A Slow Return
The Pacers’ rebuilding process is finally taking shape.
by Shlomo Sprung | @SprungonSports
It’s taken a little longer than many expected for the Indiana Pacers to get back to the postseason. They’ve won between 32 and 36 games in all four years since they last made the Playoffs in the ’05-06 season. Not bad enough to get a top pick in the Draft, and not good enough to grab a top-eight seed—even in the Eastern Conference.
With little desirability as a free agent destination, it was going to take a while for Indiana to rebuild its roster through trades and the Draft. They selected franchise cornerstone Danny Granger in 2005, but were never able to put strong supporting pieces around him. The days of Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy are over, and the Pacers are now slowly building a strong supporting cast around Granger. After years and years of waiting, the long Pacers’ rebuilding process is finally taking shape.
As good as Murphy was for the Pacers, they needed a real low-post presence to compete in a Central Division filled with strong bodies like Andrew Bogut and Joakim Noah. Roy Hibbert was drafted in 2008 out of Georgetown, and it’s taken him a while to develop into a real banger on the inside. He averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in ’09-10, but things seem to be coming together for Hibbert this season.
Indiana eased him into things his first two seasons, but he progressed nicely with his minutes and responsibilities up. In just over 30 minutes a game this season, Hibbert is averaging 16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3 blocks per game. He has gained more confidence in his passing ability at the pro level, something he did so well in college, and his free throw percentage is way up. It finally seems like the 23-year-old Queens native is putting it together and could be a really solid low-post player for a long time.
As Granger and Hibbert developed, the one huge knock on the Pacers’ slow rebuilding process was the lack of a quality point guard. Mediocre players like T.J. Ford, Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson would not cut it if the team was serious about evolving into a quality team. On August 11, the Pacers dealt Troy Murphy in a five-team trade that brought veteran James Posey and PG Darren Collison from New Orleans. And Collison could not have better fit the profile for what Indiana needed.
Collison, the 23-year-old out of UCLA, was drafted by the Hornets in 2009 and immediately showed a great deal of promise as Chris Paul’s understudy. DC did wonderfully when CP3 was injured last season, and with trade rumors swirling around Paul this past summer, New Orleans decided to deal Collison to get swingman Trevor Ariza. Indiana must have been elated t
hat they could get a young, controllable player still growing as an athlete and as a PG. Collison is getting 15.1 points and 4.1 assists so far this season and is still learning how to be a pass-first point.
With 2010 10th overall pick Paul George bursting with natural ability and Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts all still in their early 20s, the team has a strong, young nucleus that will grow and improve together. It may have taken a long time, but the Indiana Pacers finally have the pieces in place to return to the postseason and compete for division titles.