So yeah, the Pacers deserve the collective A- (give or take) for the season thus far. And I'm a believer in enjoying the here-and-now. If you don't like a good young team working hard to get better... Well, you aren't reading this. Never mind.
But what about the next step? Joining the title contenders and all that.
The missing piece is a go-to scoring alpha dog. Now before you bring out the last Pistons title team, or even the late 90's Pacers, remember that those teams had high efficiency scorers in Rip and Reggie, plus capable and efficient secondary scorers. So even if you look at anomalous contenders, we don't have that makeup.
As an aside, I'm not bagging on Danny Granger. He takes a lot of darts from fans because he just isn't what we hope.
So where does this scorer of the future come from?
Roy Hibbert. Putting his name here would have been sarcasm 3 months ago. Now, his upcoming contract will be less than Kevin Love's, but in that zip code.
He has a back to the basket post game, a good midrange shot, and is a willing passer. Nonetheless, it's a long way from 14 ppg to alpha dog scorer. Roy is far more likely to be an excellent complementary player. But I'm not putting a ceiling on him. I would've told anyone that rebounding is like an runner in football -- you know right away, you've either got in or you don't. Well, Roy has gone from Riklike rebounding to 9.6. Is Rik really Roy's ceiling? I say no. Not as an all around player.
Paul George. Ah, so golden. Not unlike Granger in his early career, lol. But those tools... Danny was never so smooth. Should be called the big tease, because he shows it all in flashes. We have to remember that he mostly looked uncomfortable as he loitered on the perimeter last year. He's taken a big step, but not THE big step. And that is not inevitable. He needs a better handle, more aggression, and a stronger body. Not in that order. He's just a maybe for the role.
Eric Gordon. I don't usually focus on outsiders, because the last great scorer we traded for, or signed as a free agent was... Hoo boy. Let's not go there. But Gordon is a special case with local ties, and the Pacers have a good cap situation. Thing is, Eric is the real deal as a scorer. Just one year of college, then 16 plus as a rookie, 22 plus as a sophomore, and he plays hard on both ends of the floor. Oh my. No teasing there. The warning flag of the moment is a "bruised" knee that did not seem anxious to heal and eventually required surgery. But that doesn't seem to have damaged his stock. He's only a restricted free agent next year, but if he doen't want to stay, the Hornets will want to get something for him this offseason. I can dream, can't I?
And... That's about it unless something unprecedented (for the Pacers) happens.