Indiana Pacers Ready To Become Major Title Contenders This Year

By joshdhani
Indiana Pacers October 2012
Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

The Indiana Pacers wrapped their final practice of the week Saturday, as head coach Frank Vogel gave the squad a day off for Sunday.

Vogel has shown that he was the right man for the job for Indiana when he took over as the team’s interim head coach two years ago in the middle of the season after the firing of Jim O’Brien. Vogel did amazing, getting Indiana over the hump and into the playoffs as an eighth seed, but only to be knocked down by the Chicago Bulls in a five-game series.

With a locked out season last year, the Pacers were impressive for such a young team, as they ended up finishing third in the Eastern Conference and gave the eventual-champion Miami Heat a tough run for their money in the playoffs.

With a full training camp in finally with this new squad, Indiana get things going as they can show they’re one of the more unique, and better title contenders out of all of the others in the league.

“We’ve had a great week so far,” Vogel said. “We really did have a training camp last year in terms of about seven or eight days, but there were no preseason games. We only played two games and went right into the season.

“Up to now, it feels kinda similar to last year. For the next three weeks, we’re playing about two-to-three preseason games per week at the most.”

Indiana showed a lot of good signs at practice. In a scrimmage between the second unit and the first unit, along with some of the newcomers and players like Luke Nevill, Ben Hansbrough, Blake Ahearn and Sundiata Gaines — all who are fighting for a spot on the team — they were all impressive.

The second unit featured a lot of the players trying to make the squad with David West helping out and leading the way. And boy, the second unit played exceptional and were on their A-game, beating the first unit by 15 points in a ten-minute, quick scrimmage. D.J. Augustin showed a lot of flashyness in the game, putting up some sick moves and passes.

For Augustin, it’s a different experience. He played point guard for his whole career with the Charlotte Bobcats, who are coming off the worst season in NBA history. Augustin is adjusting from being a lone-man to a completely different role of being a sixth-man type of guy on the Pacers.

“It’s good man,” Augustin said of coming to Indiana. “Coming from Charlotte, I’m coming to a good organization, a winning team. I’m excited.”

Augustin signed Indiana this off-season, as the Pacers looked to fill a gap at the backup point guard spot with Darren Collison gone, as he was shipped off to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade. Leading the second unit is a big task, especially on the Pacers, who aren’t exactly a team who has a legit superstar, but a squad full of a bunch of above-average to All-Star caliber players.

“I’ve been on the second unit before back in Charlotte in my first year,” Augustin said of the new transition, “but it’s basketball. First unit, second unit — whatever — as long as you are on the floor, that’s all that matters and running the team.”

Overall, most of the new additions looked great with Indiana this week. Guys like Gerald Green, Orlando Johnson, Sam Young, Miles Plumlee and Ian Mahinmi have shown what they are capable to being a solid contributors to this squad.

“[The new additions] have looked really good. I’m excited about all the guys that are here, and you can why they are here,” Vogel said. “Mahinmi is a great backup center, attacks the basket. Augustin is good, pass-first mentality. Lance [Stephenson], I consider newcomer since he wasn’t in our rotation much last season. Gerald Green, great athleticism off the bench. The rookies are playing extremely hard and fitting in, it’s doing well.”

Green, Young and Stephenson are quite the characters of this team. Watching them practice, Green was the clown, doing hilarious antics during the scrimmage and what not. Young was hilarious in the interview when I talked with him and is quite the jokester. Stephenson as well, especially for his antics on the sidelines and off-the-court this past season, which led one of the staff members in the team’s facility saying to him, “Make sure to stay out of those clubs!”

Green was able to bounce back into the NBA last season, playing with the now Brooklyn Nets last season. He made his claim to fame with an amazing windmill dunk last season that rocked fans everywhere. He showed he was a steady contributor off the bench and why he was needed back into the league.

He was later signed by Indiana this off-season, giving fans a lot of entertainment with him and Paul George showing off their dunking skills. We can see who is actually the better one, but won’t come to a solid conclusion. In the past, George says that Green is the best.

“George all the way,” Green replied. “Final answer.”

Being on the Pacers, and overall back in the league, is a great feeling for Green.

“It feels good man, it feels good to be back in the NBA,” he said. “I mean, it’s been a long journey for my career. Being able to be apart of an organization like this one with a great history, a great talent and great people — it’s great just to be apart of them.”

Green says this team has potential to be better than the Dallas Mavericks squad he played on a few years back.

As for All-Star Danny Granger, the Pacers will be limiting to a lot of time this preseason, a bugging knee injury is still on him. He will be able to play in some of the pre-season games, as Vogel said so. Meanwhile, with that said, Young will be filling in for the time being.

“I feel great,” Young said of being on the Pacers this year. “I’m loving it here, man. As soon as I got here, the team embraced me. The city, I love the city. The coaches, the coaching staff, the trainers, everybody — everybody’s cool. I love it.”

The Pacers have long been looking for a legit backup for Granger since Mike Dunleavy, until he started struggling due to injury issues. Indiana tried James Posey, but it didn’t turn out to well. So instead, they basically played with one small forward last season in Granger. With Young in, it gives a lot of advantages. Young loves the idea of joining the Pacers and helping out on the second unit.

“One of the reasons I chose this team because they’re such a great team. They did a lot unexpected things that people didn’t see coming last year and they had Miami on the ropes,” he said. “This team kind of reminds of the Memphis Grizzlies team I played for a couple of years ago. That is one of the main reasons why I chose this team.”

Young will see a lot of playing time heading into the preseason, which will be a great experience for him.

“Just another day at the office, man. It’s the start of the season, gotta love it.”

George Hill was able to ink a big contract this off-season, along with center Roy Hibbert, as the Pacers showed they were committed to these two players being a focal part of the squad for years to come along with Granger and George. Hill proved himself that he was a better and more capable starter than Collison, earning the starting job for the last part of the season.

Hill was traded to the Pacers on draft day last season from the San Antonio Spurs, but it was tough due to the lockout. With a full training camp this season for George to work with this squad, he thinks it can pay huge dividends. The pre-season is interesting for him, however.

“I don’t know man, sometimes I wish we can go in and play and some others times I wish we could just take a couple of extra days to get everything together,” Hill said. “Overall, though, I can’t wait for the season to start.

“I feel like we can compete this year. Overall, I think we are better than what we were last year. As we all know, we have all five people back from our starting group last year. Eager to see how we start from where we finished last year. They revamped our second unit into a nice second unit squad that a lot should be starters. I like the chances for us this year.”

The Pacers look to become great this year. Their starting line-up look superb with one of the strongest benches in the league. And the world is taking notice that Indiana basketball is back to be on top again, with Indiana getting popular again more nationally now, such as having their most recent practice filmed for NBATV.

“The league has recognized that we are one of the top teams,” Vogel said. “We are a fun team, too. We got a have-fun mentality, likeable bunch of guys.

We are a very unselfish team and such hardworking guys. It’s our identity to be a passing team with a blue-collar work ethic and know we gotta win with defensive rebounding and I hope this season is better than last year.”

Health will play a major role, but if everything falls right into place, the Pacers look like a dangerous team this year and have a good shot at finishing second in the Eastern Conference or maybe even ahead of the Heat if they can.

Paul George is in for a  breakout season. Hill is ready to become the general. Granger is looking to continuing to do what he has to do, but now knowing he doesn’t have to do too much anymore. Hibbert and West are both the anchors, and the bench is going to be hard to stop.

The Pacers can be major title contenders this year.

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