This is a time of transition for the Indiana Pacers.
Barely one year removed from being a legitimate challenger for the Eastern Conference title, Frank Vogel’s team could look like a shell of its formerly elite self come the start of next season. Roy Hibbert has a player option for 2015-2016, and it’s no secret that the Pacers wouldn’t mind trading the two-time All-Star if he decides to exercise it.
Indiana’s slow-paced, defensively dominant yet offensively challenged style became increasingly archaic over the past calendar year – to the extent that Larry Bird and company have openly suggested scrapping it entirely. While that may not mean the Pacers become an Eastern Conference version of the run-and-gun, often downsized Golden State Warriors, changes will be afoot come next fall whether Hibbert is wearing navy blue and gold or not.
“I’ll be ready for it. I’m working on making that change and being prepared to play some forward this year,” George said Thursday. “I understand what Larry (Bird) wants as far as playing the faster pace. I mean, I’m for it. That’s the way the league is going nowadays.”
At 6’9 with hands that scrape his knees, the 25-year-old is certainly long enough to for the job. And though he’s listed at just 220 pounds, George appeared noticeably bigger than that upon his return to the floor in April. While Hibbert’s assertion last November that his star teammate looks “like LeBron” is hyperbole, the Fresno State product can no longer be considered skinny.
That’s an important development considering Indiana’s plans to play George at power forward next season. The 2014 All-Defense First Team honoree could always guard all three spots on the perimeter with ease, but now only the most physical post players should pose him any problem whatsoever. That’s a major win for the Pacers considering George will have a major advantage over those same players on the other end – one that could juice the team’s offense by itself if he’s able to regain the form that made him a budding superstar.
Players like George are few and far between. Only so many guys can capably defend multiple positions, and even fewer among them come anywhere close to being a primary option on offense. Utilizing him at power forward in his sixth season maximizes the benefits of those rare traits from an individual and team perspective even further, and eases Indy’s stark transition to more modern offensive and defensive principles, too.
But George won’t get the Pacers back to contention alone. Hibbert’s situation should be Bird’s top priority this summer, and could help decide this franchise’s future more than anything else. For now, though, it’s certainly encouraging that Indiana will be a far more balanced team going forward than the one we’ve recently come to know.