I got in contact with Tom Lewis, the editor over at Indy Cornrows, and he was kind enough to answer some Pacers-related questions for us.
The Pacers started off this season trying to destroy everything in path. They were blowing teams out of the water and had a huge lead on the best record in the East. As of late, things have slowed down a bit. Did the team realize they can't sprint the entire season or did the rest of the NBA catch up a bit?
Essentially that's the case as they work through a few different issues. The NBA marathon season isn't built for sprints, so the first two months of the season are distant memory now. The Pacers insist they are still playing well but finding opponents giving them their best shot. That may be the case, but fatigue and nagging injuries are forcing some players to pick their spots. Transition defense has been a soft spot of late, which doesn't sit well with Frank Vogel. They have survived against sub-.500 opponents with bursts of strong play, usually in the third quarter. But as the days lengthen and the playoffs come into view, the Pacers will have to recapture that ability to deliver 48 minutes of elite defensive pressure that wore teams down early in the season. Any success they hope to have in the post-season will be based on their defense.
In the most shocking stat I've ever seen, Roy Hibbert is shooting 50% (49.57% to be exact) from 8 feet or closer this season. Can you explain why?
Hibbert earns his money defending the rim but becomes a big weapon when he can deliver on the offensive end, as well. At best he's been inconsistent with a slow start, followed by a pretty solid December and then a drop off of late that has him scoring single digits one night and 20 the next. Last season he actually was worse around the rim until playoff time, but that was blamed on a wrist injury. No such excuses this year, but one thing to consider is the way the Pacers spread the wealth offensively. They don't have to rely on Roy to score every night so his opportunities are minimized when others have it going. But make no mistake, the team's lofty goals will require a much bigger impact from the Big Dawg in the playoffs.
There's a lot of rumblings that Lance Stephenson is going to get paid big money this off season and the Pacers won't match it. How much do you think the Pacers will offer him? How valuable is Stephenson to the Pacers? Is he replaceable?
This will be the story of the summer around Indy without a doubt. Stephenson and the Pacers often indicate they will not part ways and find a way to work it out. The situation with the Pacers is perfect for both parties and any team throwing big money at Lance without assessing the environment they are bringing him into will regret it. While lance respects David West, Paul George and George Hill as teammates and guys who can keep him in line, Larry Bird is the guy that makes it work and who keeps Lance straight. The Pacers can probably afford around $8-9 mil/year deal for Stephenson but if offers start going into the double-digit area, Lance will have a decision to make. And dollar bills usually win the day in such cases. Lance has a unique game but he's far from a polished player, so replacing what he currently gives to the Pacers is certainly possible, it will just take the form of a different type of player...and a lot fewer highlights.
Many say this is the season Paul George has gone from star player to superstar. Do you agree with that or do you think he was already a superstar before? What does George need to do take that next step to become a LeBron or Kevin Durant like force?
Paul George has definitely lifted his offensive game this season to become the best two-way threat in the league this side of LeBron. Tuesday night was a perfect example of his impact on the game, when he guarded Stephen Curry down the stretch and completely erased him from the game. One of the league's best point guards couldn't get around nor over PG and eventually, the Warriors let other players initiate the offense while Curry stood in the corner. The next step for PG is to raise his 22 points per game to the 25-28 ppg range and deliver on a more consistent basis offensively.
David West is terrifying at times. If West punched you, how long would you be out? A week? A month? Would you just turn into dust and float away?
I don't even want to consider the lasting impact I'd endure from a DWest combination. The man was just playing around a couple of years ago and sent Cavs' mascot Moondog to the hospital.
If these two matched up in the playoffs, who on the Bobcats would you most be worried about?
As much as I love Josh McRoberts, the guy that worries me most is Al Jefferson. He has all of the game needed to nullify Roy Hibbert and if his play sends Hibbert into a frustrated funk, it can have a lasting impact in a playoff series.The Pacers should have the ability to take advantage of the remaining matchups on the floor, but the threat of Jefferson inside which can also open up perimeter shots for others, could be a problem.
Big thanks to Tom for answering my questions. You can find him on twitter @IndyCornrows where he tweets out links to the great content they have over at Indy Cornrows. If you ever want Pacers content, be sure to head there.