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Enemy: Indiana Pacers
3SOB Forecast*: 52-30

Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

What’s up in Indiana?

I began the Indiana Pacers installment of last season’s Assessing the Enemy series by referring to them as the “Grizzlies East.” A year later, it stands as one of the few assertions I’ve made that managed to hold water better than a handful of Charmin. The Pacers, like the Grizzlies, resided at the very top of the league in defensive efficiency, lacked truly reliable options to space the floor for their interior attack, rounded out the bottom of the league in terms of pace, and trucked their way to the Conference Finals.

Unlike our Grizzlies, the Pacers found themselves fallen just a game short of the big dance, as they took the juggernaut Miami Heat deep into a playoff series for the second straight season. Also unlike the Grizzlies, whose highly-touted swingman was traded away, the Pacers’ are enjoying the rise to stardom of their young wing, Paul George.

For good reason, the ensuing expectations in Indiana are as high as they have been since before Ron Artest made a nasty name for himself with the whole “Malace at the Palace” debacle. Much of the pressure to kick it to the next level will fall on the set of shoulders possessed by emerging big man Roy Hibbert — which if you haven’t noticed yet, has swelled. Judging by this recent Instagram post by the Pacers’ center, he was not playing around when consistently keeping his Twitter followers in the loop with his workout schedule.

A stronger Hibbert means an even more dangerous Pacers’ team. A stronger Hibbert with space to work, complements of snipers firing away from downtown, would be gravy. The return of team president Larry Bird did not exactly lead the Pacers to go hard on the market to try and shore up their needs as far as shooters go, but they did manage to make some valuable improvements to the roster. In essence, the major moves that the Pacers made were simple replacements. They replaced the underwhelming D.J. Augustin with the “Quiet Storm,” C.J. Watson, they let Tyler Hansbrough walk in favor of bringing in the aging-but-crafty Luis Scola, and they waved goodbye to Gerald Green in favor of Chris Copeland.

The most important thing that they did, however, was likely re-sign David West, whose stabilizing veteran presence and still-automatic mid-range jumper is integral to the way they play the game.

Who are they cooking with?

PG: George Hill
SG: Paul George
SF: Danny Granger
PF: David West
C : Roy Hibbert
6 : Luis Scola

The replacement players mentioned above, if all remain healthy, should stand up as at least lateral departures from the players that preceded them in their respective roles. Each was a higher-efficiency player in 2012-13 by PER standards, and could each potentially turn out to be better fit for the Pacers’ style of play.

Watson was putrid defensively last season, as was Augustin, but he should be an offensive upgrade over the departed backup point guard, who shot an abysmal 35% from the field last year. Scola carries with him a pedigree of being an awfully irritating matchup, like Hansbrough, but is also a more polished offensive weapon. Green was just a mess last season, while Copeland was a pleasant surprise at the three and stretch four for the Knicks.

A wild card for the Pacers going forward will be the impending return of former face of the franchise, Danny Granger. It is uncertain just how much of his step was lost, but before the injury he was the type of player that could put the Pacers over the top. I wouldn’t expect the Granger of old, but as a guy who was sound defensively with a decent set of intangibles, a productive return is not out of the question. Granger has a bit of that Rudy Gay tunnel vision and tends to fall in love with his jump shot, but could do a lot of things on the court that would free up George considerably, if utilized effectively.

The other George, George Hill, has quietly continued to develop as a true point guard, in his first go-round as the steady starter at the position. He took an incremental leap last season in his assist ratio, from 23.1 to 24.7, while dropping his turnover ratio from 8.3 to 8.1. Hill is not going to win any individual awards, but has become a fine leader at his position.

How do the good guys stack up?

Credit: Lance Murphey / AP Photo

Josh Coleman:

I said it about the Bulls, but this squad has been the true Grizz doppelgänger for the past few seasons. The speedy, pass-first point guards; the highly touted small forwards; the bruising big men; the tough-as-nails, grind-it-out approach to doing everything it takes to win a game and then some. Rarely has a contest between these two teams not come down to the 4th quarter over the past 4-5 seasons (their last 3 games have been decided by a combined 12 points). In years past, it was the Rudy Gay vs. Danny Granger matchup that garnered the most attention. Now, the Marc Gasol vs. Roy Hibbert tilt is sure to draw attention from NBA purists while the cobra-mongoose pairing of Paul George and Tony Allen is sure to be must-see-TV, as well.

