January Will Tell Us Everything We Need to Know About the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers are inconsistent and frustrating, but barring more injuries, we might have a solid handle on them by the end of January.

The Indiana Pacers are disappointing this season, but at 16-18 and a half-game out of the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed, they aren’t exactly bad either.

They are a paradox. Paul George is closing out games like never before, but the team as a whole can’t shoot in fourth quarters.

They are inconsistent. There is a huge divide in the way they play in their wins and losses. In wins, they look like one of the NBA’s better teams,  but in losses, hardly anyone looks worse than Indiana does.

Paul George knows this is a problem and it makes him miserable. He also knows while the team isn’t in a terrible position right now, it won’t be long before the NBA’s best start to separate themselves from their lesser counterparts.

He told the Michael Lee of the Vertical as much recently.

“You can’t be relaxed, thinking it’s going to be like this all season,” George recently told The Vertical about the East. “These teams are going to start building momentum. They’re going to start getting into their strides. They’re going to start separating themselves and we don’t want to be that team at the end of the season, trying to scrap and fight our way into it, give everything we have and have nothing left for the playoffs.”

George came into this season believing he was ready for LeBron James, ready to be in the MVP conversation and surrounded by a team that could put the Pacers back among the elite. But what he had hoped the Pacers would become – with the offseason additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, a new coach in Nate McMillan and a rising young big man in Myles Turner – has taken much longer than expected.

“You’ve got to have chemistry. You’ve got to learn guys. That usually takes some time. We hate to keep preaching that, because we need to be able to win these games now,” George told The Vertical. “You don’t understand how to really win games until everybody knows what everyone’s agenda [is] and what everyone on the court is doing.”

The Pacers time is now, and they know it.

So why should fans think anything different will happen in 2017?

The very thing that has eluded them — consistency — might finally be coming Indiana’s way.

There were problems with the Monta Ellis-Jeff Teague backcourt, something we knew before the season even started. They were too small to handle bigger guards and neither were known for their defense. But that issue might have sorted itself out with Ellis’ injury and Glenn Robinson III stepping forward.

If Monta embraces a sixth man role and GR3 can put up double-doubles from time to time as a starter, then the starting five may strengthen themselves defensively. Indiana plays better defense when Robinson is on the floor, even if he makes mistakes out of his inexperience. His offense isn’t bad either, though he faced a cold-streak this month.

But unlike his first round as a starter when Paul George was out injured, he is now playing with Paul George in the “normal” version of the rotation. The other four starters now can gel with him and at least looking at his on/off numbers, he is making them better.

There are still questions about Ellis and whether he can produce off the bench, but his struggles in two games since returning (and probably not at 100%) shouldn’t be seen as proof of anything, one way or another. Ellis can’t be unproductive or Indiana merely traded Robinson’s lack of production off the bench for Monta’s.

Barring any more injuries (Rodney Stuckey is still M.I.A., though), we might get a real glimpse of what the Pacers can do.

The first two months of the season had too many parts moving to get a solid handle on what the Pacers will consistently be. Robinson starting may not be the answer either, but having stability in the starting lineup — and hopefully the bench — might help. With Monta’s move to the bench, they may well have solved one of the problems with the way the team was built.

Before the season, optimism about the Pacers stemmed from the collection of talent and veteran experience mixed with the up-and-coming Myles Turner. That hasn’t changed. They have a top 10 NBA player in George. A pure point guard and former All-Star in Teague. A stretch four in an underrated Thaddeus Young. Al Jefferson’s play off the bench steadily improved after a rough start. All that is still there and they may have another budding talent in Robinson.

There are still issues with these Pacers, but if they stay healthy in January and keep the lineup as is, we can finally figure out if they need to make a major move or if they have something to work with.

If the Pacers can be more than a fringe playoff team, we should know for sure by the end of January.

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