The Indiana Pacers, with Roy Hibbert and David West in the middle, have been the Eastern Conference's bullies of basketball for the last half-decade. (Their Western counterparts, of course, are Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies).
But that's all changed now, as West signed with the San Antonio Spurs, Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Pacers are embracing the league-wide trend of the last few years: small ball.
It's a stark contrast to their recent identity, but it might be worth it given the current personnel. Just how well will it work, though? CBS Sports' Matt Moore dove into the issue recently:
"The biggest change will see Paul George move to smallball four, at least part of the time. It's an idea that George isn't exactly thrilled about, and that Bird says just isn't that big of a deal. In 2014, George posted up just five percent of the time. Obviously, George will be used as a stretch four as the Pacers look to go four or five out. But there's just no real evidence to know how George will function as a rebounder, defending true bigs or even as a primary screener.
"Bird has said the move is designed with the intent of taking the stress off George's injured leg by not making him chase small forwards. The problem, of course, is that it doesn't cover the issue of him having to defend bigger, stronger players, and to attack them on the glass. There's a tradeoff.
"There's also the question of whether the offensive upgrades with Ellis will be enough to lift the offense. Frank Vogel's teams have been sound and disciplined, but woefully inefficient offensively. Can this new shift to faster, smaller basketball lead to the improved offense the Pacers want? How much progress can they make in a year?"
This is the question that will define the Pacers' season. It's impossible to predict just how good they'll be, but it's safe to say they're probably a notch below the East's elite (the Cleveland Cavaliers, for sure). After that, though, they're in the mix for home court, potentially, and should seriously content for a playoff spot at the very least.
(h/t CBS Sports)