Here at Raptors HQ we have made a habit of reaching out to a fellow bloggers to help us preview a match each week. This week we exchanged emails with Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows and he had some very interesting things to say about the state of the Indiana Pacers:
RHQ: The Pacers have played the entirety of this season without last year's leading scorer Danny Granger, how has this team been able to play as well as they have been playing without him?
TL: With Granger unavailable the Pacers emphasized defense from the start of the season, slowing the pace and finding ways to score enough points to give themselves a chance to win. The absence of Granger also put Paul George and eventually Lance Stehpenson, both 22 years old, in bigger roles and both have responded with big leaps. The Pacers started the season 10-11 while grinding out wins where they could, but once George took off in December the team has been tough to beat and are 21-8 since.
RHQ: Is Paul George bigger than the Beatles?
TL: PG is trending that way, at least in Central Indiana. He does things at both ends of the court so easily, at least that's how it appears, when he gets it going he just looks like the natural on the court. Personally, I still catch myself slowing shaking my head at amazement with how much better he is playing all of a sudden. At home he has been lethal behind the arc while still supplying his share of highlight finishes at the rim. But watching him slow down the best player on every team and take as much pride in that defensive effort as he does the offense, is equally as fun. Believe me, I'm not excited about the Raptors bringing Rudy Gay to town alongside DeMar DeRozan, but I can assure you, Gay isn't too excited that he has to face George again. He thought he was done with him for the year. In the two games between Memphis and Indiana, Gay scored a combined 25 points on 39 shot attempts with PG hounding him.
RHQ: After Paul George, is David West the most important player on this team?
TL: West is arguably more important than George for this team, this year. He is such a pro and a huge influence on the whole roster on and off the court. Every player has to answer to West or they will get a scowl. Plus, offensively he's been a monster in the post and the go to guy to stop an opposing run or score a critical bucket out of a time out. With the struggles Roy Hibbert has had offensively, West has picked up the slack and forced defenses to account for the Pacers in the post.
RHQ: Do you love Roy Hibbert's defense more than you hate his offense?
TL: No, I'd have to say I hate his offense more and his defense just makes it easier to complain about his offense. Hibbert has shown occasional glimpses of hope lately that his offense will come around. The frustrating part is that there are so many teams without big center size which should give Hibbert and the Pacers and advantage, but when he can't get good looks by the rim to go, he becomes an offensive liability.
RHQ: Why does Frank Vogel like the word "beast" so much?
TL: That's funny, but now that you mention it I can recall Vogel using the term in reference to West, George, Stephenson and the team's defense. I think we have a new drinking game. Thanks!
RHQ: Is this a team that can realistically challenge the Heat in the playoffs?
TL: Yes, this team has been put together to play the Heat with a strong front court presence to create mismatches with the Heat while still having wing depth to not stop LeBron James and Dwyane Wade but to at least make them work for 48 minutes. Sam Young was a free agent player brought in for one reason and that was to be available to play 5-10 minutes of defense on LeBron James when needed. With Granger back and the lineup options they can utilize, they will be in better shape to beat the Heat than they were last year, which nearly happened. Only problem, while matching up well with the Heat, the Pacers will struggle more if they have to face the New York Knicks or a health Chicago Bulls team.