Just a year ago the Indiana Pacers were a rudderless team led by an inconsistent coach. Their rotations were deplorable and they had too many wing scorers and not enough ball-handlers. Danny Granger was their only go-to guy and they lacked any sort of defensive intensity.

It’s amazing how much can change in just a few short months! Ineffective head coach Jim O’Brien was replaced by the young and pliable (and I use that word in the best possible way) Frank Vogel at a bit past the All Star break last year. Under his more flexible system, the Pacers turned around just enough to sneak into the playoffs as an low seed. Their new-found defensive intensity and Vogel’s effective use of his players’ strengths gave the Chicago Bulls all the could handle in the first round of the playoffs.

Team president Larry Bird caught lots of flak for the Pacers’ draft misses and the general mediocrity of the team during the past five years, but his patience has paid off with a team that is poised to make waves in the NBA this season.

The Pacers’ roster from top to bottom is deep and talented enough to play with anyone. Let’s take a quick walk through the key players on their roster.

-Granger, although his shooting percentage is often fairly poor, is scoring 18.3 points per game and is good in the clutch.

-Newly-named All-Star reserve Roy Hibbert has developed into one of the better centers in the league. He has a nice array of post moves and he’s bulked up in order to pound down low with the bigger post players. He’s even started wearing a Rip Hamilton-esque mask to protect his face, which indicates to me that he is ready to bash with the best of them.

-Darren Collison is a bit of a streaky shooter at point guard, but he’s been much better in his second year with the team and is good at penetrating and then dishing.

-George Hill was a monster acquisition for the Pacers in the off-season. He’s a “tweener” at guard and can slash to the basket to create his own shots and plays tough defense. Although he’s been out for a few games with an injury, some of the Pacers’ early success this season can be traced to his stellar play off the bench.

-Paul George has come on magnificently in his second year in the league. His break-out game against the Dallas Mavericks last week showed that he has the potential to be a truly special player. George’s development will make it easier for the Pacers to part with Danny Granger if they strike on a good mid-season trade.

-Lance Stephenson is another second year man who has shown flashes of excellence. He has the athleticism, the ability to create his own shots and the passing acumen to be a spectacular shooting guard.  

-David West has been a great addition at power forward. He does all the right things as a savvy veteran and can pour in points if needed.

-Tyler Hansbrough is an effort guy who will create a spark off the bench and get to the line due to his dirty work around the rim.

With these pieces in place, the Pacers have transformed themselves into the third best team in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls are still better than the Pacers, but I seriously doubt that either team wants to play the young, deep and hungry Pacers.