COMMENTARY | The Indiana Pacers have started off the preseason 0-3, and they have not looked good at all on the defensive end of the court in those three losses.
They opened up their preseason action with an 82-76 loss, and then proceeded to lose their next two preseason games to the Houston Rockets.
While this is just preseason action, there have been obvious concerns already for the Pacers on defense. Last year, their defense was one of the best in the NBA, but especially against the Houston Rockets they were getting beat in transition and off the dribble as well. If Indiana hopes to compete for an NBA Finals appearance this year, it will need to figure things out and buckle down defensively.
The team looked solid on offense, but there were times that it looked out of sync. There are many factors that could have added to the issues on offense, especially with most of the bench being brand new. Paul George has had three solid games despite fouling out against the Bulls, but he still is showing issues with his ball-handling and turnover problems.
Roy Hibbert showed up last season in the playoffs and turned some heads, but he has looked bad through the first preseason games. He's definitely still going to be a defensive force, but if he's going to live up to what the Pacers need him to be, he needs to finish his shots from the post. There is no reason that a 7-foot-2-inch center should be missing good looks from 5 feet away from the rim. Whether it's a lack of focus or just a lack of ability, Hibbert needs to find a way to right the ship before the regular season arrives.
George Hill has looked solid throughout the preseason, especially being a much more aggressive offensive force. He's getting into the lane and making shots, and also being aggressive getting to the free-throw line. Hill is not known primarily as a point guard but more as a scorer. The Pacers need Hill to find a good balance between being the floor general for the Pacers and scoring the basketball as well. Overall, he has looked very good and much-improved throughout the Pacers' first three preseason games.
David West is going to be the same old David West that Pacers fans have come to know and love. His post game has looked as effective as ever, and he still has the overall aggressiveness that makes him such a threat to opponents. Despite the concerns that another year of age would slow him down, it does not appear that will be the case.
Lance Stephenson and Danny Granger have been involved in a heated battle to be the Pacers' starting shooting guard, and at this point Granger seems to have the upper hand. Stephenson has struggled with his offensive game and overall aggressiveness. Granger, on the other hand, has not been hesitant to attempt shots, and especially in the Pacers' second game looked very effective. As he continues to get back into basketball shape, you can expect to see Granger's offensive game to grow. He still looks a bit sluggish at times, but he has looked far more confident than Stephenson to this point.
The bench as a whole looks much improved as well from last year. Luis Scola has only played in two of the three preseason games, but he has shown great moves in the post and the ability to rebound the basketball. C.J. Watson has shown great 3-point range and the floor-general skills that he has as the backup point guard. Watson may very well be the best surprise so far in the preseason with his offensive performances off the bench. Ian Mahinmi has played very good defense as the backup to Roy Hibbert, but he has been unable to find his offensive game.
One other bright spot worth noting for the Pacers is the play of Orlando Johnson. Johnson was the Pacers' second-round draft pick in the 2012 NBA draft and found himself in the rotation down the stretch of the regular season last year. He has improved his offensive game and is competing for playing time with Solomon Hill, who the Pacers drafted with their first-round pick this year. Both players have different styles of play, but, so far, Orlando Johnson has been the much more consistent player especially on offense.
While the Pacers are off to a rough start, there really isn't a reason to be concerned. Yes, their defense must come together and play at a higher level, but every player that the Pacers have has proven in the past that they are capable defenders. Their 0-3 record certainly isn't what the fans or the franchise was hoping to have, but we must remember that this is still preseason basketball.
Evan Massey lives in Indianapolis and has followed the Pacers for the past 15 years. He has written for many online sports websites, including Hoops-Nation.com, Pro Football Spot, and Naptown's Finest. Follow Evan on Twitter at @massey_evan.