Scrappy Pacers Are Playoff Caliber Thanks To Granger, Hibbert
I said it before the first ball was tossed, before the first jersey was thrown, before the first technical of the year was given out: The Pacers will make the playoffs.
I was heckled and ridiculed for making a prediction that people felt was out of left field.
Looks like I am going to have the last laugh.
As of right now, the Pacers belong in the conversation of legitimate playoff contenders. Coming off two big wins -- one courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday, the other a near-20 point shellacking of Miami six days prior -- the Pacers have made their presence known. They are ready for the next step.
Led by what looks like an All-Star in Danny Granger and a Most Improved Player award candidate in Roy ”I am finally skinny” Hibbert, the Pacers look primed to make a push for the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs. And if the Pacers do indeed fulfill my preseason prophecy, it will be the first time they accomplish that feat since they lost to the New Jersey Nets, 4-2, in the first round of the 2005-06 playoffs. Granger was a rookie that year.
You might ask yourself how this team, which is starting Josh McRoberts at power forward, is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference. I can tell you this: it isn't the suddenly efficient scoring of Granger, 44 percent field goal and 39 percent 3-point, but rather the emergence of Hibbert as a reliable scoring option and a quality defender (Hibbert averages 6 defensive rebounds and 2 blocks a game).
This season, the Pacers are ranked 11th in points per game against (97.3), and, shockingly enough, third in field goal percentage against (43.2 percent). It would seem the Pacers have finally got with the program and adopted the timeless quote, ”Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”
In line with their energetic defensive approach, coach Jim O’Brien placed a massive white board in the Pacers' locker room. On this board are the names of every Pacer player and his hustle stats, including deflections, charges taken, offensive rebounds and steals.
Of course, the ever-improving Hibbert leads the team in hustle plays. McRoberts is second.
In response to the effectiveness of the hustle board O’Brien stated, ”When our hustle stats are 50-plus, we win. When we're down around 40, we lose.”
The Pacers' offense is also blossoming this season.
They have instituted a reverse 80s Lakers approach.
In the 80s, Pat Riley took the initiation of the offense out of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's hands and instead ran the offense through a 6-foot-9 point guard named Magic Johnson.
Now, I'm not comparing Granger and Hibbert to Magic and the Captain, but I am comparing the situation. The offense in Indy is now run through the post. Instead of Granger throwing up wild shots early in the shot clock, the Pacers are dumping the ball into the 7-foot-2 Hibbert first and trusting that he will make the right decision.
And because of this new direction, Granger, the star of the team, is shooting better from the field. With the rising scoring of Hibbert, the steady play of Granger and the overshadowed acquisitions of promising point guard Darren Collins and scrappy veteran James Posey, the Pacers will be contenders for the sixth through eigth spot in the playoffs.
My “ludicrous” prediction does not seem to be out of left field anymore does it?
To reach writer Miles Cooper, click here.
Sign up for Neon Tommy's weekly e-mail newsletter.