Pacers Have A Chip On Their Shoulders

Last season the Indiana Pacers were coming off a season in which they barely sneaked into the playoffs. Then, during a rushed period of free agency following the lockout, they weren’t able to steal many headlines aside from their addition of David West. Because of that, the Pacers were able to fly under the radar and didn’t have high expectations pegged on them from members of the media and casual basketball fans.

In many aspects, the Pacers were a forgotten team heading into last season compared to the inflated expectations following marque teams in the Eastern Conference like the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

Despite having a successful season, it appears this expectations are low once again this season by most members of the media and fans outside of Indiana.

Still, the players in the Pacers locker room are excited about this season and what the team should be able to accomplish. They are relishing the fact they are underdogs and fans are writing them off as eventual playoff casualties to the Heat or Celtics.

“We need to continue to play with that chip on our shoulder,” George Hill boasted. “Last year we went to the playoffs and we had a good run, but we still didn’t reach the goal that we wanted to reach and that’s win an NBA title. For people to not count us as one of the East’s elite? That’s what we want. We want to fly under the radar because we have unfinished business from last season.”

Hill isn’t the only Pacer with a chip on his shoulder. Paul George – a player who many pundits feel will eventually be named the NBA’s most improved player this season – has a chance to take another big step forward this season and relishes the chance to prove his critics wrong.

“It is something that motivates you because we finished third in our conference and we were only something like four games behind Miami,” George said. “Then we gave Miami a run in the playoffs. It definitely puts a chip on our shoulders that we still aren’t getting respect.”

Respect is something that is earned by winning playoff series and going deep into the playoffs. Sure, some teams like the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets are able to stay relevant and garner countless headlines due to flashy additions, but teams need to earn respect by marching deep into the playoffs on a consistent basis.

Indiana’s head coach, Frank Vogel, realizes his team can’t get too cocky after one season, however he feels that the team is ready to build on what they started last season.

“I think we come into this season believing we are one of the best teams in the league opposed to last season where we spent the year building that belief and that confidence in ourselves,” Vogel said. “Last year in the playoffs we saw we could compete with the eventual champions, the Miami Heat, and that just helped us in the offseason and carrying into this season by giving us a great deal of confidence.”

Last year the Pacers flashed glimpsed of their potential during the regular and they finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference. They were able to secure a 2-1 lead in their second round series against the Miami Heat before succumbing to the eventual NBA Champions in a tough-fought six game series.

Even with Danny Granger showing signs of regression last season – something most people expect him to regroup from this season once he is healthy – the rest of the team’s core of Roy Hibbert, David West, George and Hill all had strong individual seasons.

The team got a bit of a scare this week when it was announced the Granger would miss time due to an injury issue, but, even without the face of the franchise, the Pacers have enough depth and veteran leadership to sustain the team during his absence.

“We are still a beast of a team,” Vogel said about the absence of Granger. “We’ve still got all-stars at a bunch of positions. George (Hill) is going to be an all-star at the point guard spot by the time his career is over while David West and Roy (Hibbert) have both been all-stars. We think Paul George is going to be an all-star at some point and Gerald Green has been a pleasant surprise. He is going to step into the starting small forward spot for Danny Granger and he is going to give us a scoring punch and he has given us great energy on the defensive end.”

This summer the Pacers were able to re-sign their All-Star big man Roy Hibbert while making some subtle tweaks to improve their roster. Additions like DJ Augustin, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi weren’t sexy moves, but they were smart moves that filled needs and managed to bolster their roster.

This season the Pacers just need to continue to build on how they finished last season.

“The last month of the season we started smacking teams around,” Vogel boasted. “When we moved George Hill to our starting point guard that starting unit, every time they stepped on the court, was dominating everybody they faced. Whether it was the Miami Heat or anybody else. Our bench wasn’t and we made some upgrades to the bench this summer.”

With the Eastern Conference up for grabs, the Pacers look to once again be one of the top teams in the conference. It will be interesting to see if they continue their ascent in the conference of if injuries and other issues cause them to stumble.

Time will tell if the Pacers are truly one of the beasts in their conference or if the critics were right.

Catching Up With David West

David West talked with me about how the Pacers grew from their series against the Miami Heat last year and why expectations are high in the locker room this season.

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Catching Up With Frank Vogel

Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel talked with me about his team entering this season with high expectations, getting through an injury to Danny Granger and what the team learned from the loss last season to the Miami Heat in the playoffs.

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All Eyes Are On DeRozan

For the better part of three seasons, DeMar DeRozan has been a little bit of everything. He’s been a dependable defensive presence, an important offensive weapon, a go-to scorer and a team leader.

He’s also had his fair share of disappointment.

He has drawbacks to his game. He has, over the season he’s been here shied away from contact, hasn’t been able to shoot the three consistently and hasn’t not shown he can be the predominant offensive weapon on a team.

