The tone was set on opening night for the Indiana Pacers. Paul George torched Harrison Barnes and the Dallas Mavericks for an absurd 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, and while it seemed routine, it was a signal of greater things ahead for PG-13 and his team. George would spend his 2016-17 campaign making the rare leap from stardom to superstardom with an MVP season. George notched career highs with 27.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, a blistering 41 percent from three-point range and he matched the 45 percent he shot from the field his rookie year in only 20 minutes per game.
While George’s explosive arrival into his prime was the story of the Pacers’ season, it may have been the continued development of Myles Turner that allowed the team to reach the upper echelon of the league. All the summertime talk of Turner extending his shooting range proved to be more than just lip service as the big man shot a respectable 33 percent from deep, good enough to provide the extra crevice of spacing the shooting-deficient Pacers needed to push their offense into the top-10 in both pace and efficiency.
Indy played their best ball of the season during a 9-1 10 game stretch from March to April that included three huge wins over the Raptors and a scintillating overtime victory over the Cavs in Cleveland. It was there the offseason addition of Jeff Teague truly paid dividends when he nailed a huge three in overtime over Kyrie Irving that gave the Pacers the lead for good and essentially clinched the No. 1 seed in the East.
Turner may have just missed out on the league’s Most Improved Player award to Kings guard Ben McLemore, but it was his aforementioned shooting touch on offense along with his mobility and rim protection on defense that pushed the Pacers over the top in the first round against the Heat. He was able to combat Hassan Whiteside’s length and improved post game with speed and help defense from the long arms of George and Thaddeus Young. On offense, he’d rendered Whiteside moot by the end of the series by constantly pulling him away from the rim, shooting 10-25 from distance in the series while forcing Erik Spoelstra to grasp at straws by starting Josh McRoberts at center in the decisive Game 5. Miami even downsized for long stretches of the series with lineups that included Justise Winslow, Derrick Williams and James Johnson in the front court and no traditional bigs; it was to no avail.