Feb 1, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger (33) posts up against the Brooklyn Nets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

How Far Can the Indiana Pacers Go This Season?


The Indiana Pacers are in the midst of the franchise’s best season in history. At 38-10, they have the best record in the NBA and a 3.5 game lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

Despite this, many believe that the Pacers need to make a trade to put them over the top. Read everything I just posted again.

Best season in franchise history.

Best record in the NBA.

Sizable lead over the defending world champions.

And yet fans and pundits still believe that Indiana should make a deal to give them more of an edge. The recent road trip has people concerned. The Pacers haven’t had too many convincing wins lately and appear to be a bit battered across the roster. In short, they look like a team that really could use a break.

With people groaning about making a move, Larry Bird and his staff did just that. Signing Andrew Bynum to a low risk, high reward deal shows that the team isn’t content to stand by and is trying to improve.

When it was clear that Bynum was going to end up on the open market, this is what ESPN analyst Chris Broussard said about it:

If that is the case, then the reverse has to be true for the Pacers as well, right? The news was met with a resounding “meh” by the folks at ESPN. Despite the fact that the Pacers added a former All-Star and now have three seven-footers that they can put on the court.

Bynum has a choice: play hard for a title or leave the NBA. We’ve found that money and location don’t seem to motivate him. The only thing left really has to be a championship. If he doesn’t play hard for the Pacers, then he won’t play hard for anyone.

We’ll have to wait for sometime before we actually see Bynum on the court. He needs to get back into basketball shape and has to find his fit in the Pacers system.

Adding Bynum doesn’t guarantee the Pacers anything. He is a big unknown right now. So, what will it take for a championship run?

The Bench

Last season, the bench play doomed the Pacers against the Heat. The starters would build a lead only to watch it evaporate as the reserves took the court.

That hasn’t been the case this season. The combination of Danny Granger, CJ Watson, and Luis Scola have been able to score fairly well and give the team very solid minutes. The trio has averaged 24 points per game.

Lately, these three have been spotty, especially with their efficiency. Its taking far too many shots to get to their averages, if they even get there. A prolonged shooting slump by three bench players does not bode well for the Pacers. The past two games have been much more encouraging and hopefully continue into the future.

Ian Mahinmi has been a decent stopgap for Roy Hibbert, but he averages just three points and three rebounds per game over 16 minutes. He also commits 2.5 fouls in that time span. And while the stats say he only turns the ball over less than once per game, it feels like the real number is closer to two or three.

This isn’t to dump on Mahinmi, he’s played pretty well. But the Pacers need a center who can not only defend well but also be a reliable scorer, something Mahinmi is not. It will be interesting to see what happens to his minutes as Bynum gets more familiar with his teammates.

The bench playing at a high level, or even average level, is huge for the Pacers. It limits the minutes the starters have to play and in some cases has helped to build a lead. A bench like that will take the Pacers to the finals.

Turnovers

The Pacers seem intent to set new single season highs in turnovers recently. 15 against Phoenix, a season high 24 against Brooklyn, 19 in Atlanta. Playing a team like Miami and turning the ball over that many times is simply unacceptable.

If the Pacers are fortunate enough to get to the NBA Finals and cough up the ball regularly against a fast paced team from the west, it will be a short series.

Too often they are the result of carelessness or trying to push the pace. The Pacers are not an uptempo team and when they attempt to do so, it doesn’t end well. Even Bird believes that too many turnovers will be the death of this team.

Remaining focused and not pushing the tempo are keys for this team going forward.

The ceiling for this historic defensive team is clearly a championship. The bench and turnover rate will ultimately decide this team’s fate.

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Tags: Andrew Bynum CJ Watson Danny Granger Ian Mahinmi Indiana Pacers Luis Scola