Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Each evaluation will have the same structure even as written by the different Cavalier writers here on FoS. All of these evaluations assume health of all players involved including Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao. While health concerns will be noted as appropriate, this is the off-season and best case scenarios are what we have to work with. For this piece we will assume a Cavalier starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Bynum. Stats were taken from NBA.com and ESPN.com
Off-season additions: Coach Mike Brown, 1st Round Picks Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum
Off-season subtractions: Maureese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Shaun Livingston, Daniel Gibson and Luke Walton.
Off-season additions: C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill.
Off-season subtractions: Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and Jeff Pendergraph.
Last season the Indiana Pacers finished first in the Central division with a record of 49-32. The Pacers lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Miami Heat. The Pacers were led by Paul George with 17.4 points a game, Roy Hibbert averaged 8.3 rebounds a game and George Hill averaged 4.7 assists a game.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving versus George Hill
Last season Hill started 76 games and in his 34 and a half minutes per game Hill averaged 14 points, 4 boards and 5 dimes with a steal and 1.5 turnovers. Hill is not relied on as a scorer, his toughness and perimeter defense is the reason Indiana acquired him from the Spurs in 2011. Hill is a very solid point guard who the Pacers would like to see continue to improve offensively to help give the Pacers a balanced inside-out offensive attack.
Kyrie was limited last season (and the season before and his 1 year at Duke), to 59 games played. In those games Irving put up 22.5 points per game with 5.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and a PER of 21.51. Irving did this scoring on 45% shooting from the field and 39% from 3 point range. Last year for the Cavs Irving was the primary ball handler and scorer when he was healthy. This year, with all of the additions to the roster he will have somewhat less pressure to provide all of the offense and can spend time improving on defense as well. Kyrie is already taking leadership of the team, leading workouts and practices in Las Vegas with players gathering there, even though he isn’t playing on the Summer League team.
Advantage: Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving is already a top five point guard in the NBA and although George Hill is a quality starter he is not on Irving’s level.
Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters versus Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson stepped up greatly for Frank Vogel and the Pacers once Granger went down with an injury. Stephenson started 72 games for Indiana and gained valuable playoff experience last season. While he was a pleasant surprise come playoff team, his offensive game is a major question mark. In 29 minutes last season he averaged 9 points, 4 boards and 3 assists. His defense is there and the ability to guard the 2 or 3 and maybe the four (with the new athletic power forward/small lineups) will keep Stephenson’s playing time up.
Dion Waiters in his rookie season, struggled with injuries (will be a pattern) and inconsistencies. He played in 61 games, starting many and coming off the bench some as well for Byron Scott. Waiters averaged 14.7 points on 41 % shooting and 31% from the 3 point line. Waiters added 3 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game last year as well. Waiters has shown a desire to improve this off-season, especially in his shooting percentages and should see overall improvement from time in the league.
Advantage: Cavaliers. *If this holds true, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in good shape comparing back courts with one of the best teams in the East. *If Danny Granger gets healthy and inserted in the starting lineup and Paul George moves to the starting shooting guard, then the advantage goes to the Indiana Pacers by a landslide. Waiters has improved and continues to stride to get better and although Stephenson has the playoff experience, he still looked lost offensively and needs to understand teams are leaving him wide open for a reason.
Small Forward: Earl Clark versus Paul George
Paul George had himself a tremendous playoff run last season. He is now a star and for good reason as he averaged 17 points, 7.5 boards and 4 dimes last season. He was always more known for his defense, but watching his coming out party offensively last year in the playoffs was an incredible scene. In the post season George averaged, 19 points, 7.4 boards, 5 dimes, 1.3 steals in 41 minutes a game.
