GEORGE HILL, PG
+ Long-armed combo guard with the handle of a point guard but a scorer's mindset.
+ Good spot-up shooter. Effective defender with long arms, especially at the 2.
+ Can slash to the basket and draw fouls. Slim build. Fairly athletic.
I've always liked Hill better as a 2 than a 1, but as last season progressed he honed his point guard skills enough to do a solid job in that role. Hill had a career high in assist rate and a career low in turnover rate; in fact he had the fourth-lowest turnover rate at his position. While he still didn't create a ton (4.6 assists per 40 minutes), he at least got Indiana into plays, especially compared to Darren Collison.
Hill was considerably more potent as a shooter, ranking 14th at his position in true shooting percentage. He made 36.7 percent of his 3s and 42.2 percent of his long 2s, and despite shooting mostly jumpers got to the line more often than most point guards.
Defensively his length proved helpful in multiple areas, ranking among the leading point guards in rebounds and blocks while using his size advantage to play a half-step off most opponents. He does his best work against big point guards and short wings, but statistically he had solid grades across the board -- most notably, opposing point guards had just a 9.2 player efficiency rating against him according to 82games.com, while shooting guards didn't fare much better at 11.7.
PAUL GEORGE, SG
+ Long, smooth wing with natural scoring instincts. Can shoot and finish.
+ Struggled on D but showed potential. Quick hands and reads passing lanes.
+ Needs to play more aggressively, make better decisions and refine moves.
Man, does this guy have an exciting future. Big wings who can handle and shoot never go out of style and are far more rare than this center-obsessed league seems to realize. George is 6-8 with 3-point range and can split pick-and-rolls off the dribble; the main obstacles to his eventual stardom appear to be his own aggressiveness and decision-making.
He made sharp progress in his second season, however, and his athleticism spills out on the stats sheet: Among shooting guards, he ranked second in rebound rate, fourth in steals, eighth in blocks and 10th in PER, and he shot 63.1 percent at the rim with a high foul rate. But his skill is apparent too; he made 38.5 percent of his 3s and 81.5 percent from the line.
Right now his weak points are all the finer stuff. He still turns it over too much (52nd out of 61 small forwards) and struggles with decision-making, and his jumper off the dribble still needs work -- he hit just 32.9 percent of his 2s from 10 to 23 feet.
Defensively it's a similar story: He can be an impact defender with his length and athleticism, but he fouls too much (fourth-highest rate among shooting guards) and that takes him off the floor at times. Additionally, his on-ball defense isn't quite as strong as his disruptive plays off of it, although a move to his more natural small forward spot might help.
Nonetheless, I'll be surprised if he's not in an All-Star Game at some point in the next few years, and he represents Indiana's best opportunity to take another step up in class in the East.
DANNY GRANGER, SF
+ Deep-shooting forward with a quick, accurate trigger. Very big for a wing.
+ Very effective going right but has a weak left hand. Draws fouls, money from the line.
+ Solid defender with good size. Limited court vision -- drives to score.
Granger's game isn't always easy on the eyes, iso-ing for 20-footers or pretending he's running a pick-and-roll for something other than his own jump shot, but it is effective. He generated a slew of shots with very few turnovers -- cutting his rate sharply from a season earlier -- and his TS% was well above the norm for a small forward.
Break it down and it was mostly the 3s that did it -- he shot 38.1 percent from distance, but hit only 43.4 percent of his 2s. However, he drew a lot of fouls for a jump shooter and shot 87.3 percent, the best mark of any small forward; between that and the 3s, it offset his subpar shooting inside the arc. In particular, contested long 2s have been a problem for him. He shot only 36.3 percent on 2s beyond 10 feet last season, after hitting 35.0 percent the season before.
As for passing, Granger didn't really do that much -- only 11 small forwards assisted less often -- and that's the biggest limitation on his game. On the flip side, however, he'd also benefit from a more natural point guard running things and getting him cleaner looks at jumpers, rather than forcing him to iso so much.
Defensively, I thought Granger was one of the league's most improved players. His effort was much more consistent than a season earlier, and all his statistical grades were positive. The Pacers gave up 3.6 points per 100 possessions fewer with him on the court and he allowed only a 12.7 PER to opposing small forwards, according to 82games.com. Notably, Indiana also put him in size mismatches less because it hardly ever played small with him at the 4.
DAVID WEST, PF
+ Highly skilled power forward who can shoot and handle. Deadly from midrange.
+ Average athlete but attacks off the dribble for jump hooks. Loves going between his legs.
+ Average at best defensively. Undersized, can't jump, and won't give fouls.
West made a solid recovery from a torn ACL the year before, using his pick-and-pop and ballhandling skills to become a focal point of the Pacers' offense. The one key difference was that West couldn't jump. He was never a leaper, but he barely got any elevation at all last season. His rebound and block numbers declined, but it was more apparent when he tried to shoot over long defenders near the basket.
