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Indiana Pacers 2015-16 Preview

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Paul George is back in action and he has a new sidekick in Monta Ellis, but is it enough to put the Pacers back in the Eastern Conference playoff mix?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
38-44
4th in Central Division
9th in Eastern Conference

Coming off of back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014, last year's Pacers got their hearts ripped out from the jump. When Paul George broke his leg in last August's USA Basketball scrimmage, Indiana's chances of making noise in the Eastern Conference were completely demolished.

George missed the majority of the season, fighting back to suit up for only six games to close the season out in April.

Without their leader, while David West's production declined and Roy Hibbert continued his ups and downs, the Pacers struggled to consistently win games and fell short of a playoff spot. Finishing 38-44, Indiana tied with Brooklyn for eighth in the Eastern Conference but found themselves on the wrong end of the tie-breaker, missing the postseason for the first time in five years.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill, Myles Turner
Key Losses - David West, Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland

In order to shed salary and move on from an enigmatic piece, Indiana shipped Roy Hibbert and his remaining $15.5 million price tag to Los Angeles, receiving a future second round pick from the Lakers. Not only has Hibbert been up and down with his play over the last couple of years, the Pacers are looking to play a faster, more spread-out style that the big fella simply cannot adjust to successfully. It was time for both parties to experience a change, and it has been long overdue.

Filling some of that financial void is free agent acquisition Monta Ellis, who the Pacers signed to a four-year deal worth $44 million to strengthen their backcourt. Ellis gives Indiana another big time shot creator, and what he brings to the table will combine with Paul George and George Hill to form a dangerous perimeter group. Ellis is coming off of a strong year in Dallas where he produced 18.9 points per game, and he took it to another level in the playoffs by dropping 26 per game in their first round series against Houston.

Hibbert and veteran leader David West skipped down, as West turned down over $10 million with Indiana to content for a title in San Antonio, but the Pacers filled the void with younger bodies up front. Hill put together his best season as a pro with the Lakers in 2014-15, posting career highs 12 points and 7.9 rebounds per contest along with his best mark from the free throw line at 73.8%. Hill's active body will be a breath of fresh air and is both a younger player and a six-year veteran at the same time.

In the draft, the Pacers went with lanky Texas center Myles Turner, who may stand as a bit of a project, but could develop into a nice two-way piece over time. At 7'0" tall with a 7'4" wingspan, Turner possesses the size and length to disrupt defensively and he already has shown the ability to knock down a mid-range jump shot and step away from the basket a little bit on the other end. He's going to need some time to learn how to play, earn his way into a key role and transform his conditioning, but Turner could prove to be a good fit.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Jordan Hill / Ian Mahinmi / Myles Turner
PF - Paul George / Lavoy Allen / Rakeem Christmas
SF - C.J. Miles / Solomon Hill / Chase Budinger / Glenn Robinson III
SG - Monta Ellis / Rodney Stuckey
PG - George Hill / Toney Douglas / Joseph Young

X-FACTOR - Paul George
There is no question that Paul George's health and production is the number one key to Indiana's season. If George does not return to the floor at an elite level, the Pacers are going to have a tough time making that jump back into the playoffs.

When George is healthy, he is one of the best all-around performers the game has to offer and is not only one of the most versatile offensive threats on the wing, but one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Let's hope "PG-13" gets back to that level.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
If all goes well, the Pacers will have a shot at putting themselves in contention for a low Eastern Conference playoff seed, but they're going to have to fight down to the wire in order to lock that up. They've got some talent, but you also have to keep in mind that they are looking to execute an entirely new style of play and that has just as strong of a chance to backfire as it has to work out.

It is probably a safe bet to peg Indiana to finish in the eight to 10 range in the standings.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
4th in Central Division
9th in Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers 2015-16 Preview - Indy Cornrows - SBNation.com

Paul George clearly stated at the start of camp that he expects the Pacers to compete for a top three spot in the Eastern Conference.  Later that day, C.J. Miles nodded in agreement, admitting there was a lot of work remaining but that is the plan. The East has a group of about eight or nine teams that likely feel the same way, but for the Pacers it all depends on how the transition in style comes together.

Depending on your preferred Vegas outlet, the Pacers over/under for wins this year is around 41. That seems on point, although with so many variables in play this year, if everything comes together as expected, winning closer to 48 games would be reasonable. On the other hand, if the transition falls flat, 35 wins may be a struggle, but I think the change will be a  net positive to eclipse that over number.