It’s October 24th and the Pacers are in a very different place then they were just a few months ago. Larry Bird was able to pull several rabbits from his hat in the early stages of the NBA offseason, drastically improving the team.
On paper this team looks great, but were does it stack up against the previous Pacers teams in recent history? Let’s take a look at the 2016-2017 Indiana Pacers. Ranking the top Pacers teams back to 2000 based on stats such as overall record, point differential, and opponent field goal percentage, the three top teams are as follows 2004, 2000, and 2014. Those three teams are all very memorable for three distinct reasons.
The 2000 Indiana Pacers team was a force to be reckoned with. Sporting a lineup including greats Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and Mark Jackson the team finished as the number 1 seed four games ahead of the Miami Heat. That years team looked like a title favorite finishing the regular season 56-26 before running into the Kobe and Shaq Lakers buzzsaw and being eliminated in six games.
2004’s team had several hold over from the previous team mentioned along with some star power of it’s own. Miller combined with the likes of Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, and Austin Croshere started the season strong and never lost momentum. After again finishing as the 1 seed in the east, the Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Unfortunately, the team didn’t have enough left in the tank as they were eliminated 4-2. This group had the potential to win a championship and be an absolute force if not for the events that unfolded the very next year. That year the Pacers started in an extremely strong manner until the night of November 19, 2004. That night a hard foul on Artest caused him to lay on the scorers table when a fan threw a beer at him. Artest went into the crowd towards the fan, inciting a brawl between players and fans. After the brawl things were never the same and the team slowly broke apart.
And finally the most recent team on the list, the 2014 Pacers. Frank Vogel masterminded a team that hung there hat on defense. Led by All-Star Paul George and Roy Hibbert the Pacers smothered opposing offenses. Finishing the regular season at 56-26 and two games ahead of the Miami Heat the team looked to be on its’ way to a Finals berth until meeting those same Heat in the ECF. The team performed well at home against the Heat but couldn’t muster enough on the road losing the series 4-2.
So now to answer the real question, where does this team that Bird has assembled this offseason have the potential to rank? Can they become known as the best team in recent Pacers history? This team has arguably the best starting lineup out of any of the aforementioned squads. Jeff Teague ranks above every point guard since Mark Jackson and possibly even him. Comparing Teague’s stats last year to Jackson’s 2000 stats Teague looks better. He scores at a mucher higher clip averaging 15.7 PPG compared to Jackson’s 8.1. He also was very close to Jackson’s assist numbers averaging just 2 assists per game less. At shooting guard is where this current roster is still lacking, all three of the teams above had a better shooting guard then this year’s team with Reggie Miller and Lance Stephenson. That could be changed by trading for Gay and moving either he or George to the 2. At the small forward position where PG is currently slotted he is a much better player than anyone else who has played there including Jalen Rose. George is a perennial All Star who should regain his athleticism this year after his injury two years ago. As for the Power Forward and Center positions, this year’s team looks to feature several additions such as Al Jefferson, Thad Young, and Jeremy Evans along side second year player Myles Turner. On paper that is a very attractive group but where do they stand in regards to other Pacers teams. Comparing this group to the parings of O’Neal and Foster, Davis and Smits, or West and Hibbert puts them firmly in first place surprisingly. This is a group of talented scorers and rebounders, the likes of which Indy has not seen in a very long time. Not only will the 2016-17 Pacers have two very capable starters, they will also have at least one second unit guy who would start on a lot of other teams.
All in all I really believe this team has the potential to be the best Pacers team anyone younger then 20 years of age has ever seen. This group could very well produce several all stars this year and an MVP candidate in Paul George. Look for these Pacers to make some noise in the upcoming season and beyond!