INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Pacers coach Frank Vogel is taking a simple approach this season.
On offense, it’s all about going big, being aggressive and moving the ball. On defense, he expects Indiana to protect the rim, rebound and play together.
Vogel figured basic old-school basketball might be the best way to overcome the losses of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to a broken right leg.
“We don’t want to be a more finesse team,” Vogel said. “We’ve been dominating those areas (defense and rebounding) for a few years, and we’ve probably been more of a smash-mouth team in the past than we were last year. But we want to attack the rim and we want to win the battle at the free-throw line.”
The throwback style is an indication of how much has changed in Indiana.
Stephenson took his NBA-high five triple-doubles to Charlotte for a slightly bigger paycheck and the chance to be the Hornets’ top scoring option. George, a two-time All-Star and two-time all-defensive team selection, ran into a basketball stanchion in August and snapped his leg in two places. The injury will likely cost him the whole season.
Suddenly, outsiders stopped talking about whether the two-time Eastern Conference runner-ups were still a title contender and started wondering whether they would even make the playoffs in a conference that became much stronger during the offseason.
Vogel has pushed back, pointing out that when Danny Granger’s knee injury created similar questions in the 2012-13 season, the Pacers thrived. Stephenson and George emerged as potential young stars and played big roles in pushing Miami to seven games in the conference finals.
Could it happen again? Vogel thinks it’s possible if the Pacers execute the plan.
He wants Roy Hibbert and David West to become primary scorers, he wants George Hill to take more shots, he thinks the slashing moves of Rodney Stuckey provides a dimension Indiana has been lacking and, of course, he needs the reserves to come up big starting with the Oct. 29 season opener against Philadelphia.
“We’ve got a challenge in front of us and we’ve got to figure it out,” West said. “We’ve got to figure out lineups, and we’ve got to figure out an offensive approach. We’ve got to figure all of that out.”
Here are some other things to watch this season.
WEST BOUND: Coping with the losses of Stephenson and George seems tough enough. Now they could be without West for a while after he injured his right ankle in Saturday night’s preseason game. It’s still unclear how much time he could miss, but even with Luis Scola filling in, the Pacers cannot afford to be without their leader for long.
THE LINEUP: Hibbert, Hill and West will certainly retain their starting jobs, though Hill might get more minutes at his more natural spot, shooting guard, than point guard. The most likely scenario is Vogel will use free agent signees C.J. Miles and Stuckey at the other two spots.
BENCH TIME: Indiana spent the 2012 and 2013 offseasons trying to strengthen the bench. This year, without George and Stephenson, they will need the backups to do even more. While the rotations at point guard, power forward and center are unchanged, the Pacers need more consistency and more scorers off the bench to overcome the loss of their two most dynamic players.
TONED DOWN: A year ago, Indiana was one of the most talkative teams. Hibbert critiqued teammates, Stephenson’s antics created distractions, and George was pressed into the job of toning things down. Whether out of choice or necessity, the Pacers insist this season’s team will be less chatty and more focused.
PLAYOFFS OR BUST: Indiana’s title hopes might be put on hold until George returns, but Vogel isn’t conceding anything yet. He continues to believe the Pacers have enough talent to compete at a “high level” and refuses to establish a ceiling.