Indiana is one of the few teams with the bulk, skill, and talent to match the Grizzlies in the paint. David West has given Memphis fits no matter which uniform he has been wearing, and Hibbert is in the conversation for the best center in the Eastern Conference. Both are worthy of All-Star selections, so the Pacers are well-equipped to deal with the Gasol-ZBo pairing. Both teams thrive on their defensive schemes creating easy opportunities from the havoc that ensues from them. The Pacers have a better perimeter creator/scorer on the wing in Paul George, while the Grizzlies hold the edge at PG with Indianapolis native Mike Conley.

Both teams have added veteran depth on the bench, which means that everyone should continue to expect this to come down to a rebounding and turnover battle. The team that takes care of the basketball the best will likely be the winner in both contests between these two similar squads. As with the Bulls previously, I think the home team comes away the winner in each of these games for that reason, as both teams try to establish themselves as contenders in their respective conferences.

Rafael Canton (of Complex Sports and NBA Trades):

It’s hard to find two teams with as many similarities as the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies had last season. Both teams were jockeying all season to be named the top defense in the league. Both teams have made some cosmetic changes to their roster after being ousted in the Conference Finals last season.

There’s tons of interesting matchups across the board this year. Paul George facing either Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince could be a lot of fun. George has a lot of room to grow from last season. He’s turnover-prone and could shoot better from the field, but took major steps to becoming a star last season. Of course, the most interesting matchup has to be the Roy Hibbert-Marc Gasol matchup. Both bigs are elite back-line defenders and anchors to two elite defensive schemes. The more intriguing part of that matchup would be Hibbert’s willingness to step out on Gasol at the elbow. Centers with the ability to knock down jumpers always causes problems for Hibbert. The David West-Zach Randolph matchup should be an enjoyable one as well. These games will not be high scoring affairs, but should be fun if you like defensive rotations and such.

The Pacers added offensive firepower to the bench which should be a major improvement. Their weak bench was exploited in many situations throughout the season and playoffs. Gone are the days of Gerald Green jacking up unpredictable threes, D.J. Augustin missing layups, and Psycho T being Psycho T. They’ve all been replaced by C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, and Luis Scola. Add Granger to the mix and the Pacers should improve their regular season record and might be able to make a push for the best record in the conference.

The cores of these teams remain intact and there are some minor advantages and disadvantages on both sides, but overall these teams are very similar in terms of their schemes, strategies, and overall talent level. It should be a fun matchup of two teams who face many questions on whether they can improve off of their successful seasons last year and take the next step.

Brandon Curry (of Hickory-High):

It’s as if the Grizzlies are the Indiana Pacers of the West. Or maybe the Pacers are the Memphis Grizzlies of the East? Whichever way you choose to look at it, when these two successful, small-market clubs square off with each other next season, it will be as if they are looking in a mirror. Both teams finished 1-2 last season in defensive efficiency, rebound rate, and were both near the bottom of the league in terms of pace. Both employ an old-school, bruising power forward that makes his living near the paint. Due to that, you could say these two teams are the old guard of the NBA. While just about everyone else downsizes and gravitates towards space over strength, these two teams seem to have chosen the opposite direction. Their height, when backed by a dedication to defense, allows each to compete against the elite despite their average at best offenses.

So where do the Grizzlies and Pacers separate themselves? The obvious choice it to point to the wing, where Indiana has last season’s breakout performer in Paul George. The 23-year-old forward does a little of everything for the Pacers: shoot, facilitate, and usually defends the opposition’s most talented perimeter player. On top of George, the Pacers have their former go-to outside scorer returning this upcoming season in Danny Granger. Both of these forwards have the potential to average over 20 points an outing, something I don’t believe the Grizzlies can say about their wings. However, banking on Granger to return to form, George’s continued development and him taking another step (or two) up that superstar ladder isn’t guaranteed. But if one or both of those scenarios occur, the Pacers, you would think, control a slight advantage over Memphis.

These two title contenders, with all their similarities, will once again be a threat to the more sexier teams in their respective conferences. While it might not seem like it, Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert — and the teams they play for — tend to resemble each other a lot more than you might be led to believe.

When and Where do they square off?

November 11th: 6:00PM at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
March 22nd: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum

For more Pacers content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at 8 Points, 9 Seconds.

*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.

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