He remains a puzzle.

This is the year Raptor fans finally find out what they have in DeRozan. Is he a solid piece of the puzzle, a superstar in waiting, or just another serviceable swingman? Or, if you want to look at it more seriously; is he a part of this core going forward?

DeRozan needs to prove to the raptors and the entire NBA that he is more than just a “flashy dunker” and that he can get to the free throw line consistently.

Since he arrived in Toronto as the number nine pick out of USC in 2009, there have been expectations, perhaps unfairly assigned. Fans wanted to see a high flyer, a guy who could score in buckets, an heir apparent to Vince Carter, and a possible superstar in waiting. Suffice it to say, a lot was expected.

So far DeRozan has been a little bit of everything, but hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of the fans. He’s shown strong defensive effort since his rookie season, enough that he was able to win a starting role on a team fighting for the playoffs in his first year.

He is a great target for our point guards when coming off of a cut and he can throw it down with some of the best in the league. If not for Blake Griffin’s infamous car jumping dunk, DeRozan would have won the dunk contest in 2011.

For stretches of time last year DeRozan seemed to be putting it all together. Runs of high scoring nights and frequent trips to the stripe but then steps backward where he would disappear on offense crack under the pressure of being the number one or falter when guarded by a premier perimeter defender. Without Andrea Bargnani to share the offensive duties, DeRozan was smothered by other teams’ defenses and was not as effective as he was with stronger support.

Coming into each of the last three seasons DeRozan hasn’t had to worry about his status as a starting wing. And make no mistake about it; DeRozan will be the starting shooting guard for the Raptors once again on Oct. 31st. But he’s got some competition on the bench waiting for their opportunity.

This competition will hopefully push DeRozan a little more than he has been over the last few years. DeRozan has had it pretty easy so far in Toronto. A guaranteed spot, very little internal competition and the benefit of the doubt when playing with an injury plagued roster.

This is the year raptor fans need to see DeRozan step up and fulfill the promise he showed when he was drafted three years ago.

There is now a wealth of options on Toronto’s bench this year that could spell DeRozan at the 2 guard for stretches during the year. Landry Fields is more comfortable playing the two and is an excellent perimeter defender. Alan Anderson has earned the respect of the coaching staff with his strong work ethic and attention to defense and he could see some minutes at the 2.

Also, with three strong point guards on the roster there will likely be times when Jose Calderon or John Lucas III find themselves sharing the back court with Kyle Lowry as both posses strong shooting ability, a skill DeRozan hasn’t shown to be a strength.

The biggest threat to DeRozan this year, however, might just be rookie shooting guard Terrence Ross, albeit likely over the long-term. Ross is a strong defender and possesses a deadly long-range shot. He is a great compliment to Kyle Lowry who pushes the ball up the floor and often kicks the ball out to the perimeter. Ross is even more deadly off of a kick out because of how quickly he can release a shot. It is that deadly shot and accuracy that make Ross such an attractive option at this position.

This season will be a make or break year for DeRozan in Toronto. He is due for an extension and his agent will likely be looking for a large payday. If the Raptors don’t make the playoffs and DeRozan struggles, if he doesn’t find that magic chemistry with Lowry and the rest of the team, he may find himself wearing a new uniform this time next year.

DeRozan is going to have to prove to fans and management that he can be the player that he was thought to be back when he was drafted. DeRozan needs to be more than an average defender and a flashy dunker. He needs to take that next step and cement his place in the Raptors future.

Shooting guards who produce the numbers DeRozan has over the last three years (14.1pts, 3.4 reb, 1.5 ast, 45.7 FG% and 20.6% 3-pt %) are not terribly difficult to find around the league for a much lower price than DeRozan is likely looking for. If his stats last year (16.7 pts, 3.3 reb, 2.0 ast, 42.2 FG%, 26.1 3pt%) are an indication of what kind of player he will be this year, then he could see his last year playing north of the border. What the Raptors need is for DeMar to show he can be a three-point threat this year and score consistently in the paint.

Without that added aspect to his game, he will eventually sit in favour of better shooters or will ultimately be replaced by a cheaper option.

He has been working hard over the summer to strengthen his game. Dwane Casey offered, when asked about DeRozan: “He did a great job this summer of really putting on strength and right now he’s doing a great job of hitting the guys first, creating contact, not being afraid of getting into the paint, and it’s going to pay big dividends for him.”

This year we will finally find out what DeMar DeRozan is made of.

DeRozan has the ability and skills to be a superstar in this league, but needs to put it together soon or the Raptors will quickly run out of patience.

It’s time we all find out what exactly Toronto has in DeRozan. One thing is for certain, however, he will be the architect of his own destiny.

This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Or not.