Nonetheless, he was a big positive both on offense and in the locker room. West's pick-and-pop game made the offense flow. He hit a stellar 45.6 percent of his 2s beyond 10 feet while taking nearly five a game, and when defenses closed he could find the open man or dribble drive. West finished in the top quarter of power forwards in both assist and turnover rate, too, so despite a low foul rate and a middling true shooting percentage, he was a major positive offensively.
On defense he showed he can still move a little, though having Roy Hibbert's length behind him really helped. West's primary value will always be at the offensive end, but he didn't hurt Indiana on defense last season, a pleasant surprise given his recovery from the knee injury. With one year more of recovery, he may prove more mobile than a season ago. Although he's 31 and his jump-shooting numbers may regress a bit, his high-skill game should age well.
ROY HIBBERT, C
+ Long big man with 18-foot range, post moves and great short-range touch.
+ Slow-footed defender, but his conditioning has improved. Mediocre rebounder.
+ Good passer and shot-blocker. Makes free throws. Stamina limits minutes.
Hibbert took a major step forward offensively and on the boards last season, making his first All-Star team by being consistently good in nearly every category. Hibbert was above the league median for centers in all but two categories, defensive rebound rate and 2-point shooting percentage, and even in those two he was just a whisker south of the mark.
Top Shooters From 3-15 feet, 2011-12
Player Team Pct.
Roy Hibbert Ind 47.9
Carlos Boozer Chi 47.5
Chris Paul LAC 47.5
LaMarcus Aldridge Por 47.1
Jarrett Jack NO 46.5
Min. 150 attempts. Source: Hoopdata.com
But his specialty is short-to-medium range shooting (see chart). With an unblockable jump hook on the block that he can make with either hand, and a soft touch from the free throw area, Hibbert was the league's best shooter last season in the tricky area between 3 and 15 feet, converting 47.9 percent while taking nearly six tries a game from this range. The bulk of them were close-in post-ups that enabled his jump hook, a potent weapon at his 7-2 height. Hibbert complemented that by improving his command of double-teams, drawing more fouls and crashing the offensive boards more.
Hibbert's two other weaknesses were fouls and stamina, but last season he fouled at a rate below the league average for centers -- a massive improvement compared to his first two seasons. As for the stamina thing -- the Pacers may just have to live with that. Hibbert averaged only 29.8 minutes per game last season and 30.9 even in the playoffs, as he requires frequent breathers.
But when he does play, he's been able to sustain his effort defensively and has become much better at protecting the rim while avoiding fouls. Indiana was marginally better with him on the court, but Synergy gave him the best grades on the team and subjectively he seemed to cope with pick-and-rolls much better than in the past.
IAN MAHINMI, C
+ Athletic big man and high-percentage finisher near the basket. Draws lots of fouls.
+ Has a limited perimeter game and very poor ball skills. Lacks strength for a true 5.
+ Mobile defender but uncoordinated. Has sky-high foul rate. Injury-prone.
Mahinmi is a free throw machine -- at both ends. Offensively he ranked sixth among centers in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, and while he's not a great foul shooter those freebies still allowed him to post the 10th-best TS% at his position -- even though his mark shattered his career low. It may all look a bit clumsy, but he shot 66.7 percent in the basket area, got to the line and scored at a decent rate.
Defensively, however, he gives as good as he gets. Mahinmi averaged a foul every 6.5 minutes, the sixth-worst rate among centers, as he too often found himself in size mismatches and is a bit uncoordinated. He moves well and his defensive stats were solid in other respects, but his high foul rate makes it difficult for him to be more than a bench player.
As a third big, however, you could do worse. He is 25 and has put up better numbers in his previous seasons, and even last season he was 39th among centers in PER. He's a passable 10-foot shooter and can play 4 in a pinch, he rebounds fairly well, and as noted above his ability to draw fouls and finish makes him a plus offensively, even if he's not much of a creator. A four-year deal is a risk, but he should help Indy.
TYLER HANSBROUGH, PF
+ Short-armed, hustling power forward with good strength and a scorer's mentality.
+ Draws lots of fouls by attacking rim. Selfish offensive player who forces low, line-drive J's.
+ Lacks length, but quick for his size and defends pick-and-roll well. Subpar rebounder.
While Hansbrough's attacking, aggressive mindset is impressive and yields some positive results, one can't help wonder how much better he might do if he ever passed. Hansbrough is one of the league's most frustrating players because once he takes a dribble or gets an offensive board, he's never, ever giving it up, no matter how many defenders rotate in his way. Only three power forwards had a lower assist rate last season, even though he usually operated out of the high post -- "assist central" for most big men.
