For the first time in five seasons, I have the luxury of watching the Indiana Pacers play playoff basketball.
Roughly halfway through the season, president Larry Bird and the front office made a coaching change, firing Jim Oâ€™Brien. As interim coach Frank Vogel took the helm, the Pacers have gone 20-18, jumping both Charlotte and Milwaukee to climb into the No. 8 seed.
Although the Pacers ended the year eight games under .500, the look of this team going forward seems more promising than any Pacers team since the retirement of Reggie Miller.
For the first time in years, the Pacers may have finally found the answer at point guard. Second-year man Darren Collison came to the team in the offseason for forward Troy Murphy. This season, he averaged more than 13 points and five assists per game, but his impact was felt much more than his stats show.
Having a player like Collison to run the offense is immeasurable. His speed and ability to move in transition create big problems for opponents, and he will only improve with more experience. In my eyes, Collison is definitely the point guard of the future for this Indiana team.
There is no question that the key to this teamâ€™s success is the play of Danny Granger. In six years since being drafted out of New Mexico, Granger has become the sole leader of the Pacers. At the end of a close game, there is no question that Granger will be called upon to make that final shot.
For his career, Granger averages more than 18 points, and I see no reason why that number will not improve later in his career.
The Pacersâ€™ frontcourt consists of three young players, all capable of solid contribution. This season, Roy Hibbert in my eyes should win the NBAâ€™s Most Improved Player. In three years in the NBA, he has developed into a solid big man who can compete against most elite centers around the league.
At the four position, Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough both provide good energy and are capable of having a breakout game.
Larry Bird took over as team president in 2007, and has been reconstructing this team ever since. The changes this team has made over the past few years really give hope to the Pacer faithful.
In 2004, after the Malice at the Palace, the personnel that made up the Pacers all seemed to have questionable personalities.
They no longer have a player who was more focused on getting a record deal then playing basketball. They no longer have groups of players getting charged with criminal recklessness at the local strip club.
In the most recent draft, the Pacers selected Paul George out of Fresno State with the 10th overall pick. Many experts criticized this pick because they felt that the team needed a point guard rather than another wing.
Soon after the draft the team traded for Collison, so that need was filled. George, on the other hand, was still a project. Now as he nears the end of his rookie season, he is beginning to look like a player worthy of a top-10 pick, including earning a starting spot as the team headed into the playoffs.
The Pacers currently sit at a 2-0 series deficit against their Central Division rival, the Chicago Bulls. As the eighth-seeded underdog, most experts and fans do not find this one bit surprising, but many did not expect the Pacers to play at such a competitive level. In both games thus far, the Pacers have carried the lead for the majority of the game. Unfortunately for Pacersâ€™ fans, this Bulls team does not have the best record in the East for no reason.
Coach Frank Vogel has this team believing that they do have what it takes to compete with the best. I am not sitting here trying to say that the Pacers are going to come back from this series, beat the Bulls, and continue to move on and win the Eastern Conference. But this team definitely has a â€œvibeâ€ about it that will cause problems for teams in upcoming years.
As a writer and a fan, I am excited to see how this Pacer team progresses in the future. Their depth and young talent gives them an opportunity to win, and I have confidence that Larry Bird, Frank Vogel, and these players have what it takes to bring good NBA basketball back to Indianapolis.