14 Feb Will PG-13 Return To The Pacers in March?
Every hat has a story to tell just as every hat has a purpose. The same can be said about ball caps. But what’s the story behind this ball cap? Let’s find out:
A New Era
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) February 13, 2015
While the NBA was busy watching funny man Kevin Hart bag his 4th NBA All-Star Celebrity Game MVP award on Friday night, Pacers’ star Paul George was at Jay Z‘s 40/40 Club taking care of “another” business: ball caps. George was at the club not only to debut a collection of Pacers’ caps, but he was there to collaborate with known hat designer Shawn Curtin and finalize his new PG 13 logo which features the number 13 inside the letters PG:
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) February 13, 2015
The logo will initially be featured in a hat that will be sold in the summer, according to a report from espn.com. Coincidentally, the hat will be manufactured by a brand which George says he’s been wearing since middle school: New Era. We say “coincidental” because we are about to witness a new era in Pacers’ basketball and in Paul George’s NBA career.
Breaking a Leg
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) August 2, 2014
It was only last August when the whole world witnessed that horrific leg injury during an exhibition game for USA Basketball. George was part of the original pool of NBA stars who were vying for a slot at USAB’s men’s national team for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. But that gruesome injury not only ended Paul George’s dream to play for the flag, it also virtually ended the Indiana Pacers‘ ambition of cementing their position as one of the NBA’s top teams for this 2015 season.
2013-14 was an up and down season for the Indiana Pacers who finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference at 56-26. But they could have fared better during a regular season where they blew hot and cold and played like Dr. Jekyll on one night and Mr. Hyde on the next. The Pacers started the season at a franchise best 11-1 and held the NBA’s best record until their late season turmoil that left them in disarray and caused them to sputter to the finish line. Despite that, 2014 was a year where the Pacers put their stamp as one of the NBA’s elite. And leading them was their 24 year old team captain, who had also vaulted into NBA superstardom in his 4th NBA season. 2015 was supposed to be the year of the Pacers, with or without the enigmatic Lance Stephenson. But instead of luck, that fateful August exhibition game gave them the literal “break a leg” phrase with Paul George suffering a compound fracture of both bones in his lower right leg.
Changing the Landscape
— GeEkY GoSsiP (@GeEkYGoSsiP_) September 15, 2014
Immediately after the injury to PG, the Indiana Pacers’ title odds disappeared. In a report from ibj.com on 8.2.14:
The Pacers’ odds of winning the NBA title dropped to 60-1 from 15-1, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook. Before George’s injury, only five teams had a better chance at winning the championship. After he underwent surgery that may sideline him for the 2014-15 NBA season, more than half the 30 teams in the NBA have better odds to win the title.
Consequently, the chances of their rivals increased, continued ibj.com:
The Cavaliers’ odds of winning the championship moved to 3-1 from 7-2 after George’s injury. With the perception of less competition in the Eastern Conference, they’re now the favorite to win the championship, according to the LVH SuperBook. The Pacers went from third favorite in the East behind Cleveland and the Chicago Bulls to tied for ninth out of 15 teams.
Just as in the gambling world, the landscape in the actual NBA setting also changed. Not only did their championship odds drop, their playoff chances were also erased. But more than George’s injury, it’s been the Atlanta Hawks’ performance that has surprised the NBA. After a 19 game winning run, the Hawks lead the East by 6.5 games over the Raptors, Bulls and Wizards. The Raptors and Wizards are building on last year’s success while the Bulls have welcomed back Derrick Rose and added Pau Gasol. Surprisingly, LeBron‘s Cavs are just number 5 and are just 2 games ahead of the #6 Milwaukee Bucks ( yes, last season’s cellar dwellers). Out west, it’s the Golden State Warriors who have ruled from the start. They are followed by the Grizzlies, Blazers, Rockets and Mavericks. The L.A. Clippers, who along with the Pacers were expected to make a big splash this season, are a surprise 6th seed while the defending champion Spurs have been hobbled by injuries at #7. The OKC Thunder aren’t even in the top 8 after losing KD and Russ to early season injuries. For now, let’s leave the Western Conference to another discussion table. Let’s focus on the East where the race for the last two playoff spots are being battled by six teams who are separated by just two games in the standings.
