Have the Indiana Pacers already gone as far as they can go with this roster?
Itís a question overlooked with all the big moves being made this offseason in the Eastern Conference, and the Central Division in particular. A quick synopsis, for those who watched the World Cup and forgot about basketball since the Finals ended:
Cleveland signed LeBron James, drafted Andrew Wiggins and could trade Wiggins to Minnesota in a blockbuster deal for Kevin Love.
Chicago got rid of Carlos Boozer and added Pau Gasol, prized European Nikola Mirotic and draft pick Doug McDermott. They could trade trade for Love, too, as SheridanHoops reported.
Indiana failed to re-sign Lance Stephenson and replaced him with Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles.
The moves made this summer objectively makes the Pacers the third best team in their own division.
Paul George has proven he can be a superstar player in flashes, but Stephenson provided really strong wing production at both ends and was consistent when Roy Hibbert was the exact antithesis of consistent since the All-Star break. David West is a really good player and George Hill is a good defender, but it just seems like the Eastern Conference is passing Indiana by.
In a league where Avery Bradley and Channing Frye make $8 million per season, the Pacersí best offer to Stephenson was reportedly five years and $44 million, just a shade under $9M per season. Charlotte got him for a relative bargain at 3/27, while Indiana could be saddled with regrets for a long time for not upping the ante for last seasonís triple-doubles leader.
Replacing Stephenson? Scoring guard Stuckey, a downright laughable downgrade who doesnít mesh at all with what Indiana does best: rock solid defense and enough efficient scoring to get victories.
Take a look at this comparison between the two players, and youíll see how the Pacers got drastically worse at the shooting guard position:
2013-2014 Stats FG % 3 FG % Points Rebounds Assists PER True Shooting eFG % TO % Usage Rate O Rtg D Rtg Net Rtg WS WS/48
Stephenson 49.1 35.2 13.8 7.2 4.6 14.7 56.4 54 18 19.4 106 101 5 7.4 0.13
Stuckey 43.6 27.3 13.9 2.3 2.1 14 51.6 45 11.3 24.3 105 113 -8 2.2 0.053
DET_Stuckey_RodneyStuckey is older, started just five games for the awful Pistons last year and man was he inefficient. His field goal percentage was more than five percentage points worse than Stephensonís, and his percentage from three was brutal for a Pacers team that already lacks in that department.
The scoring is misleading, but the other statistics shine a light on the playersí differences. Stephenson averaged nearly five more rebounds and 2.5 more assists per game than Stuckey did last season. Stephensonís net rating per 100 possessions last season was 13 (thirteen!) points better than Stuckeyís.
The Pacers pride themselves on defense, and Stephenson gave up 12 fewer points per 100 possessions than Stuckey last season and had more than five more win shares than his replacement. Indiana was first in the NBA in defensive rating last year and second in points allowed per game. Will they be able to keep that up with Stephenson no longer on the club?
Lance Stephenson and LeBron JamesAmong five-man lineups that logged at least 30 minutes for the Pacers last season, Stephenson appeared in the top three and five of the top eight lineups in terms of point differential per 100 possessions. And they replaced him with an average to below average player in Stuckey.
This kind of move is made by a team whose window of opportunity has slammed shut.
Paul George is one of the top five two-way players in the NBA, but now teams can focus on him even more without a viable threat on both ends like Stephenson on the wing alongside him.
George Hill averaged just 3.5 assists per game last season for a team that ranked 27th in that category a season ago. With Stephensonís distribution no longer there, Indiana could be in deep trouble in that department.
Indiana led the league in rebounding last season, but will David West and Roy Hibbert be able to sustain that without Stephensonís seven boards per game? Can Hibbert regain the form and consistency he once so prominently displayed?
There are far more questions than answers for this Pacers team in Stephensonís absence just as Cleveland and Chicago greatly improved their roster.
So have the Pacers peaked? Based on a multitude of factors, there are indeed many reasons to believe that the best days for this Indiana Pacers team are already behind them.