Hansbrough also forces too many jumpers, taking four shots a game from beyond 10 feet and converting only 33.6 percent of them. As a result, he shot just 40.6 percent on 2-pointers -- only six power forwards were worse. The free throws were a saving grace, especially since he hit 81.3 percent from the line, but it's hard to argue his offense was a positive overall.
Defensively, Hansbrough is tough and moves well, but his lack of size seemed more problematic last season playing next to another undersized player at center (Lou Amundson). Hansbrough had the third-worst rate of blocks and, more surprisingly, the seventh-worst defensive rebound rate among power forwards.
Opposing power forwards had a 16.4 PER at his expense, according to 82games.com, and the Pacers gave up 2.6 points per 100 possessions more with him on the court, although Synergy graded him very well. With more length next to him in Miles Plumlee and Ian Mahinmi, I suspect his defense will become a net positive.
D.J. AUGUSTIN, PG
+ Quick, tiny point guard who can penetrate and dish. Needs to add a floater.
+ Struggles defensively due to lack of size, especially when posted up.
+ Improved passer and distributor. Great foul shooter, but mediocre from 3.
I really like the progress Augustin has made as a distributor in his four seasons, but if he doesn't start making shots and getting some defensive stops, it's not going to matter. First, the good news: Augustin had a career-high assist rate, with nearly nine dimes per 40 minutes despite not having a bewildering array of options around him, and ranked seventh in the NBA in pure point rating. I think we can stop calling him a "shoot-first" guard.
If anything, he should be shoot-last. Augustin hit only 37.6 percent from the floor, including a pathetic 39.6 percent on 2-point shots. In particular, he was the game's worst finisher last season, converting only 48.3 percent of his shots at the rim (see chart). On a positive note, he narrowly missed leading all Bobcats point guards in this category.
Worst Shooting Percentage At Rim, 2011-12
Player Team FG% at rim
D.J. Augustin Cha 48.3
Kemba Walker Cha 49.4
Wes Matthews Por 49.5
Norris Cole Mia 50.0
Darren Collison Ind 52.6
Min. 150 attempts. Source: Hoopdata.com
Finally, while Augustin is a great foul shooter (87.6 percent) for his career, that hasn't translated to his 3-point shooting, where he submitted another mediocre performance last season. A tiny guard like Augustin has to be able to punish defenses from out there, and he hasn't consistently done it. Augustin could also use a floater, over the past two seasons he's a miserable 27.7 percent from between 3 and 15 feet.
Meanwhile, he got lit defensively. Synergy, 82games.com and the advance regularized adjusted plus-minus all agreed he was terrible, and have been nodding their heads in unison for years now. Opposing point guards had 19.8 PER against him according to 82games.com, the Bobcats gave up 4.6 points per 100 possessions more with him on the court, and Synergy placed him near the bottom of the league's point guard heap. For a speedy little guard he's surprisingly mediocre laterally and has one of the lowest steal rates among point guards every season.
Basically, he's a backup. As much as one might admire his improved distribution, he just doesn't make enough shots to be a viable starter, especially given the defensive shortcomings.
GERALD GREEN, SG
+ Athletic, explosive leaper with ideal size for a small forward. Ridiculous dunker.
+ Strong 3-point shooter. Ball skills only adequate, and prone to turnovers.
+ Lean build. Defense, basketball IQ and decision-making still are question marks.
In a panel at the Sloan Sports Conference a couple years ago, Dallas owner Mark Cuban famously opined that Green "had no idea how to play basketball." At the time that was true, but Green has figured some things out since then. He showcased his newfound competence in a late-season call-up with New Jersey last season, after he had absolutely destroyed the D-League.
The biggest difference is his 3-point shot, and how he uses it to set up the rest of his game. Green made 45.8 percent of his 3s in the D-League and 39.1 percent as a Net; he proved it wasn't a fluke by also making 41.9 percent of his long 2s. With his size and leaping ability, he can get his shot off against any defender. Meanwhile, Green shot 70.7 percent in the basket area, including an assortment of highlight-reel dunks (an alley-oop windmill in a late-season game against Houston takes the cake). Finally, Green's forays to the rim also yielded a high free throw rate.
The question marks about Green at this point have nothing to do with his ability. Can he maintain his effort and concentration? Can he fit in as a role player on a winning team in Indiana, as opposed to putting up numbers on a bad team in New Jersey? Can he play defense the way he plays offense?
The good news on that last front is that Green defended pretty darned well for the Nets. New Jersey gave up 6.0 fewer points per 100 possessions with Green on the court, and according to 82games.com opposing small forwards had only a 9.9 PER against him. If those numbers hold up, the Pacers have themselves a steal.
MILES PLUMLEE, PF
+ Athletic, pogo-stick big man who can run the floor and rebound. Good motor.
+ Non-scorer who gets points on dunks. Very old for a rookie. Good strength.