Earl Clark had his first season of major minutes last year, first under Brown and then under Mike D’Antoni. Clark played in 59 games last year putting up 7.3 PPG with 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists all while shooting 44% from the floor and 34% from 3 point range. Clark should expect more minutes and touches with his new team, but will have to adjust to his role as a 3/4 in Brown’s lineup. Clark will also be relied upon to guard opposing wings as well. Clark will rotate time with Alonzo Gee, the defender of the group, and Sergey Karasev, the rookie sharp shooter.
Advantage: Pacers. Watch out folks, Paul George is the real deal. It is possible the Cleveland Cavaliers understand this too and could be the reason for signing Earl Clark.
Power Forward: Tristan Thompson versus David West
West, the 33 year old veteran out of Xavier enjoyed his second season in Indiana as he averaged 17 points, 7 boards and 3 dimes per game last season. That is an increase of 5 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist over his 2011-12 campaign. His free throw percentage dropped to 76%, West is an average 82% career free throw shooter. Nonetheless the Indiana Pacers are hoping the ageless David West continues to muscle it up down low and be a solid big man next to Roy Hibbert.
Thompson showed dramatic improvement last year in his second year, especially when Varejao went out for the year. Thompson averaged 11.7 points on 49% shooting to go along with 9.4 rebounds and .9 blocks per game. Thompson showed great improvement in understanding on the offensive game as well as leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Thompson’s change to the right hand will be interesting to follow this year.
Advantage: Pacers. Thompson is having himself a wonderful preseason, but David West is a skilled veteran who keeps himself in solid shape and even though in years to come Thompson has more potential West is so tough and intelligent as he as been around the game for a long time.
Center: Andrew Bynum versus Roy Hibbert
Must be nice to have a center over seven foot start 79 games last season. Hibbert averaged 12 points, 8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.6 blocks per game in 2012-13. Hibbert has excellent passing ability for a big man and he shot 74% from the free throw line. His numbers were slightly down from his 2011-12 campaign, but he has never averaged 30 or more minutes a game in a season. Will Hibbert increase his scoring or is Indiana okay with him focusing on defense and being their rim protector? Either way, staying healthy is significant for the Pacers if they want to get back to the Eastern Conference finals.
Bynum, coming off a year away from the league, is the great unknown this year. Based on his stats his last year in LA Bynum is a top 3 center in the league. Bynum averaged 18.7 PPG and 11.8 rebounds under Coach Brown in 2011-2012. He also added 1.9 blocks per game. Bynum was surrounded by Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol that year which limited his touches, but with Kyrie is the only player on the Cavs that could demand more time with the ball then Bynum. Dependant on his health Bynum looks to return to dominating form. If he doesn’t Anderson Varejao, also depending on health, has shown the ability to hold the fort at the 5.
Advantage: Pacers. Roy Hibbert is a solid center in the NBA, but can he continue to get better? Based off his history, at least he is always on the court. The same cannot be said for Andrew Bynum.
Bench: Varejao, Tyler Zeller, C.J. Miles, Karasev, Gee, Jack, Bennett versus Danny Granger (potential starting small forward if healthy, moving Paul George to shooting guard) Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and Ian Mahinmi.
Advantage: Cavaliers. The Pacers bench was bad last season. Remember watching those playoff games against the Heat and seeing Augustin trying to handle point? Remember always seeing Paul George on the court? (Averaged 41 minutes a game.) At times there was bright spots with Mahini, but the Cavaliers’ bench should not have nearly as tough a time scoring as the Pacer bench.
Head Coach: Pacers. Mike Brown back in Cleveland and helping change the mindset for the Cavaliers is a great sign that this team understands defense wins championships. With that said, nobody plays as tough, stout and physical defense as Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers.
Overall: The Indiana Pacers made it to the Eastern Conference finals last season and they are out to prove that was not a fluke. The question remains, will Granger be a Pacer all season? If so, a healthy Granger will go a long way for the Pacers, especially come playoff time. It’s clear the Pacers need more assistance scoring the ball. The Pacers are a tough defensive minded team that right now is better than the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the gap should not be 25 games like it was last season.