May 27, 2016, 12:00 pm
This season was a year of redemption for the Indiana Pacers. Paul George returned and in many ways looked more impressive than ever, while the team established themselves as a playoff contender in pushing the Raptors to the brink of elimination. Once the season concluded, however, rifts emerged between the front office and head coach Frank Vogel. In May Vogel was let go, signaling the first step in the team’s effort to restructure its offensive identity in 2016-17. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in Indiana.
On August 1st, 2014 the entire basketball world held its breath. While practicing for the US national team – which was preparing for the FIBA Basketball World Cup – Paul George landed awkwardly, suffering a compound fracture in his lower right leg. Rumors flew that George would miss the entire 2014-15 season and many began to wonder if he would ever be the same player again.
While George did return for the final six games of last season, questions about his health lingered through summer. How good could he be if he lost some of his explosiveness? To make matters even more complicated, Pacers’ president Larry Bird and George publically traded quips about the viability of George playing power forward more regularly. Indiana had allowed David West to walk in the offseason and hadn’t replaced him with a starting caliber big man, as Bird envisioned a quicker Pacers’ lineup built around the strengths of George, George Hill and the newly signed Monta Ellis. While the team did deploy more three guard lineups as the season moved along (providing more playing time for C.J. Miles) George ultimately stuck at the three and returned to form as the Pacers pushed for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Under Vogel the team finished 8th in defensive efficiency, but tied for 23rd on the offensive end. The Pacers struggled to get consistent looks and often resorted to praying George would bail them out on offense. These concerns haunted them in their first round series against the Raptors, where the Pacers’ season finally ended after seven hard fought games.
Overhauling the offense appeared to be Bird’s primary concern this offseason. He took the NBA by surprise in firing Vogel and turning to assistant coach Nate McMillan in his place. Bird repeatedly claimed that he wanted to jumpstart the offense by increasing the team’s pace, and while McMillan’s teams have never been the fastest he reportedly plans to make Bird’s vision a reality.
More importantly, McMillan boasted a top-10 offense in each of his last three seasons as a head coach. Given the sound defensive principles put in place by Vogel, McMillan should be able to focus on the offense this offseason, creating some exciting possibilities. Between their current talent and McMillan’s coaching the Pacers should see significant improvement in their offensive efficiency, and a bump in fantasy numbers for their key players if they truly up their pace of play.
ADP: 13/19 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 8/13 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 14/14 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
It’s hard to come away from this season unimpressed with George. After spending almost all of last year on the shelf he returned to his pre-injury form without batting an eye. George was again the engine behind the Pacers’ offensive attack, and reminded the world why he was considered a premier defender as recently as 2013-14.
George averaged career highs in points (23.5), boards (seven) and threes (2.6) this season while chipping in 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He hasn’t been the most efficient shooter since his breakout campaign three years ago, and he shot just 42.1% from the floor this season, but George made up for this deficiency in 2015-16 with exceptional shooting from the line (averaging 87% on 6.7 attempts per game) and impressive durability.
George jumped out to a blistering start this season, and while he couldn’t sustain his pace as a top-5 player he was able to maintain at least second round value in each month of the campaign. The difference was his efficiency on jumpers from 12 to 20 feet, which he settled for a lot. When he was hitting from mid-range he was an elite fantasy asset, but even when his shot wasn’t falling he still chipped in enough in threes, boards, assists and steals to be worthy of his draft spot.
Early rankings seem to have George to come off draft boards in the early second round, but owners could justify reaching for him after the top-7 or so picks are off the board next fall. If McMillan holds true to his word that the Pacers will play faster we could be looking at a career year for George, as more open opportunities and easy buckets in transition could help both his efficiency and counting stats.
ADP: 40/62 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 38/52 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 58/70 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
In his first season in Indiana Ellis struggled to recapture the offensive form he showed during his two years in Dallas. Before the season began it was easy to imagine Ellis creating havoc as a secondary ball handler when defenses collapsed to contain George, but Ellis struggled to consistently create as the team’s secondary option.
He scored a full five fewer points per game, dropping from nearly 19 the last two seasons to 13.7 in 2015-16. Despite taking fewer shots Ellis’ shooting also dipped as he made merely 42.8% of his shots from the field. While Ellis has never been a particularly efficient scorer he averaged a respectable 44.8% in Dallas, but was back to harming your fantasy team last season.
All that being said, Ellis remained a helpful and versatile player last year in spite of his scoring woes. He averaged 4.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 threes and an impressive 1.9 steals. Ellis has always been an elite source of steals, and seeing his playmaking remain intact in his first year with Indiana is encouraging. It isn’t hard to imagine Ellis benefiting as much from the McMillan signing as George, and if he can find his form as a scorer he could be a bargain on draft day next season.
