May 22, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) and guard Paul George (24) reacts during a time-out in the first quarter against the Miami Heat during game 5 of the 2012 NBA eastern conference semi-finals at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESS WIRE

Central Division Breakdown: Indiana Pacers

Think about this; the Indiana Pacers were within two games of taking down the Miami Heat. They were up 2-1 and coming off a convincing 94-75 win. They ended up losing three straight to lose the series 4-2, but their effort was valiant. Roy Hibbert gave them a huge advantage, and they exploited it for as long as they could.

In the offseason, the Pacers almost imploded. General manager David Morway resigned and, a day later, president of basketball operations Larry Bird resigned. Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard replaced them, respectively. They also came very close to losing Roy Hibbert in restricted free agency, which would have been detrimental to their growth. But at the last minute, they resigned the 7-2 Georgetown product to a four-year, $58 million contract. Losing the still improving big man would have been a real detriment to their roster. They need Hibbert to keep improving and stay healthy if they have any hopes of contending. But more on him later.

Outside of Hibbert, the Pacers most important player is Danny Granger. The 6-8 wingman can flat out score. He hasn’t averaged less than 18.7 points since 2006, and has shot above 80 percent for his career. Granger, though, needs a rebound season if the Pacers want to be good. His 18.7 PPG was his lowest since 2006, and his 41.6 shooting percentage was his lowest since 2009.

The rest of the Pacers roster is solid, but not spectacular.  They have solid pieces like David West at power forward, D.J. Augustine at point guard, and Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough at power forward. Draft pick Miles Plumlee adds potential depth to the front line, and George Hill is an interesting combo guard. After all, just a few seasons ago, he looked to be breakout player in San Antonio. Maybe Indiana is a good place for him to get that form back in year two of his tenure.

Now back to Hibbert. The center was dominating at times last season. At 7-2 few teams can match up with him man-on-man. Every other team, even great teams like Oklahoma City and Miami, has a built-in disadvantage when it comes to the center position. They’ll need to exploit that advantage as much as they can.

This Indiana team isn’t elite. While good, neither Granger nor Hibbert are legitimate superstars. The rest of the team is solid, but not great.  That being said, they are better than anyone else in the Central Division. The Cavs aren’t quite there yet, nor are the Pistons, and the Bucks can never quite get into the playoffs. Plus, the Bulls without a healthy Derrick Rose aren’t even close to being the same team. That leaves the Central Division for Indiana’s taking, and I expect them to seize the opportunity. Expect 45-50 wins and a trip to the playoffs. From there, let’s see where Hibbert can take them. With a skilled big guy, anything is possible.

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Tags: Danny Granger Indiana Pacers Roy Hibbert

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