First and foremost, can we call stop talking about point guard problems? The Pacers are not a point guard away from a championship. To say that ignores practically everything that has happened this year and it just comes off as ignorant. This is the same argument that football teams are a quarterback away or a baseball team is a pitcher away or something like that. It’s never one player. And, furthermore, the Pacers actually have something in George Hill. It is true that he’s a natural two, but you might also remember that he took over the point guard role for this team because it was discovered through trial and error he was the best fit for this squad. We had a “true” point guard last year in Darren Collison, who had the best year of his career last year. Hill fit better once he took over because of injury. He’s a competent ball-handler who can create his own shot. He’s not a wizard with his passes or handles, he just does enough. And that’s all this team needs. What he does provide over smaller guards is his defense and scoring. You don’t have to hide him on the defensive end or get the ball out of his hands quickly to create offense.
That defensive note is important. The story has been widely told about Frank Vogel putting the entire Pacers team in the locker room and having the starters stand fingertip to fingertip to show their combined wingspan. This is a huge team. George Hill is pretty darned big for a point guard. The entire Pacers philosophy, the entire defensive system,* is predicated on being bigger at every position. With George Hill, they are. With DJ Augustin or practically any “true” point guard, they are not. Related to that, and I’m sure to Hill’s scoring ability, the Pacers starting lineup this year was one of the best scoring units in the league. It might have been the top scoring unit, in fact. I know that going into game seven, the Pacers starting unit was outscoring the Heat’s starting five by like a hundred and fifty points or something like that. Long story short, there is a change the starting until should probably make, but George Hill is certainly not it.
*Which, you might have noticed, is where this team makes its bread and butter.
Which brings us to the next point. The Pacers bench is awful. Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi might not be anybody’s ideal combo, but they’re the only parts of the bench the team really ought to bring back. Augustin had a few points where he hit some big shots, but he was constantly lost on defense. And when he was in position, he wasn’t big or strong enough to do crap about it. And, you might also remember, there was a stretch he was so bad that Ben Hansbrough had to be the number two guy for a good stretch. I’m sure Hansbrough the Younger is a fine person and a blast to be around. But he is not a number two point guard in the NBA. And that is still the third best position on the bench. The backup wings were nothing but an unmitigated disaster. Gerald Green and Sam Young were affronts to professional basketball. I mean, Green might as well been kidnapped by Mexican drug lords for all the difference he made in the playoffs. It might have been better that way for Pacer fans.* Young at least provided some okay defenses for stretches. I think I would have been a better option with the ball, though. He would have had to make significant headway before he could have even been considered a drain.
*Not, presumably, for Gerald. I hear those drug lords don’t know the first thing about hospitality.
So, yeah, with a bench like that, you’re asking players like Lance Stephenson and Paul George to play some very extended minutes. That's going to be a drain on anybody eventually. Still, you generally have no problem with George doing that against most teams. But he is still awfully young and rather thin. When you’re asking him to guard LeBron James for the entire game over a seven games stretch, he’s going to be beaten down. And that’s off guarding Carmelo Anthony full time. He’ll get better as he gets stronger and more experienced. Lance Stephenson, though? Yeah, he’s an X-factor and he was a huge pleasant surprise this year. But I still found myself cringing whenever he touched the ball. There's no way around it, he's just plain ureliable at this point. He can provide a spark, but I would much rather see that spark come off the bench at this point in his career. Which clears the way for the return of Danny Granger.
For years Pacer fans wondered how good the team could be if they could get a healthy Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger on the court at the same time. Now, since Paul George set foot on an NBA floor, wouldn’t you take him over Dunleavy? I think Danny Granger understands this team belongs to PG and Roy Hibbert now. But it can be offensively challenged. You know the number one thing Danny Granger brings to the table? Consistent shooting. You know the number two thing Danny Granger brings to the table? The size, strength, and attitude to guard a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. You know the two things the Pacers desperately lacked in this series against the Heat? A consistent scoring option after Hibbert (since George’s scoring was come and go with guarding LeBron) and the size and savvy to really guard LeBron James.
Long story short, this team had enough as it was to beat Miami this year. You add a healthy Danny Granger to the mix? This is probably a Pacer victory in five games. Six tops.
Now, that does depend on Granger coming back healthy, and as Purdue fans are well aware, knees are squirrelly things in basketball. It’s no guarantee. It also guarantees that Lance Stephenson can handle going back to the bench. That’s also no lock. There may be some emergency counselling from Larry Bird there. But make no mistake. It is no stretch of the imagination to picture a Pacer team coming back more or less with the roster it has now and being able to win the whole damn thing. And win it convincingly. Pacer fans, it’s time to get giddy.