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Indiana Pacers: Who are these guys?
Everyone knows everything about the Miami Heat.
You almost can’t help it, what with the omnipresence of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, not only in the sports world, but in the media at large. Not only are they the overwhelming favorites to win their second straight championship, but they’re also as loud and glamorous as the city they call home, and everything they do elicits a reaction — though not always necessarily a good one.
The Indiana Pacers, however, are shrouded in a bit more mystery. They’re essentially the anti-Heat.
They’ve made the playoffs three seasons in a row now — losing to Miami in six games in last year’s second round — but the franchise’s overall impact has been negligible since reaching the 2000 NBA Finals.
The Pacers are one of the younger teams in the league, and the most recognizable name on their roster, Danny Granger, played in only five games this year due to injury, and hasn’t played since early March.
If you asked the average fan to name the Pacers’ coach, there’s a good chance he’d come up blank. Same for at least 60 percent of Indiana’s starting lineup.
Fear not, because we’re here to help. Here’s a crash course for those of you out there wondering, “Who the hell are these guys?” so that you’ll know who you’re cheering for when you’re rooting against the Heat for the next two weeks:
Name: Frank Vogel
Details: The second-youngest head coach in the NBA behind Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn, Vogel was destined for a career in basketball from the moment he appeared on David Letterman as an eighth grader, spinning a basketball on his toothbrush.
After that brush with fame, Vogel went on to play at Division III Juniata College before becoming a student manager on Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team. His first NBA job came when he reconnected with former Wildcats coach Rick Pitino as the video coordinator of the Boston Celtics. He was also an assistant with the 76ers, a scout for the Lakers and Wizards and an assistant with Indiana before getting the Pacers’ head coaching job after the firing of Jim O’Brien, a fellow Celtics assistant during Vogel’s time in Boston. Indiana is 111-74 in two-plus seasons under Vogel and has a 14-12 mark in the playoffs after Tuesday night’s home win over the Knicks.
Name: George Hill
Details: An Indianapolis native, Hill played three seasons at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) and was selected 26th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 2008. He played in 231 games and made 55 starts in three years with the Spurs and had some embarrassing personal photos end up on the internet in 2010 before being traded to his hometown team on the night of the 2011 NBA Draft, in a deal for Kawhi Leonard.
After playing a mostly reserve role last year, Hill has had a career year in 76 starts this season, averaging 14.2 points and 4.7 assists in 34 minutes per game. In March of this year, Hill ripped Pacers fans for lack of support after a home loss to the Lakers, and by the looks of the crowd during Indiana’s playoff run so far, they got the message.
Name: Lance Stephenson
Details: A New York City high school phenom, Stephenson spent one year at Cincinnati before being drafted 40th overall by the Pacers in 2010. Maturity issues were largely blamed for Stephenson falling to the second round — in high school, he was suspended following an altercation with a teammate, and was also arrested for allegedly groping a female classmate.
He was also arrested in 2010 for allegedly pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, and the maturity issues again resurfaced during his rookie season, during which he only played in 12 games. Stephenson began to earn his way back into Vogel’s good graces last year, however, and this year, he started 72 games at shooting guard, averaging 8.8 points and 3.9 assists in 29.2 minutes.
Name: Paul George
Details: A first-time All-Star and the NBA’s Most Improved Player during the 2012-13 season, George has emerged as a bona-fide superstar for the Pacers in Granger’s absence this year. The new face of the Indiana franchise, George is a capable one-on-one scorer, an elite defender and one of the most exciting, high-flying players you’ve never heard of. Though you may recall his glow-in-the-dark dunk at the 2012 dunk contest:
The role suits George well, too, because he’s always flown under the radar. An unheralded recruit out of high school in Southern California, George played for two years at Fresno State before being selected 10th overall by the Pacers in 2010. He started 19 games as a rookie and moved into a full-time starting role last season. He averaged a team-high 17.4 points this year, to go with 7.6 rebounds, and his lockdown defense got him named to the NBA All-Defensive second team. If the Pacers somehow shock the Heat in the conference finals, it’ll undoubtedly be because of this guy.
Name: David West
Details: The oldest Pacers player by three years, West was probably the most recognizable healthy name on the roster coming into the 2012-13 season, and is the most reliable source of veteran leadership in the Indiana locker room.
West was a four-year star at Xavier before being selected 18th overall by New Orleans in the 2003 draft. In eight years with the Hornets, he evolved into one of the most reliable, if understated, power forwards in the league, averaging 19.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in six years as a full-time starter with the team. He was an All-Star in 2008 and 2009.
He signed as a free agent with Indiana before the 2011-12 season, and after regressing some in his first year as a Pacer, West averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds this season as the team’s No. 2 option behind George. An unremarkable but effective player, West isn’t going to do anything flashy, and he doesn’t show up on many highlight reels — though he did once send a mascot to the hospital. But he gives the Pacers some much-needed maturity and a hard-working, reliable option inside, and it could prove valuable against the more talented Heat.
Name: Roy Hibbert
Details: At 7 feet, 2 inches tall, Hibbert is tough to miss on the court — or on television — and over the course of his five years in the NBA, he’s developed into a borderline All-Star, making the game as a reserve in 2012. A four-year star at Georgetown, Hibbert was selected 17th overall by the Raptors in 2008, but was traded to Indiana a short time later and has started 335 of 376 games since.
In that time, he’s made a name for himself as more than just another tall guy on the court. He’s an effective scorer, a tough defender and a decent rebounder — though, perhaps, not excellent for his size. Earlier this season, Hibbert had a 10-point, 11-rebound, 11-block triple-double that really showed off his versatility. And if this whole basketball thing doesn’t work out, Hibbert is something of a Twitter Hall of Famer and always has a future in comedy.
Name: Tyler Hansbrough
Details: The Pacers’ resident Beaker look-a-like, Hansbrough has become colloquially known as “Psycho-T” during his time in the basketball spotlight, and he’s certainly earned the moniker. Hansbrough earned a reputation for being as crazy as he was crazy-productive during his four years at North Carolina, and that distinction has followed him to the NBA, where he’s something of a bull in a china shop on the court:
The Pacers selected Hansbrough, a three-time All-American, the ACC’s all-time leading scorer, and a noted roof-jumper and 40-chugger, with the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Health issues kept Hansbrough largely off the court as a rookie, but in the three years since, he’s become a vital reserve for Indiana, with career averages of 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game.
Off the court, you can find him probably doing pushups, sweating for no reason and practicing his ‘come-at-me-bro’ face. On the court, he’s often found putting that face to use. (Let’s take this opportunity to reflect on the time Hansbrough nearly combusted sticking up for his brother, Pacer’s teammate Ben Hansbrough, after Ben embellished some contact from the Cavs’ Tristan Thompson.)
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