Where does Paul George Injury leave Indiana Pacers’ 2015 Season

paul-george-injury-team-usaNBA All-Star Paul George officially suffered one of the most gruesome sports injuries of all-time this week (see video at bottom). During a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, George went up to contest a layup by James Harden. During the jump, he stretched out his right leg, which bent perpendicular to his body upon landing on the basket stanchion’s base.

The cringe-worthy injury fractured both George’s tibula and fibula, which will likely leave him out for the entire 2014-15 NBA season. So if you already made a 2014 futures bet on the Indiana Pacers, we feel bad for you, although not as badly as for George.

The 24-year-old was vying for a spot on Team USA as they train for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. He was basically a lock to make the team, and many expected him to start alongside other stars like Kevin Durant and Harden. Now he’ll not only miss the FIBA World Cup, but also be sidelined until next spring or summer.

If there’s one positive to come out of all this, it’s that George remains upbeat, despite his horrific injury. He tweeted, “Thanks everybody for the love and support. I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!” Pacers Team President Larry Bird also tried to put a positive spin on things, while avoiding any predictions on a return. Here’s a look at Bird’s statement:

paul-george-pacersOur first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back.  Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.

Now the question is where this leaves Indiana as they enter the 2014-15 NBA season. This was a squad that raced out to first place in the Eastern Conference over the first half of the year. However, they struggled over much of the second half, barely hanging on to the East’s number one seed with a 56-26 record.

The Pacers had numerous troubles in the first round against an inferior Atlanta Hawks team that used a barrage of three-pointers to take a 3-2 series lead. But Atlanta went cold over the last two games, which helped Indiana move on. They played a lot better in a physical semifinals matchup with the Washington Wizards, eventually winning this series 4-2.

Then came the ballyhooed rematch against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana grabbed a 107-96 victory in Game 1, before losing their last four out of five contests against Miami, including an embarrassing 117-92 loss in Game 6.

After losing Lance Stephenson to Charlotte via free agency this summer, the Pacers were already facing an uphill battle. Now they lose their beat all-around player in George, who averaged 21.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.9 SPG last season. Furthermore, they’ll miss the 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 4.6 APG that Stephenson contributed in 2013. So where does this leave Indiana moving forward?

Pacers Core and New Additions

roy-hibbertThe cupboard isn’t bare, however, it is far from stocked. They return David West (14 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Roy Hibbert (10.8 PPG, 2.25 BPG) and George Hill (10.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG). These three figure to make up the core of Indiana’s team this season.

Indiana added former Cleveland Cavaliers swingman C.J. Miles this offseason. Miles only played 19.3 minutes a game while coming off the bench for Cleveland. However, he definitely made those minutes count, averaging 9.9 PPG and shooting 39.3% from beyond the arc. He may have a far bigger role with Indiana due to George’s injury.

Damjan Rudez is another interesting addition to the Pacers’ roster. The 6’10” Yugoslavian is mainly an outsider shooter in the same mold of Hedo Turkoglu. Rudez is a weird fit for coach Frank Vogel’s system because he’s not a great defender. But the small forward was a really good player overseas, and he could help make up for George’s missing offense.

rodney-stuckey-indiana-pacersAs many NBA fans are aware of, the Pacers quickly added Rodney Stuckey after losing Stephenson in mid July. Stuckey was once looked at as a future building block for the Detroit Pistons. Unfortunately, he’s never been able to develop a consistent three-point shot, hitting just 28.3% of his shots from beyond the arc. But what Stuckey can do is get to the rim and score, or at least draw a foul. He scored 13.9 PPG last season for Detroit and hit 83.6% of his free throws. So this production will be crucial as he likely steps into a starting shooting guard role for Indiana in 2014.

How does Indiana finish without George?

It’s not a given that Paul George will miss the entire NBA season. And as Bird alluded to, it’s difficult to put a timetable on a return until more is known following surgery. So George could return in time for the playoffs and give Indiana a huge boost. However, if you’re planning on doing some Indiana Pacers betting this season, keep in mind that they’re definitely no postseason lock.

This is a team of good pieces that were centered around George. Now that the 6’8″ swingman is missing, somebody will have to step up just to make Indiana a legitimate playoff team. West is 33, Hibbert can’t stay consistent for long stretches and Hill’s numbers regressed from last year.

Plus there’s the loss of Stephenson, who, beyond his weird playoff antics, was arguably the Pacers second best player. Neither Lance nor George can really be replaced heading into the season. However, with Vogel as coach and some players who know how to win, grabbing the sixth or seventh seed in the Eastern Conference isn’t totally out of the question. Where they go from here largely depends on if George can make it back before the spring.

2013 NBA Draft: Who will Cleveland pick First?

nerlens-noelThe NBA Draft Lottery was held last night, and the Cleveland Cavaliers truly hit a jackpot. With just a 15.6% chance of corralling the top pick, Cleveland saw their ping pong ball come up first. So they’ll be making the first selection when the 2013 NBA Draft takes place on June 27th.

While nobody is a slam dunk to be chosen No.1 this year, the popular consensus is that Cleveland will take Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. The 7-footer is pretty raw offensively and has a super-skinny frame at just 210 pounds. But he’s got tremendous upside, is a phenomenal shot-blocker, and fills the Cavaliers’ need for another good frontcourt player.

Anderson Varejao currently plays center for the Cavs and has been an excellent rebounder and solid defender…when he actually plays. However, the 6’11” big man has played just 81 games in the past three years, including 25 last season. Because of Varejao’s injury issues, taking a chance on Nerlens certainly isn’t a bad idea. And even if they’re both healthy, Varejao can play some power forward as well.

American v KansasKansas guard Ben McLemore has also been discussed as a potential number one pick. And it wouldn’t be completely unfathomable to think that Cleveland would choose him if they saw something unique. However, this is a team that took shooting guard Dion Waiters with the fourth pick last year. Plus they have Kyrie Irving at point guard, which would make taking McLemore a little overkill.

One more name that’s been thrown out as a potential number one selection is Otto Porter Jr. This is completely a needs-based pick since Cleveland has a big hole to fill at small forward. But as talented as the Georgetown product is, most analysts don’t see him as the absolute best player in the draft.

otto-porter-jrIf the Cavaliers don’t fall in love with anybody, there’s also the option of trading away the top selection. However, this is a bad idea for a team that’s seemingly tanked the last few years in hopes of stockpiling young talent through the draft. It’s also hard to see Cleveland getting fair value on any potential superstar they’d select number in June.

The wheels have definitely been set in motion for the Cavs to return to competitiveness in the 2013-2014 season. Irving is one of the best young point guards in the league after averaging 22.5 PPG, 5.9 APG, 1.51 SPG and shooting 39.1% from the 3-point line. Waiters had a strong rookie campaign after scoring 14.7 PPG and dishing out 3.0 APG. Tristan Thompson is proving to be a good frontcourt player, following a season where he averaged 11.7 PPG and 9.4 RPG.

Plus this club is loaded with solid role players in C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, Marreese Speights, Tyler Zeller. Wayne Ellington and Jeremy Pargo. Will all of this be enough for a playoff run next year? Depending upon how their No. 1 pick develops in the upcoming season, Cleveland definitely could be back in the postseason for the first time in four years.