You’re in your second semester of AP Basketball History, you love really good teams, and you love lists. With precious little drama left in the NBA’s 2015 offseason, why don’t we hit the barroom and/or barbershop, pour ourselves a frosty mug of Barbicide, and get to arguin’ over each franchise’s most formidable starting five-man lineup.
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Because we don’t like making tough decisions, the lineups will reflect the All-NBA line of thinking. There will be no differentiation between separate forward and guard positions, and the squads will be chosen after careful consideration of individual merits only – we don’t really care if your team’s top shooting guard and point guard don’t get along.
These rankings will roll out based on when each franchise began its NBA life. We continue with the Indiana Pacers, who can’t drive 65 (not with all that construction on I-65).
C: Mel Daniels. A two-time ABA MVP, Hall of Famer and massive two-way presence on three different championship Pacer squads, Daniels was one of the best centers of his era. Daniels led the ABA in rebounds per game three times and finished his Pacer career averaging 16 caroms a night. He also contributes 19.4 points per contest.
F: Roger Brown. The leading scorer on the Pacers’ 1970 championship team, Brown’s unorthodox game was a mainstay on three different Pacers champions. Utilizing both a sturdy and athletic driving game and a killer step-back jumper, Brown averaged 18 points per game with the Pacers.
F: George McGinnis. Later sadly overshadowed by Julius Erving in Philadelphia and his own age-related decline once he hit the NBA’s national airwaves, McGinnis was a massive force for two different Pacer champions and the 1975 ABA MVP. He led the ABA in scoring that season at nearly 30 per game, and averaged 25 points, nearly 13 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.2 steals while working out of the power forward position.
G: Reggie Miller. If you’re into ranking someone as a franchise’s all-timer, which we’re not, you can still go ahead with this guy. He wasn’t much of a defender, rebounder, or passer, but Miller was the face of the Indiana Pacers from 1987 to 2005. His longevity meant that, despite only averaging more than 3.9 assists per game once (he got to 4.0 in 1991), Miller remains the team’s all-time leader in assists. A knockout shooter who developed a fantastic triple-threat position around the fin de siècle, he could have even easily played well into his 40s.
G: Freddie Lewis. A hybrid guard with a potent scoring punch, Lewis was a clutch scorer who excelled in the playoff setting. He won three titles with the Pacers and averaged over 16 points per game with the ABA version of the club (he would return for a cup of NBA coffee with the Pacers in 1977 before retiring). Lewis made three ABA All-Star teams.
The Pacers’ history is loaded with swingmen that trended toward the small forward position, even though they spent copious amounts of minutes at shooting guard. Danny Granger hasn’t been the same since knee injuries curtailed his promising career, but it’s easy to forget that he averaged about 23 a game for four seasons with the Pacers during his peak years. Billy Knight also played more small forward than off guard, but he was a bruising scorer for the last two years in the ABA and a placeholder as the team found its way in the NBA. Paul George is right there. If you want to knock Freddie Lewis off for any of them, go nuts.
ABA legend Billy Keller is also nearly as deserving of Lewis for the final guard spot, and unlike Granger, Knight and George he only played the guard position. Keller’s job was to set up his scads of ultra-talented teammates and get the heck out of the way – he averaged over 11 points per game and took more three-point shots than anyone from his era, and just 3.6 assists a contest. Despite his NBA on NBC-bred ubiquity on some of the greatest Pacer teams of all time, Mark Jackson only played 405 games with the franchise and averaged a modest 8.4 points alongside 8.1 assists in 30 minutes a contest. He led the league in assists in 1997, but most of those were racked up in his 52-game stint running the high-paced, lob-heavy Denver Nuggets that year.
Jermaine O’Neal made six All-Star teams with the Pacers and he genuinely was a close second behind Daniels. If it seems odd to evenly compare a two-time league MVP with an All-NBA Second and Third Team fixture like Jermaine, understand that while we respect the hell out of the ABA, Daniels was working in a lesser league and O’Neal was going up against 29 other teams in the modern era.
Small forward stalwarts Derrick McKey, Metta World Peace and Detlef Schrempf and ABA legend Bob Netolicky also merited consideration, as did scorer Chuck Person. Dale and Antonio Davis were nothing to slough off, and Roy Hibbert made two All-Star teams with the Pacers. Rik Smits averaged 15 points and six boards for an unending series of great Pacer teams, but foot problems limited him to just 26.6 minutes a contest.
That’s our five. Who are you going with?
Previous entries: Golden State. Boston. New York. Detroit. Sacramento. Los Angeles Lakers. Atlanta. Philadelphia. Washington. Chicago. Houston. Seattle/Oklahoma City. Phoenix. Milwaukee. Los Angeles Clippers. Cleveland. Portland. Utah. Brooklyn.
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