Preview: Indiana Pacers

2017-18 Indiana Pacers


Projected Record: 31-51 (11th in East)

Over/Under: 31.5

2016: 42-40 (7th in East)


Key Additions:

  • G Victor Oladipo
  • F Domantas Sabonis
  • F T.J. Leaf
  • F Ike Anigbogu
  • G Darren Collison
  • G/F Bojan Bogdanovic
  • G Cory Joseph

Key Subtractions:

  • F Paul George
  • G Jeff Teague
  • G/F C.J. Miles
  • G Monta Ellis
  • F Kevin Seraphin
  • F Lavoy Allen

Summary

Strengths:

  • Frontcourt depth and upside

Weaknesses:

  • Lost Paul George
  • Unbalanced roster
  • Not good enough to make playoffs, too good to bottom out

Of all the big names to change teams this offseason, Paul George might have left his team in the most difficult position – though not entirely by his own design. The return for George – Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis – was staggeringly thing, even taking into account George’s stated desire to leave and the Pacers’ subsequent lack of leverage.

When a team loses a player like Paul George, that’s usually the cue to rebuild. It’s rare that those teams have a Russell Westbrook to simply retool around. The Pacers don’t seem to agree, though; journeyman, late-20s rotation players like Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic don’t really make sense in how I envision their timeline, and the players brought in for George don’t scream upside. Victor Oladipo is still just 25, but he hasn’t improved in his four NBA seasons, and Domantas Sabonis doesn’t look like a player that fits in the current scheme of the NBA.

There is some youth on this team, to be sure. Myles Turner is already their best player at only 21 years old, and they have a platoon of youngsters in the frontcourt to tinker around with next to him. I wasn’t the biggest T.J. Leaf fan going into the Draft, but he has an interesting perimeter game that will certainly fit in the NBA right now, and Sabonis is certainly trying to get there too. Second round pick Ike Anigbogu might be their most interesting rookie; he’s bouncy and has incredibly long arms, but he’s also extremely raw. On the wings, 23-year-old Glenn Robinson III is a fun time, and looks like a keeper.

Indiana is in a difficult position now; guys like Oladipo, Collison, Bogdanvic, and Thaddeus Young likely separate them from the cellar of the diminished East, but seemingly not enough to push them into the playoffs. They’ll get a lottery pick, but their chances at one of those coveted top three spots are thin, so the question becomes how they intend to replace the star they lost?

The answer might honestly be on their roster already in the form of Myles Turner, who we’ll discuss shortly, but the Pacers are dangerously close to that NBA Purgatory where they play well enough to dance around fringes of the playoffs but never contend, at the cost of a high draft pick. It’s not like Indiana is a major free agent destination, either, and the front office can’t be inspiring a lot of external confidence in the franchise right now.

It’s too late to change how the offseason played out for Indiana, but now the Pacers will need to adapt and figure out some kind of strategy. The East is truly awful this year, so it’s not impossible to envision this team surprising to some extent and maybe, sorta-kinda hovering close to the eighth seed. It’s not likely, though, and if I were put in charge of this roster, I’d be looking to move players like Young, Collison, and Bogdanovic at the Trade Deadline for whatever assets I can get.


Most Valuable Player: Myles Turner

I have proudly ridden the Myles Turner bandwagon since before he was even drafted, and this feels like the season that fandom finally pays off. He’s dipped under the radar a little bit behind contemporaries like Kristaps Porzingis (this is an interesting comparison, but this kid has the upside to eventually be one of the five best bigs in the NBA, and he’s one of the very few things that will be keeping the Pacers interesting this season.

I’m interested to see how Turner’s offensive involvement will change with George and Teague gone. He dipped his toes into increased perimeter shooting last season, shooting 35% from three on 115 attempts; will the Pacers give him more of a green light from deep in their new-look offense, perhaps closer to a Kristaps Porzingis-level five attempts per game?

X Factors: Victor Oladipo, Ike Anigbogu

It’s possible Oladipo is a little underrated now, as far as guards go. He obviously isn’t going to become the dominant two-way guard we hoped he might be, but he’s still only 25 and he’s currently at least an average shooter. Think a discount version of Gary Harris. Oladipo is miscast as a top scoring option, which he could turn out to be in Indiana, but there’s still room for him to develop into a 3-and-D contributor with a little ball-handling value. Of course, the obvious counterpoint is: if he couldn’t get there playing alongside Russell Westbrook, could he really do it on this roster?

As the youngest player in his draft class, it’s hard to expect Anigbogu to make a positive contribution as a rookie. Few do, and even fewer still do it from the center or power forward positions. That said, I’d like to see the Pacers get Anigbogu on the court with Turner at least a bit this year; he’s the most interesting young player on the roster in my opinion, and the potential of an athletic, lanky, versatile Turner-Anigbogu frontcourt a few years down the road is worth giving the second-rounder some early NBA action.


Conclusion

The Pacers aren’t great, but they’re just mediocre enough to be a step above the very cellar of the Eastern Conference. The return for Paul George just wasn’t great, even if there might be some value to be squeezed out of Victor Oladipo, and the Pacers as a whole now sit in an awkward spot. They probably won’t fall in the top five for lottery odds this season, but they have some useful veterans that might fetch them something of value at the trade deadline. For the time being, Indiana’s hopes rest on Myles Turner – can he make the leap into NBA stardom?

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