A Photo Finish
As of the 2015 All-Star break, the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat hold the final 2 playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with identical 22-30 records. They are followed by the Brooklyn Nets (21-31), Boston Celtics (20-31), Detroit Pistons (21-33) and Indiana Pacers (21-33). However, according to espn.com’s Playoff Odds, the Pacers ( 37.9%) rank third among those six teams in having the highest probability of notching the last two playoff spots, behind Miami (42.8%) and Boston (39.9%). According to playoffstatus.com, they also have the third easiest schedule among those teams. Add the fact that they still play the Celtics and Nets twice, the Heat, Hornets and Pistons once then you’ll believe that Indiana’s playoff chances are still in their hands. Here’s more: they play 4 of those 7 crucial games at home and a total of 16 of their remaining 28 games in their home floor.
— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) February 3, 2015
March Madness is typically associated with collegiate hoops, and that wasn’t certainly the reason why Paul George made that tweet. When Pacers’ President Larry Bird hinted that Paul George may be back earlier than expected, we knew PG was talking of a March comeback. Bird gave Pacers’ fans hope, via espn.com on 2.3.15:
It seems like every week Paul is getting better and better,” Bird said. “So if we do have an opportunity to get into the playoffs and [George] can get some games under his belt and get ready to go next year … I always say if a player is ready to play, they gotta play. We’re not going to hold him back if he’s able to go out there and play. When you’re out like that, you lose something. … I still think it’s important if he’s able to play, he should be out there.”
When Bird made the statement to espn.com, the Pacers were 4.5 games off the 8th seed. They’re only down two games right now. And then this, from PG himself:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 13, 2015
Should that become the case, then March in the NBA becomes madness with the Pacers expected to make a big finishing kick with PG back.
Getting Over The Hill
#Pacers George Hill was a nominee (team went 3-0), but wasn't named Eastern Conf. Player of the Week. Instead, Bucks’ Antetokounmpo was.
— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) February 9, 2015
Getting over the playoff hill may not be totally dependent on a Paul George comeback. Instead, it’s another George who’s been lighting the Pacers’ fire as of late. The main difference in the last 10 games for the Pacers has been the return of George Hill. They started 2-3 in Hill’s first five games back but have improved to 4-1 in the next five games. Hill’s been averaging 15.0 points, 6.0 assists while shooting 50% from the field and 56.3% from downtown in the month of February (where they’ve gone 4-1). But Hill hasn’t just produced big numbers for himself, he’s made the offense flourish. According to washingtonpost.com on 2.12.15:
The team’s offensive rating is 12 points higher than its average with him on the court and its turnover percentage spikes nearly five percent without him.
During these last 10 games, 61.8% of the team’s FGs have been assisted versus 58.6% for the season. Their shot chart over this period saw them take 2.7% more shots from high value areas near the rim and the corners as compared to the rest of the season. The percentage of difference in stats may look small, but for a team without its top scorer, it all adds up to a much better offensive efficiency. For the Pacers, that’s what they’ve lacked this season.
Defensively, the Pacers are #11 in efficiency (101.6) and #7 in points allowed ( 97.2). It’s been their offense which has been plaguing them: They are #23 in scoring and 19th in assists. Hill’s return offsets those weaknesses and has made the Pacers a much better team-even without Paul George.
Frank Vogel told the Indianapolis Star this:
We’re in a fight. We’re going to do everything we can just to be in that fight.
Vogel has repeatedly said in the past that he doesn’t believe Paul George can come back this season. With that last statement though, he sounded like he’s changing course. And why not? It’s gonna be a whole different ballgame after the All-Star break ,especially if Paul George does return for the Pacers.