Remember when the Portland Trailblazers were the next up and coming team?
They had budding star on the wing in Brandon Roy, a stable, All-Star level power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge and a defensive stopper at center in Greg Oden.
We all know how that ended: Roy’s knees gave way, Oden’s entire body betrayed him and Aldridge was left to rot on a lottery team.
Why do I bring this up?
Because the Blazers’ brass must be real pissed watching the success of the Pacers.
Indiana is 5-0, the only undefeated team left in the NBA after throttling one of its biggest contenders, the Chicago Bulls, 97-80 Wednesday night.
Today, it’s easy to explain why the Pacers are successful. Indy’s brass built a well-rounded group, with each position providing different qualities on the floor. They have their star wing in Paul George, their All-Star power forward in David West, and their defensive stopper at center in Roy Hibbert.
But when this team was getting constructed with middling picks and second-tier free agents, it wasn’t nearly as clear that Indy would challenge for the title in 2013.
Paul George, Indy’s bonafide superstar, was the 10th pick in 2010, drafted behind Wesley Johnson (on his third team) and Al-Farouq Aminu (on his second).
Today, George is playing like one of the top-10 players in the NBA, and his early season numbers put him squarely into MVP conversations if he can sustain them through the season.
In five games, George is averaging nearly 26 points per game, eight rebounds per game, four assists, nearly two steals. He’s shooting 48 percent from the floor — a career high — while also averaging more shots per game than he has before.
He’s averaging 44 percent from 3 — also a career high — while throwing up seven a game. He’s attacking the basket at a greater rate than ever, getting to the line six times a night.
Hibbert, who was drafted 17th overall in 2008, has become a monster defender who can figure out how to play with his body, thus limiting fouls.
His weak-side defense has improved, the best example being the game against the Bulls, when, in the third quarter, Hibbert came from the right side of the paint to block a speeding Derrick Rose layup attempt.
With George, West and (when he comes back) Granger carrying the bulk of scoring, Hibbert doesn’t need to worry much about straining on the offensive end. Instead, he can take and make any easy bunnies his teammates may produce for him (think Tyson Chandler) while also holding down the paint on the defensive end.
Hibberts defensive rating (which measures how many points a player allows per 100 possessions) is other worldly. His defensive rating is 76.6, compared to the next closest big man with at least 20 minutes, Tiago Splitter’s 92.1.
Hibbert is averaging nine rebounds per game and over five blocks a night through the first five games.
While West has been steady for the Pacers since they signed him on the cheap coming off a torn ACL, the other homegrown talent to shine is Lance Stephenson, a second round pick who has matured into a 15-point a game scorer.
Stephenson gives this team another dynamic, able to make the 3 enough for defender to respect him and give George more room to work and West more room for mid-range j’s.
Barring an injury to George, Hibbert or West, this team should have enough to make another deep playoff run. While newcomer Luis Scola is a nice addition, the Pacers could use another big man for insurance reasons.
Either way, Pacers basketball is nothing to take lightly, and I’m sure those in Miami are taking notes, because Chicago just did.