INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Frank Vogel spent his summer plotting a Pacers transition.
He scoured the tapes of successful up-tempo teams, consulted with Larry Bird on the new direction and devised a workable strategy. Along the way, Vogel also realized Indiana’s new small-ball style will force him to become more flexible as a coach.
”I think it (the approach) will be something we’ll have to refine as we go,” he said. ”I really believe we have a chance to be very explosive.”
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There’s little doubt the Pacers will look different this season.
Roy Hibbert and David West, the big men who helped the Pacers reach back-to-back conference finals, are gone. Indiana’s most dynamic scorer, Paul George, is starting to play like his old self after reluctantly moving to power forward. The faster, smaller roster is scoring more, which is what Bird, Indiana’s president of basketball operations, had wanted. And Vogel has already said first-round draft pick Myles Turner could play more minutes this season than other recent draft picks.
What remains the same are the goals.
”I want to be a playoff team,” Bird said. ”The higher the seed, the better it is. I think we have the talent to be a playoff team. Some people don’t, but I do.”
Bird expects George, who emerged as an MVP candidate before breaking his right leg in August 2014, to become an even better offensive player against the bigger, slower defenders at his new positon.
Indiana added free agent Monta Ellis, a shooting guard who led Dallas in scoring last season (18.9 points), and has teamed him with point guard George Hill (16.1 points) and small forward C.J. Miles (13.5) to give Indiana more provide more scoring punch.
The question, of course, is whether the smaller team will struggle on defense.
”I think we’ll work our tails off to be a good defensive team,” Vogel said. ”But with the talent we have, this should be the most prolific offense we’ve had here.”
Bird believes that should be enough to get the Pacers back to the postseason, after missing out on the final day of last season, and perhaps even make them a contender again in a better Eastern Conference.
”I don’t think we’ve ever scored enough here. If we could average 102 or 103 points, I’d be happy,” Bird said. ”We’re going to have a lot of speed out there and we should run because it’s to our advantage.”
Here are some other things to watch this season:
GEORGE’S REACTION: The 6-foot-9 George has always been a team guy, but he’s made no secret he doesn’t like the new positon. After one preseason game, George even told reporters he didn’t know if he was ”cut out” to play power forward. Since then, George has toned down the rhetoric. But his attitude will have a huge impact on the Pacers’ success or failure.
MYLES & MILES: Bird has already called Turner the best shooter on the team. Now it’s time to prove it. There’s little doubt the 6-foot-11, 243-pound big man has lots of potential and some have even compared him to another former Texas star, LaMarcus Aldridge. Turner still must show he can hold up against the NBA’s big men and do it over an 82-game schedule – no easy chore for a 19-year-old.
UP HILL: Hill showed demonstrated last season that he’s capable of being the most aggressive player on the floor. He needs to show it wasn’t a fluke. With George back and Ellis on board, the new up-tempo style could help Hill continue to take advantage of his opportunities.
3 FOR THE SHOW: A year ago, the Pacers finished 18th in the NBA with 21.2 3-point attempts per game. During the preseason, they’re averaging 25 per game – a number that would have cracked the NBA’s top 10 in 2014-15. Still, Indiana’s pace has steadily decreased as the preseason has progressed.
THE REPLACEMENTS: Without West, who opted out of his contract and signed with San Antonio, and Hibbert, who was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pacers are counting on center Ian Mahinmi and former Lakers forward Jordan Hill to fill the void.