NBA Picks: What To Make Of The Pacers Without Paul George
by Alan Matthews - 8/5/2014
Unfortunately, the NBA had its Joe Theismann moment last Friday night in Las Vegas. Of course every NFL fan old enough still remembers the gruesome broken leg that Theismann suffered in a Week 11 Monday night game of the 1985 season against the New York Giants. The cameras showed it over and over, and it was sickening.
I wouldn't say the injury suffered by Indiana Pacers star Paul George was quite that bad but it was close. He was hurt in the fourth quarter of Team USA's scrimmage while trying to block a layup attempt by James Harden on a breakaway. George's ankle came down nearly perpendicular to the ground when he landed on the basket stanchion. You knew right away it was serious, and kudos to ESPN for not showing the injury on a continuous loop but more focusing on the responses of George's teammates and coaches. The scrimmage was immediately ended at that point. George had surgery Saturday in Vegas to repair his open tibia-fibula fracture. It's a serious injury for sure but it's actually in many ways better than if George had torn an ACL. He should make a full recovery, but he will not be playing next season.
Some people are blaming this injury on the stanchion being too close to the court. The NBA standard is for the stanchion and any photographers to be four feet from the baseline. The stanchion at the arena was 3 feet, 11 inches, according to ESPN. You also hear that now we shouldn't send professionals for FIBA events. That's a silly argument in my opinion. Injuries are going to happen. Guys are going to play basketball in the summer. They take pride in playing for Team USA. I could see the NBA not sending guys to the World Cup as that's essentially a made-up event, but the league is going to keep shipping guys to the Olympics because it helps build the global brand (and the World Cup winner doesn't have to qualify for the Games). The Dream Team in Barcelona changed everything for the NBA.
This story isn't about Team USA's chances in the World Cup but what to expect from the obviously devastated Pacers for the 2014-15 season. Their odds to win the NBA title have risen from 18/1 to 40/1 at Bovada (even higher, +8000 on Sportsbook.com) and to 20/1 to win the Eastern Conference (+3000 on Sportsbook.com).
George might be a Top 5 all-around player when you include his defensive prowess. George was third-team All-NBA and first-team All-Defensive Team in 2013-14. He averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the regular season and was about the only Pacer to show up in the Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, averaging 24 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals in 40.5 minutes a night. He just about single-handedly kept Indiana alive with a Game 5 win, scoring 37 points. George also had 30 points and 11 rebounds in Indiana's Game 7 first-round win over Atlanta.
The Pacers' second-best all-around player last season was Lance Stephenson. The team offered him a five-year, $44 million deal as a free agent but that apparently offended Stephenson so he took a three-year, $27 million offer from Charlotte. That looks like a smart move now for Stephenson because I'd put the Hornets (25/1 to win East at Bovada) above the Pacers in the East. Stephenson led the NBA in triple-doubles last regular season and set career highs in minutes per game (35.3), points (13.8), shooting (49.1 percent), rebounds (7.2) and assists (4.6). True, he was a bit of a knucklehead at times but a good player. The only additions the Pacers made of note were guards C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey and Croatian forward Damjan Rudez. Not very exciting.
Indiana won't be going over the salary cap so it's not like the Pacers can go out and sign restricted free agent Greg Monroe (Pistons) or Eric Bledsoe (Suns). Detroit and Phoenix have always said they'd match regardless. The team can apply for a disabled player exception, but it would only get an exception at the non-taxpayer midlevel amount of $5.3 million for next season. There's just not much left out there in free agency other than Monroe or Bledsoe.
So do the Pacers try to sneak into the playoffs as a No. 7 or 8 seed or punt and reload for 2015-16? I would lean toward the latter. The club would love to trade All-Star center Roy Hibbert after his puzzling disappearing act in the playoffs. However, even if the Pacers could find a team to take Hibbert they would only get about 20 cents on the dollar at the moment. Forward David West is in the final year of his contract and would have some value around the league.
Nate Silver, the excellent statistical writer for ESPN's fivethirtyeight.com, projects the Pacers to finish 44-38, which would be a 12-win drop from last year. Offensively this might now be the worst team in the NBA with no one very good at creating his own shots. George made 292 baskets without the benefit of an assist in 2013-14, while Stephenson made 247. No other Indiana player had more than West's 152 unassisted field goals. George and Stephenson also led the team in assists. Defensively the Pacers should still be a Top-10 team because of the system they play and the presence of Hibbert as a rim defender. Expect a ton of "unders" in Pacers games.
I think Silver's record projection is a bit optimistic. I look for around a .500 record, and that's only because the Pacers play in the weak Eastern Conference. If they were in the West, they would finish below even Sacramento.
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