Indiana lost incumbent starting big men Roy Hibbert and David West this offseason, and it looked as if they were in serious trouble trying to compete for a playoff spot this upcoming season. However, after trading the 2019 second-round pick they received from the Lakers in the Hibbert deal to the Cavs for second round rookie power forward/center Rakeem Christmas, the Pacers might have enough up front to compete.
Christmas is a big body at nearly 6-10 with a 7-5.25 wingspan and 245 pounds, which enables him to player either frontcourt position. Christmas is an older prospect at 23, but provides shot blocking, physicality and a budding mid range game, which he’ll need to improve to succeed at this level. He signed a four-year deal with the first two guaranteed, so it’s apparent Indiana looks as him as a part of their future.
The team already drafted another rookie with a similar size and skillset in athletic 19-year old big man Myles Turner, who might be slated to start immediately for the Pacers. Both rookies have the versatility to play either front court spot, but coach Frank Vogel would be smart to stagger them in different line ups, with two rookies together on the frontline might struggle even against opposing bench units.
The Pacers have back up center Ian Mahinmi slated to give more minutes either off the bench or as a starter. Indiana also signed free agent Jordan Hill, who started 57 games for the Lakers last season and could see time off the bench. Big man Lavoy Allen isn’t flashy, but gets the job done when he’s in the game. These five provide versatility, shooting ability, shot blocking and toughness as a group. The question will be what lineups coach Vogel uses in crunch time, especially with teams continually going smaller and smaller.
A lineup of point guard George Hill, shooting guard Monta Ellis, swingmen C.J. Miles and Paul George playing small-ball four alongside Turner at the five probably is their best bet. This brings playmaking all over the floor, and if George can be the top five player he can be after a summer adding weight and getting his rhythm back, the Pacers have a chance to be playoff team this season.
The Pacers will be deep, too. Combo guard Rodney Stuckey, veteran swingman Chase Budinger and promising third-year pro Solomon Hill remain as options on the perimeter off the bench. Rookie second-round pick Joseph Young was awfully impressive getting into the lane during the summer league. Yesterday the team signed young athletic swingman Glenn Robinson III. The 21-year old from Gary, Indiana showed potential late last season in Philadelphia, but will add some depth right now. The Pacers will have a coup of big men capable of coming off the bench to provide whatever might be needed during the course of a game as well.
Heading into this summer, Indiana was in a situation that didn’t look promising. With both of their big men potentially being moved, it looked like the Pacers might fall to the basement of the Eastern Conference despite having a former all star and MVP candidate in Paul George and solid supporting cast. The Pacers were smart with their signings using what cap space opened up and other assets gained from both departures, which has maximized their versatility and youth for the foreseeable future.
Vogel now has plenty of talent at his disposal and should be able to get this Pacers team to a playoff spot in the (slightly) improved Eastern Conference. The Pacers now have plenty of depth, talent and the two-way versatility needed to compete with the top teams in either conference.