for that matter, is their inside game. Their two bigs, Roy Hibbert and David West, are a perfect fit. They are classic throwback rough and tough post players, who very much enjoy getting physical.

Hibbert, at center, has a much improved post game. When he first entered the league, he struggled mightily, but last year he had a break through. He began incorporating more spins and ducks, rather than just trying to force the ball over his defender. Hibbert is widely known for his defense, as he is one of the best rim protectors in the league. He is leading the league in blocks right now, with an impressive 4.7 per game. He nearly took home a Defensive Player of the Year award last year and is one of the favorites to win it this season.

West on the other hand, is a bit more athletic than Hibbert. West can run the floor and also has a bit more of an outside game. A new trend in the league is playing ‘small’ lineups, often playing someone who normally would play small forward at power forward. Teams have tended not to do so as much against the Pacers, because often times West will just overpower his smaller opponent. West is also the enforcer of this team, not letting any cheap shots on his team mates go unnoticed. He is your classic rough and tough big.

The Pacers round out their starting five with George Hill, who has seen some criticism for not being a ‘traditional’ point guard. What Hill does bring to the table though, is the ability to guard his position. Hill is one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league and he can not only guard his position, but can also guard shooting guards and even some small forwards. This correlates to one of the Pacers biggest advantage: their defense.

The reason the Pacers’ defense is so good is because everyone on their starting five can guard their position. This leads to less scrambling on defense when someone misses an assignment and allows for easy rotations when the ball is reversed. It also allows George Hill and Paul George to make more gambles on defense, because the other players can easily rotate to make up if the gamble fails.

This season the Pacers are only allowing an astounding 87.36 points scored against them per game. This is almost three less points allowed than the second ranked team. They are also working at a league best rate in opponent’s field goal percentage, forcing opponents to shoot 39% from the field.

This is all a small sample size to pick from as we are only 14 games into the season, but if the Pacers can keep up the pace, the Heat and the rest of  the league should be very aware of the Indiana Pacers.