The league’s GMs have high hopes for the Indiana Pacers this year in the Eastern Conference.
In an annual survey of the NBA’s 30 general managers, the Indiana Pacers are predicted to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference. This represents a big jump from the low expectations the league’s decision makers had last year for the blue and gold.
Despite the good showing, the revamped squad is still viewed a few tiers from the top of the conference, however.
Everyone expects the Cleveland Cavaliers to rank first. (GMs are not allowed to vote for their own team, so it is presumed that the Cavs GM is the only person to vote for anyone else. He selected the Boston Celtics.)
After that come the Toronto Raptors — which finished second last year — and the Celtics. Both got a sizable percentage of the two-seed votes, with the Raptors taking 18 votes and the Celtics getting 11.
The Pacers did get one second-place vote, though, showing that at least one GM has some faith.
Indiana also did significantly better for third- and fourth-place votes than its next closest competitors, the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks.
So while Indiana remains in the third tier of Eastern Conference franchises — below the Cavs alone in tier one and the Raptors/Celtics of tier two — they do lead that grouping.
Also of note: While the overhauled Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks have drawn much media attention this summer, the GMs aren’t buying it.
The Bulls only got a single fourth-place vote and nobody picked the Knicks to finish in the top four. That puts them behind even the lowly Washington Wizards, which missed the playoffs last season.
With all that said, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Washington and the Milwaukee Bucks were both predicted to finish in the top seven last season and neither made the postseason.
You can imagine how much time very-busy GMs actually spend thinking about this survey as they (or their intern) fill it out.
Paul George 4 MVP
Another cool footnote in the GM survey is that Paul George got some MVP love. While LeBron James is the overwhelming favorite to win the award (with 46.7% of the votes), the race is viewed as somewhat wide open this year.
After LeBron, the GMs like Russell Westbrook (23.3%), Steph Curry (10.0%), James Harden (10.%), and Kevin Durant (6.7%). But reality may interfere with one of the favorites winning.
LeBron is expected to coast through the regular season given his now-cemented legacy and easy path to the NBA Finals in the East. Steph and KD might split the vote after a dominant Warriors season. Westbrook and Harden probably won’t play on good-enough teams. (MVPs almost always finish in the top three in their conference.)
This leaves Paul George on the outside looking in as a dark-horse candidate. If the Pacers take the two seed in career year for George (think 26/8/5 and some DPOY buzz), why not?
At least one GM sees this possibility, with Paul George getting one vote to finish sixth in the GM forecast. So if he does pull off the improbable and hoist the trophy after the season, he cannot say that nobody believed in him.
One GM does. (Plus, hopefully, Larry Bird, who would have been barred from voting for his own player in the survey.)
(Oddly, Paul George got no votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Kawhi Leonard took two-thirds of the votes and Hassan Whiteside got one vote. Even in another category, “Best Perimeter Defender,” PG was snubbed. Meanwhile, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Pistons and Klay Thompson of Golden State both got a vote.)
Myles Turner to Break Out
Much about the Indiana Pacers’ chances to finish fourth or better — and Paul George’s chances at an MVP award — depend upon Myles Turner. The team’s defense has gotten markedly worse on paper, and for it to succeed, coach Nate McMillan will need the second-year center to be an anchor in the middle.
His offensive game — with some slick bucket-getting and a silky jumper — should be fine. And he has shown clear shot-blocking ability. But the questions surround whether or not he can quickly learn, and excel at, some of the finer points of defense and rim protection.
The GMs offer some good news on their assessment for his growth.
Turner ranks third, with 10.3% of the vote, among those on track for a “breakout season.” Only Devin Booker (31.0%) and Karl-Anthony Towns (13.8%) have better potential (and most would say that KAT has already broken out).
In line with their expectations for the Pacers to finish fourth, a few GMs also love Indiana’s offseason moves.
Naturally, the Warriors were chosen — almost unanimously — as having the best summer.
But with two GMs picking the Pacers, they rank second (tied with the Utah Jazz) as far as having the best offseason moves.
Oddly enough, the GMs think the George Hill-for-Jeff Teague trade worked out for both squads. The Hill pickup by Utah was rated as the most underrated player acquisition. In second place? Indiana’s pickup of Jeff Teague.