The Indiana Pacers should not hang their heads. They made it further than most pundits predicted, overcame the agony of a Game 1 loss, and looked the defending champs square in the eye as they punished their lack of size. Roy Hibbert put some sort of hex on LeBron James, Paul George continued his miracle year, and their team wide physicality often bordered on the frightening.
So what went wrong?
The Pacers simply didn’t have the firepower. As an Eastern Conference cousin to the Memphis Grizzlies, in the end, you have to score more points than your opponent, and while the Pacers are clearly studs on defense, their offensive prowess is to put it mildly, inconsistent. Paul George serves not only as the team’s best player, but also an apt metaphor for both their strengths and struggles. George can be a marvel to watch, long and rangy and tough, elite defensive instincts and occasionally spectacular offense. And then sometimes he can’t hit the broadside of an Indiana barn.
The Pacers can play defense. The Pacers’ poetry is defense. It’s what got them to the Conference Finals and it’ll be what wins them another fifty games or so next year. But to get over the hump they need to make a few tweaks. Just a few ideas, not scientifically proven, off the top of my head.
1. Vogel is vital
Frank Vogel has earned the keys to the kingdom, despite not having Hibbert in at the end of Game 1. It takes a heady coach to get this kind of performance out of non marquee players and Vogel has masterfully maximized most of his talent and taken it to the brink. He deserves a round of applause (cue slow clap for the wild-eyed Vogel).
2. Extend David West to another two-year deal
David West is entering the twilight of his career, but he’s expressed a willingness to stay and probably won’t find another team in which he’ll be the undisputed elder statesmen. Teams that get close sometimes overreact and clean house. This team deserves another shot at the crown, and they need to keep as much of the gang together as feasible. In a perfect world they will get West on a short-term deal and he’ll once again reward their trust in him with his scowl, his midrange daggers, and a seven-foot wingspan that wreaked havoc on the Heat’s composure.
3. The Granger Conundrum
Before David West chose Indiana and before Paul George became a household (basketball nerd household) name, the man carrying water for the Pacers was Danny Granger. Granger is a scorer with some crafty moves around the basket, but he prefers long twos and three-pointers. You’re not going to get a ton of assists or rebounds from Granger, but he does score about twenty points per game, and make 3s at a reasonably good percentage. It was hard not to think one or two offensive bursts from Granger might have swung a crucial game. On the other hand, with a healthy Granger it is unlikely Paul George ever becomes Paul George and with one year left on his contract the Pacers would be better served moving him for assets, young players or draft picks or even some canny veteran. Addition by subtraction is a hard thing, but the days of Granger, Monta Ellis, and Joe Johnson as leading men is not going to cut it anymore.
4. Sign Jarrett Jack
DJ Augustin is off the books next season and the Pacers would be wise to find a proven back up point guard who adds a different dimension than George Hill, rather than a watered down version of him. Luckily, there is a journeyman superstar who might just have played himself into a big payday. Jarrett Jack is coming off a career season with the Golden State Warriors. He is a bold and (perhaps too) fearless point guard who can create his own shot. That’s not always a great thing, as Jack sometimes gets a little comfortable being a knight in shining armor and clearly delights in his heroics. Still, he’s a very good player that could elevate the second unit and score those elusive buckets needed when Indiana fall into their scoring droughts. Plus, he’s already been a Pacer once!
5. Live By Defense, Kill by the 3
Shooters is sometimes used as a pejorative, in the case of players that clearly have no other discernible reason to be on the court. Guys like Daequan Cook and Jason Kapono and Sasha Vujacic have at times inspired venomous loathing for missing two shots in a row and less explosive but more well-rounded players earn a kind of rustic respect or in the case of a guy like Tony Allen, a cult status. The Pacers already have their quota of the rugged types, they need some finesse dudes, they need someone who can just fill it up from distance, someone who is always a threat to bury you with a barrage of threes. Luckily for the Pacers, there are plenty of free agent sharpshooters, and several of them are even in their price range, like the charming Marco Belinelli, who often gets mocked for his Stallone-like features and his falling from a chair shooting form. Aim a little higher and make a push for J.J. Redick, who could slide right into the starting line-up. Anthony Morrow has a beautiful shot and kind of looks like a kinder and gentler Lance Stephenson. Kyle Korver exists. Corey Brewer can hit the corner three with some regularity. Spend a little and get a lot.
6. Sign the Undisputed Champion of My Heart: Nate Robinson
This comes not from parsing any data or even any deep pondering. I just happen to believe in my heart of hearts that adding Nate Robinson as a super sixth man who is given free rein to shoot when he’s on fire is basically the answer to everyone’s problems. His scoring acumen, utter audacity, and fiery personality will compliment the almost stoic lunch pail stevedore vibe the Pacers have going on. The Pacers can put you in a position to win any game with their defense. But Nate takes over games. You heard it here first: Nate Robinson is the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that will propel the Indiana Pacers to the promised land. Nate and Roy Hibbert press conferences would also probably be very hilarious and vaguely dystopian, like David and Goliath deciding to play World of Warcraft instead of killing one another.