There are many changes that fans will see with the Indiana Pacers this upcoming season. There will be eight new players that will need to gel quickly for ultimate success for the team. Many of the expected changes have been focused around the offensive end of the court with the additions of Monta Ellis and Paul George, who is returning from injury. The biggest change will be on the defensive end for many reasons. Trends are changing in the NBA, players are longer, smaller, and faster than traditional NBA lineups that one may have seen 10 years ago.
Many fans look at the above picture and think of the Pacers defense with George guarding LeBron James. They think of Roy Hibbert, the countless battles with the Miami Heat, and the dominance the Pacers once carried off the court. The issue with this picture is that the idea of what fans expect to see is not only unrealistic, it is not wanted. Below is a video of what was the pinnacle of that mentioned dominance.
That block and that play signified what many expect the Pacers to have and what many expect would be lost with the Roy Hibbert trade. However, there is much more to the story than only losing Roy Hibbert.
Two years ago, at the All-Star break, the Pacers were darlings of the NBA with their defense, but what happened after the break? Many factors happened that could be analyzed for another day, but one factor in particular that happened was that teams learned how to reduce the strength that was Roy Hibbert. Teams started to utilize the pick-and-roll play and used faux pick-and-roll plays with one goal in mind, to draw Roy Hibbert out of the lane. Without a rim protector at the rim, the Pacers defense suffered. Teams succeeded by drawing Hibbert from the paint and using his slow foot speed to their advantage. The below video is a perfect example of how teams used Indiana's inability to recover to the basket, more specifically with Hibbert.
As seen in the clip, variations with the pick and roll would leave the Pacers vulnerable due to the Pacers' rim protector unable to recover against most of his matchups going to the basket. This weakness was only magnified in the playoffs which resulted in the six-game elimination by LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
With this new Pacers team, Coach Frank Vogel can mold new defensive schemes to adjust to the increasing usage of the pick and roll and transition offense. Many are looking for Paul George to be the answer to the defense, but he is only one factor. According to his interview with BBallBreakdown, Vogel likes to run two-man sub-schemes on the defensive end, more specifically on the perimeter. Paul George and George Hill would be able to take the more difficult assignments and Monta Ellis can take over what this writer would like to call the "Lance role". Former Pacer Lance Stephenson was called a great defender, but he really benefited from the pressure from George and Hill on the perimeter so he could take more gambles and get more breakaway steals. This role fits Monta Ellis perfectly as he has been top 10 in steals five of the last six years. The below video shows off, not only Ellis' speed, but his ability to steal and finish in the open court.
With the exit of Roy Hibbert, one can wonder how the Pacers will be able to have a low post defensive presence without him, and two men that can help with that issue are Ian Mahinmi and Myles Turner.
A bright spot in what was mostly a low season was the Pacers' defensive efficiency of their second unit. The second unit utilized Mahinmi as the more agile rim protector and used a smaller lineup to keep up with the opposition. The second unit posted a higher and more positive +/- than the starting unit with Hibbert over the course of last year. In an article posted by Indycornrows.com, a lineup consisting of C.J Miles, Damjan Rudez, Luis Scola, and Ian Mahinmi has a +/- average of 14.5 per 100 possessions. Those numbers were through February of last season, but the effectiveness of a quicker and longer lineup can be seen. Larry Bird has now filled the lineup with quicker and longer players that can hold their own in transition and on semi-fast breaks.
The last player that could make the biggest and most important impact, other than Paul George, is Myles Turner. He posesses the shot blocking ability that Roy Hibbert had (7'4" wing span), but the main difference is that he has quickness with his foot speed. Turner has foot speed much like a LaMarcus Aldridge type and has the ability to guard the perimeter and on a high PNR and recover to the rim where he can use his length to affect the shot attempt. Below is a video displaying his quickness, length, and defensive awareness (around 1:05 mark).
If Turner can learn to stay out of foul trouble, he could play a very vital role for the Pacers defense with his ability to block shots, guard the perimeter, and recover quickly to the paint.
With the new additions to the team, Indiana can play smaller and faster to play with the fast break teams in the Western Conference. The Pacers could also utilize a longer and more traditional style against a more half court oriented team. Frank Vogel has the pieces to mold his defense to many different styles and schemes. The one questions is, can the team develop the chemistry necessary to gel and perform to their potential as a unit on the defensive end? The possibilities are there, but fans will have to wait until November to see what coach Vogel truly has molded his players into.