After last night's game 7 defeat, Paul George talked about how the Pacers should feel good about their season despite the disappointing finish. And he is spot on. The Pacers gave the favorites a great series and can confidently say they are one of only a few championship contenders heading into next year.
The Pacers played incredible defense this year and Paul George and Roy Hibbert have emerged as two of the best individual defenders in the game. Hibbert finished second in the NBA this year in individual player Defensive Rating, behind Tim Duncan, and George finished third, directly ahead of Tony Allen. David West finished eighth in that category, making them the only team to have three players in the top-10.
And on the offensive side of the ball, Paul George is a budding superstar who showed that he is capable of putting a team on his back. (I'm looking forward to watching game 1--when he hit that 3 to send it to OT--on ESPN Classic asap)
But inexperience in a crucial game 7 was ultimately a problem for the Pacers. They didn't have any real fight left last night, but that will come in time. The real issues were turnovers and foul trouble, two things that can be fixed by addressing a need for more depth, especially depth that can handle the ball.
Earlier in the series, the Pacers went as their back court went. When Hill and Stevenson were hitting shots and holding their own, things went well. Last night, however, the Heat pressured Indy's ball handlers and made life much harder for the Pacers offense.
Indiana's lack of guard depth (no offense, D.J. Augustin) caused Indy to rely on the two starting guards and the lack of subs that could come in and relieve some of that Miami pressure contributed to the low number of shots that Indiana put up. Time after time, the Pacers would struggle to get into a set and George or West wouldn't get the ball in their spot until there were just a few seconds left on the shot clock.
This is a problem that predates last night's loss. Indiana, who had the sixth slowest pace in the NBA, was top-10 in turnovers. That is not good. The other teams in the top-10 tend to be teams that run and gun, like OKC and the Rockets.
But it won't be an easy fix for a team that is usually not a major free agent destination and doesn't have tons of cap space anyway. David West is an unrestricted free agent and bringing him back needs to be priority numero uno. The Pacers are about $9 million under next year's cap before bringing West back and need to find a low cost solution to their guard depth issue too.
Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack would provide some quality guard depth but may be out of their price range. Chauncey Billups would be my choice. He would likely be a low risk investment that would add some perimeter shooting and, more importantly, veteran leadership and big game experience. Hopefully they can continue nailing their draft picks and return next year to give it to Miami once again.
D.J. Augustin and Sam Young will also be unrestricted and both Ben and Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph will be restricted free agents.