Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Indiana Pacers

Dec 26, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) dribbles around Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) in the second half at Target Center. The Pacers won 102-88. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) dribbles around Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) in the second half at Target Center. The Pacers won 102-88. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

Welcome to Part 26 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: The Wolves lost both games against the Pacers last season.

In the first match-up, the Indiana basically controlled the whole game. The Wolves were able to mostly close the gap in the last period, but could not take the lead.

The rematch in Minnesota was quite different, although it still resulted in a similar outcome. For three quarters, the two teams were neck-and-neck with the Wolves even holding on to a fragile lead. However, Pacers completely dominated in the fourth period and went home with a 14-point win in their pocket.

Indiana changed quite significantly in the off-season, but it hardly makes Minnesota’s tasks any easier.

What’s New?

Since two consecutive trips to Eastern Conference Finals, former head coach Frank Vogel’s Pacers just missed the playoffs in 2014-15 and and could not get past the first round last year. While the first drawback could be explained by Paul George‘s series leg injury, last year was different.

Even having finished seventh in the regular season, Pacers had a shot at reaching the Eastern Conference Finals once again. Despite being the better team for the much of the first-round series against the Toronot Raptors, the Pacers ended up losing the series in a Game Seven.

Among the major reasons of the recent failures to meet the club’s expectation was inefficient offense. Indiana may have had the third-best defense in the league, but their offensive rating was in the bottom-six. Larry Bird, the organization, and Pacers fans certainly hope that this problem will be fixed by the new head coach Nate McMillan, who is known for his offensive style and capabilities.

Another reason for Indiana’s fans to be excited is several great acquisitions over the summer, which should help the Pacers become a more complete team.

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Key Losses

The Hill Trio

Last year’s Pacers still had three Hills on their roster and each of them had significant roles within the team. George Hill, the starting point guard last season, went to the Jazz. Solomon Hill will start the new season with the Pelicans, and Jordan Hill is now with the Timberwolves.

Out of the three, George was the most valuable. He may not have been that consistent during the regular season, but his importance to the team was clearly illustrated in the playoffs. With him on the court, Indiana’s defensive rating against the Raptors was 3.8 points better. But that’s not the biggest difference: with George Hill playing, Indiana had a shocking 21.1 points superior offensive rating than with him on the bench.

Part of it can be attributed to the extremely big efficiency difference between Indiana’s first and second units in the playoffs. In fact, at least two games in the playoff series were basically lost due to poor performances by the substitutes.

On the other hand, the Pacers seem to have made sure they don’t face similar problems this year. As decent as George Hill may be, his replacement in Jeff Teague is more of a complete player. And Aaron Brooks off the bench is a very solid backup, too.

Jordan Hill is also a solid player, but Pacers managed to find superior alternatives for him as well.

And that’s what leads me to believe that even though Solomon Hill may have contributed the least in last year’s regular season, he is the most important loss here, and Pacers didn’t exactly get any snipers to fill his spot.

Teagu, Monta Ellis, and C.J. Miles are not reliable from beyond the arc. Although Solomon struggled mightily in the regular season, his cold-blooded three-pointers were vital for Indiana in last playoffs. The youngster would definitely have ensured some stability for Indiana’s three-point shooting.

Ian Mahinmi

The league is filled with great French big men: Rudy Gobert, Joakim Noah, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mahinmi. What else do they have in common?

Well, with a small exception of Lauvergne, they are all defensive specialists. Ian certainly was one of the key factors of Indiana’s impressive defense last year. However, with the rapidly developing Myles Turner in Mahinmi’s position, the loss may not end up to be  that substantial.

Turner seems to be heading for a dominant big man’s status on both ends of the floor, which is something that Mahinmi was never capable of.

Key Additions

Jeff Teague

The former Hawk is a significant addition at the point guard spot. Teague is reliable, has great court vision, and doesn’t shy away from responsibility in clutch minutes. This team’s potential is impressive and it’s success will largely depend on Teague and his ability to control the team.

Al Jefferson

The veteran big man will provide some essential consistency on offense. His size, high basketball IQ and sweet shot from mid-range will certainly be a big asset. Not to mention that Turner probably couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.

Related Story: Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Thaddeus Young

Young had a productive season in Brooklyn last year, especially from a rebounding perspective, improving from 5.4 the previous season to 9 per contest a year ago. If he maintains such numbers as well as his double-digit scoring, Pacers will have a really impressive front court.

Aaron Brooks

Although Brooks never again managed to even get close to his outstanding numbers from the 2009-10 season with Houston (19.6 points & 5.3 assists per contest), he’s still been a valuable back-up point guard in every team he played for, and this is exactly what the Pacers will be expecting from him.

Neither Rodney Stuckey, nor the infamous Ty Lawson could have provided the team with quality minutes off the bench moving forward, and it seems like Indiana should have this spot covered.

What’s The Same?

Paul George. MVP? Hard to tell at this point, but George will definitely be among the major candidates.

Last season, George already proved that he was able to fully recover from injury and possibly even got better. This year, everyone will be expecting even more from him. And even though the superstar would definitely be happy with gaining the individual recognition, a championship run is what matters most. And Paul will certainly do everything in his power to take his team as far as possible. With this depth, it could be a long run.

Myles Turner. One of the league’s most promising big men will have an even more important role this year. He still has a lot to work on, but Turner clearly has the qualities needed to become a star.

Thus far, Turner has tended to struggle against physically stronger opponents, but his defensive skills and perception are outstanding for his age. In addition, he already was a substantial figure on offense and should be contributing even more this year.

Key To Victory

One-on-one match-ups. With the teams having similarly versatile squads, these games will likely to come down to individual effort and skill.

Towns and Dieng will face a versatile front court and will have to be able to adapt quickly. Rubio, Dunn, and LaVine will need to be particularly wary of Ellis’ explosiveness and Teague’s all-around game, especially in regards to defending.

Much will depend on how well each team’s guards manage to distribute the ball and create opportunities. Finally, playing against George, Andrew Wiggins will have a chance to prove he is ready to become a superstar. What better way to show that if not facing off against one and demonstrating that you’re just as good?


The Pacers appear to be a slightly superior team to the Wolves, at least on paper. However, there also is more uncertainty surrounding Indiana, particularly with so many new key players. A new head coach with a substantially different philosophy is also an important variable. Everyone may need time to start understanding each other and feeling the teammates well on the court.

Nevertheless, if the Pacers are to struggle, it’ll probably happen in the beginning of the season. The games against the Timberwolves will only happen in 2017, so the Pacers should have jelled as a team by then.

I would say that the Wolves are capable of pulling out at least one victory in the two-game series.

Next: Timberwolves Notes: NBA GMs love the Wolves

The first of the two games will take place on January 28th at the Target Center in Minneapolis.