The Pacers will have to try to maintain their success without Paul George for the bulk of the season. The argument could be made that Indiana’s top offensive catalyst was shooting guard Stephenson. While Stephenson definitely took some shots that he shouldn’t have, he was the only Pacer who showed the ability to shoot from distance, drive to the basket and create open looks for his teammates. However, with Stephenson’s maturity having been called into question, it’s worth wondering if this play came from a motivation to win games or if he was playing for his next contract. This year, the Pacers won’t have George or Stephenson, making it worth questioning just where exactly offense will come from. The most likely player to take over as the leading man in the offense is West, but he’s far from an ideal go-to scorer as a player who mostly takes advantage of mismatches in the post. Chris Keane /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images Another option is Stuckey, a reserve guard who has provided scoring bursts off the bench for the Detroit Pistons in recent years. Stuckey is not an ideal fit to be a lead scorer. He’s not a good three-point shooter and is a major defensive liability. At the same time, Indiana needs players who can create their own shot, and Stuckey is their most likely player to do so on a consistent basis. There is a real chance that Stuckey leads Indiana in scoring this season. The brutal reality is that Indiana’s offense could be the worst in basketball this season. If the Pacers want to get back into the playoffs, they’ll need players like Hibbert and Hill to step up. Even if they do, the Pacers lack offensive superstars, they lack spacing, and they lack talent. Unless something dramatic and unexpected happens, effective offense is going to be a constant grind for the Indiana Pacers this season. Outlook There is little doubt that Indiana cannot be a true championship contender this season. Even if George is ready to return to the lineup by the time the playoffs begin, it will be difficult for the Pacers to integrate him into the lineup on short notice. Even if they do, there is no reason to believe the Pacers or George will be ready to compete with the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls. However, there is a distinct possibility that Indiana will make the playoffs despite the losses of George and Stephenson. The biggest reason for this is the relatively soft Eastern Conference. Indiana can win fewer than 40 games this season and still have a good chance of making the playoffs, while that record would almost definitely not be good enough in the West. Even so, until the Pacers show they can have even a mediocre offense, they’re unlikely to go very far if they happen to make it to postseason play. SPOTLIGHT: Roy Hibbert Perhaps no player received more scrutiny during Indiana’s struggles last season than their big center. While the entire team was struggling to score, Hibbert had some bizarrely poor performances, including a playoff game in which Hibbert failed to score a single point or collect a single rebound. While Hibbert will never be a prolific offensive player, a man of his height should be able to find ways to contribute, and Hibbert too often disappeared down the stretch last season. Hibbert also got attention for claiming there were “some selfish dudes” in the Indiana locker room last season. While there was a lot of speculation about who those players could be, the more significant problem was the fact that Hibbert would make such a comment to the media. That was a suggestion that not only was there significant locker room turmoil, there was a void of leadership among the Pacers in general. It’s an alarming sign that on a team with players like Hibbert and David West with legit championship hopes, the Pacers couldn’t find the leadership they needed. With George injured and Stephenson gone, Indiana will need Hibbert to step up, both as a leader and as a player. Hibbert was outstanding on defense as usual last season; that’s not the concern. What Indiana needs is a player who can establish himself as a physical force on the inside and start commanding defensive attention. They need Hibbert to take on an expanded role as a player who can make a difference on offense.
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