In a Time of Big Threes and Super Teams, Pacers Prove Contenders Can Still Be Built
COMMENTARY | The Indiana Pacers are not your conventional NBA team.
In an age where acquiring a "big three" is considered an accomplishment, the Pacers have assembled a starting five with an incredible chemistry. And, quite honestly, Indiana might just be the best thing to ever happen to the NBA.
The downfall of the association began with LeBron James' departure from Cleveland in favor of Miami. The formation of the first "big three," Miami had managed to keep guard Dwyane Wade and sign both James and forward Chris Bosh.
Then it was the Los Angeles Lakers making their attempts, signing point guard Steve Nash and acquiring center Dwight Howard in an experiment that ended up backfiring on the Lakers. Following Miami and Los Angeles' lead, the Brooklyn Nets took their chance, acquiring forwards Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to complement point guard Derron Williams and guard Joe Johnson.
And after reaching one NBA Finals in 2011 and the winning in both 2012 and 2013, it appeared the NBA was headed into a "market battle." The teams in the smaller markets were going to suffer because of the money and lifestyle, along with supporting cast, that big cities could offer.
Interest in the league seemed to be lacking.
Cue the Indiana Pacers.
Team president Larry Bird has constructed a young team over the last six years that is in serious contention to knock off the defending champions and claim the NBA title for the first time in franchise history.
In a league where flashy offensive is coveted, Indiana is a defensive powerhouse. In a day where players want to follow the money to big-market destinations, Paul George signed a five-year max contract to remain in Indianapolis. And in a time where teams are trying to lure the big name free agents, Indiana has quietly built a contender with skill players.
But don't take my word for it--let the stats speak for themselves. Through 31 games, Indiana ranks first in the league in all of the following categories: points allowed (89.2), opponent field-goal percentage (41.2%), opponent three-point percentage (32.4%), and point differential (+8.9).
But it's not ONLY defense that is getting it done for Indiana. Arguably the most balanced attack in the NBA, the Pacers are winning with almost a different leading scorer every night. That is, however, with the exception of Paul George's seventh-ranked 23.5 points per game.
When looking for your next NBA champion, look no further than Indianapolis. And whether NBA commissioner David Stern and his successor Adam Silver want to admit it or not, the NBA will never reach the level of popularity that the NFL has achieved without providing what the NFL provides--parity.
The Indiana Pacers are threatening to do just that--level the playing field. And it's exactly what the NBA needed.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics were courtesy of ESPN.com.
Joe Tacosik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a Yahoo Sports contributor. You can read Joe's writings here, on BleacherReport.com and his freelance writing at JoeTacosik.com
You can also follow Joe on Twitter (@JoeBobTaco)