ADP: 76/72 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 80/71 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 92/79 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
In 43 games last season Hill filled in admirably as the team’s primary offensive weapon, averaging a career high in points while also posting the most efficient season of his career. 2015-16, however, was a return to the solid – but not special – player Hill has typically been in fantasy.
With George and Ellis shouldering the lion’s share of ball handling duties, Hill took just 9.8 shots per game this season and averaged his fewest assists since 2011. All told, Hill’s final line of 12.2 points, 3.4 assists, 3.9 boards, 1.1 steals and 1.7 treys is perfectly respectable in fantasy, but he did little to distinguish himself from the pack in 2015-16.
Although Hill did flex some versatility he strikes me as the type of player who will always be more valuable in real life than fantasy, as his excellent perimeter defense and ability to move without the ball don’t do much for your squad statistically. He’ll be worth a mid-to-late round pick next fall, but at that point in the draft I’m more likely to gamble on players with more upside.
ADP: 118/140 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 175/156 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 137/116 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 60
Turner was a surprise contributor as a rookie in 2015-16, making an impressive impact in just 23.3 minutes per game. Coming out of Texas he was considered to have immense potential as a shot blocking big who could also stretch the floor, but many wondered if he would need some time to add strength before contributing in the NBA.
Turner needed no such waiting period, though, as he averaged 10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.4 steals and 1.6 points per game. Those numbers already earned Turner a spot on standard league rosters, but looking forward there’s even more reason for excitement. There is no reason to think Turner can’t develop three point range in the next season or two, and McMillan and Bird are already discussing him as a key part of the team’s future. If he continues to develop, Turner could be a fantasy starter as early as next season.
ADP: 140/143 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 95/100 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 102/95 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 71
Mahinmi was a solid value in 2015-16 after earning the Pacers starting center spot. He struggled from the line (shooting just 58.8% on 3.2 attempts per game), but chipped in across the board in just 25.5 minutes per game. Mahinmi averaged 9.2 points, seven rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals and one block per contest, making him a valuable defensive addition for owners who snagged him in the penultimate round of their drafts.
ADP: 140/141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 168/158 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 148/143 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 64
Averaging 10.9 points, 2.0 treys, 2.8 boards, 0.9 assists and 0.8 steals per game made Miles the definition of a fantasy specialist in 2015-16, as he was a valuable three point shooter who didn’t do much else for his fantasy owners. Given his abysmal 40% from the floor, Miles isn’t worth drafting except for those desperate to boost their standing in threes.
ADP: 140/136 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 159/160 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 183/178 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 73
While he didn’t hurt you anywhere Hill offered little as a fantasy asset this season. Averaging just 19.6 minutes, 8.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks he couldn’t recapture the low-end value he had as a starter in Los Angeles. Owners should fully expect Hill to go undrafted next season unless he signs with a team that can offer him significant minutes.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 201/203 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 252/247 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
Allen showed flashes of solid play but still couldn’t break on to the standard league radar this year. Averaging 19.4 minutes, 5.1 points, 5.2 boards and 0.5 blocks, he didn’t offer much beyond low-end big man stats. Even with Hill likely to move on it is unlikely that Allen is able to carve out more playing time next season, as the Pacers seem committed to Mahinmi and Turner in the front court.
ADP: 140 / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 250/264 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 241/270 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 58
Stuckey saw both his minutes and role reduced with the return of Paul George, resulting in his worst fantasy campaign in six years. Stuckey averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 0.7 steals per contest, flashing his well rounded game, but was undone by his limited role and poor shooting. One way or another Stuckey will have to find a path to more minutes before being worth the trouble in standard leagues.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 297/282 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 320/297 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 59
Hill got some good opportunities and he took yet another step forward this season, but he still couldn’t make his way on to the standard league radar. Averaging 16.4 minutes, 4.6 points, 3.0 boards, 0.5 treys, 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks per game, he showed some good versatility but he’ll need to take another step forward in order to be relevant in most fantasy leagues.
ADP: 56/76 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 247/267 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 268/311 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 66
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Lawson the biggest bust in fantasy this year. You didn’t invest an early pick in him, but for a player to be drafted in the first seven rounds to finish outside the top-275 is atrocious. Lawson finished the season with averages of 5.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.4 turnovers with putrid percentages (39.2% from the field and 69% from the stripe), and basically wasn’t worth owning at any point this season.
Despite returning to the playoffs this year the Pacers still present a number of questions. Letting go of Vogel carries inherent risk, and Pacers are betting their future on McMillan’s ability to build an effective offense. Having a bonafide superstar in Paul George will certainly help the transition, as will using another offseason to bring in players that fit Bird’s vision of fast-paced basketball. As long as the team has George they will be competitive, and Turner’s development could help the Pacers reach a new level next season.