Plumlee was an interesting first-round choice, because he has a crazy vertical for a player of his size and a single, elite-level skill: Only two prospects had a higher rebound rate. Nonetheless, he has a lot to argue against him, starting with the lack of production as a collegian against players two and three years younger than him. Plumlee turned 24 in September and didn't rebound at nearly the same rate in his sophomore and junior seasons.
Additionally, he's a non-factor on offense and blocked shockingly few shots for a big man who can jump. Indiana took a flier to fill a hole at backup center, and he'll definitely get his share of rebounds. I'm just not convinced he'll do enough else to justify playing him.
LANCE STEPHENSON, SG
+ Average athlete with good handle, superior strength, solid midrange shot.
+ Character, commitment are major questions. Makes bad decisions with the ball.
+ Needs to improve long-range shot mechanics. Rebounds well. Can post up.
The Pacers tried Stephenson as a backup point guard last season, and I'm guessing they won't try it again. Stephenson has some genuine skills as a passer and a decent handle, but he can't shoot and doesn't make the right play consistently enough -- ergo his massive turnover rate.
He's an NBA-caliber athlete and he's only 22, so there's some hope that he might be able to turn things around. But his jumper is broken and one suspects any future he has will be as a wing player, where his decisions will be less destructive.
SUNDIATA GAINES, G
+ Strongly built, scoring-minded point guard who draws fouls.
+ Poor outside shooter and terrible free throw shooter. Bit of a tweener.
+ Excels at ball pressure, amazing knack for steals. Great rebounder for his size.
My 10-second scouting report on Gaines: If he could shoot he'd be really good. Gaines is elite in several areas that don't require shooting a basketball. Among point guards he was third in rebound rate, eighth in free throw rate and second in steals. Unfortunately, he was also 65th out of 70 points guards in 2-point shooting, 69th in free throw percentage and 57th in TS%. He's more of a scorer than a point guard, however, and had the second-worst assist quality among point guards.
On the other hand, Gaines' knack for steals was notable. He's excellent at pressuring the ball and the Nets used a lot of pressing tactics with him in the game, resulting in an incredible 2.77 steals per 40 minutes last season, good for second in the NBA.
Gaines' overall defensive impact was more questionable; he lacks size and his gambles took him out of position at times. While the Nets were marginally better with him on the court, it's hard to attach too much meaning to this given how awful they were overall. Synergy had him in the middle of the pack as well.
Nonetheless, he's a useful player despite his shortcomings. He's put up respectable numbers for three straight seasons at the NBA level, and he destroyed the D-League in 2010-11. He's unorthodox and some teams will flinch at that, but you could do a lot worse as a backup point guard.
SAM YOUNG, SF
+ One-on-one scorer who tends to stop the ball. Very strong, overpowers small wings.
+ Awesome shot fake off the catch. No 3s, but good midrange J. Good rebounder.
+ Solid defender. Tough, physical, aggressive. No court vision at all.
If you're going to be a ball-stopping one-on-one player, you at least need to make your shots. Young couldn't buy a bucket last season, and as a result found himself strapped to the bench in Memphis and Philadelphia. Shooting 35.4 percent with a low free throw rate will do that, including an abysmal 21-of-81 away from the rim.
Given the small sample, one suspects this was an outlier, especially since Young's other numbers hardly changed. But the decline in free throw attempts was worrisome. He's not a good enough shooter to live off midrange jumpers, so he needs to get to the basket more than he did last season. If so, he can again be a useful second-unit scorer for the right team. If not, he won't be around for long.
JEFF PENDERGRAPH, PF
+ Tough 4 who can rebound. Decent athlete who can score around basket.
+ Needs work on perimeter game and ball skills. Defensive mobility a question.
Pendergraph is a dying breed in the NBA -- a power forward who can't space the floor. He's too short to play center so he has to make it work at the 4, and he's put up pretty good numbers in his limited minutes in Portland and Indiana. Last season he made only 5 of his 20 shots away from the basket, but he's a pretty effective garbage man around the basket thanks to a strong motor. He had missed an entire season due to a knee injury before coming back in 2011, and may get a stronger chance at sustained minutes this time around.
ORLANDO JOHNSON, SG
+ Scoring-minded wing with powerful build and 3-point range. Good handle.
+ Questionable shot selection. Not an elite athlete. Very long arms.
Johnson shot over 40 percent on 3s his last two years as a collegian, and he'll try to use that as a launching point to a career as a deep-shooting specialist in the pros. He has a strong build and should be able to defend his position adequately, although that wasn't a focus of his in college.
Outside of that, his options seem limited. He scored a lot in college out of necessity and had solid ballhandling numbers, but he shot 46 percent on 2s against bad competition. Plus, he's already 23 years old, which makes him quite long in the tooth for a rookie.