The Indiana Pacers wasted no time in revamping their identity in the 2016 offseason, starting with a coaching change and culminating with the arrivals of new teammates.
Point guard Jeff Teague is back in his hometown Indianapolis after a three-team deal sent George Hill to Utah. Thaddeus Young, one of the few bright spots of Brooklyn's 2015-2016 season, was brought in to solidify the frontcourt. Finally, the Pacers used their remaining cap space to acquire Al Jefferson and Aaron Brooks with the intention of providing some scoring off the bench. With team president Larry Bird desiring a quicker, higher scoring offense, let's take a look at how the Pacers will best organize their new roster to achieve loftier production.
PG: Jeff Teague, SG: Monta Ellis, SF: Paul George, PF: Thaddeus Young, C: Myles Turner
No surprises on this front.
The Pacers viewed Teague as a better option than Hill in a faster-paced setting. The initial question among fans regarding the backcourt would be how well Teague and Ellis, two previously primary ball-handlers, would work together in the flow of the offense. Teague will absolutely be the primary creator for the team, leaving Monta to be available for cuts and spot-up opportunities whether it be from open looks or off-screen. Teague has proved to be an aggressor so far in the preseason, scoring double digits in every game and leading the team in field goal attempts per game. On the other hand, Ellis has taken far fewer shots, but has looked to increase his efficiency in his normal scoring areas. Ellis has taken 36 shots this preseason, and only 2 of those attempts were not in the restricted area, mid-range, or three-pointers. Teague's presence may limit Ellis's shot attempts this season, but last year, Ellis proved capable of helping the team in other areas, as he increased both his rebounding and assist numbers from his previous year in Dallas.
With the impending departure of Ian Mahinmi in free agency, the Pacers moved second-year man Myles Turner to center and traded their first round pick to Brooklyn in exchange for Thaddeus Young. Young will serve as an energy big alongside George and Turner in the frontcourt, and has already displayed his potential in that role this preseason. Young is averaging 11.5 points (on 62.5% shooting) and 6.3 rebounds in four games. That scoring efficiency is something the Pacers have lacked in the Paul George era, and could prove invaluable for this team. It's rare when a team's center is able to stretch the floor more so than their power forward, but Turner gives the Pacers that extra dimension (Larry Bird jokingly said last year that Turner was already the best shooter on the team). Turner's mobility on the defensive end allows for easier switches, and he is more than capable of moving out to the three-point line if need be.
The Second Unit
PG: Aaron Brooks, SG: Rodney Stuckey, SF: CJ Miles, PF: Lavoy Allen, C: Al Jefferson
The signing of Brooks effectively put the Joe Young experiment on hold for the time being, but Brooks is a more proven player, and can be a good shooter off the bench. After a relatively down season, Stuckey will look to earn his contract extension from the previous offseason. Stuckey will usually be the first reserve off the bench, spelling Ellis near the end of the first quarter. In order to get even more scoring, Miles will most likely replace Young in secondary lineups and the Pacers will go small-ball with Miles as the PF. Last season, he showed he was capable of handling the defensive duties at that position so that George could primarily stay on the perimeter.
Lavoy Allen, the last holdover from the disastrous Danny Granger trade of 2014, has found his niche as an energy big off the bench. His primary strength is offensive rebounding, and he has averaged 3.5 per game so far this preseason. His nose for the offensive glass will help in an up-tempo offense that might create quicker shots and more opportunities for extended possessions. Finally, “Big” Al Jefferson was signed from Charlotte to be the backup to Turner. It isn’t often that a team is blessed with such a proven offensive commodity and have him come off the bench. Jefferson actually leads the team in rebounding so far this year while also chipping in 11.5 points per game. It does remain to be seen just how effective his halfcourt-style of play will mesh with the quick style of play Indiana wants to utilize.
The Third String
It's fairly safe to assume that second year man Joe Young, intriguing wing project Glenn Robinson III, and rookie Georges Niang make the final roster and will see varied amounts of playing time. The coaching staff in particular has high hopes for Robinson's development as a bench scorer, and Niang has flashed his utility belt of skills during Summer League and preseason. If Aaron Brooks does not provide the shooting off the bench over the course of the year, Young will most likely get his opportunity to be the backup point guard. That puts the Pacers' roster at the league minimum 13, but assuming they fill out to the limit of 15 players, I expect Rakeem Christmas will once again earn a spot on the team while also moving to and from the D-League affiliate in Fort Wayne. With one final spot, the logical choice would be Kevin Seraphin due to his overall league experience compared to the remainder of the training camp roster, but I would love for Indiana to take a chance on undrafted rookie Nick Zeisloft. The guard from IU has only played one minute in the preseason, but he has the ability to be lethal from long range once he gets comfortable. A season with the Mad Ants would help Zeisloft get up to NBA speed, and he could develop into a solid three-point specialist.