The Indiana Pacers won their preseason opener in Milwaukee by a final score of 104-86. The Pacers ran away with the game in the third quarter where they outscored the Bucks 30-15. Myles Turner and Lance Stephenson led the team in scoring with 17 points each.
While the preseason results don’t matter, this was the new-look Pacers first opportunity to play together outside of practice, and it was an interesting dive into what the Pacers will strive to be in the regular season. Here’s some takeaways from game one:
Myles Turner is going to shoot more threes. A third of Turner’s 12 shot attempts were from beyond the 3-point line. While Turner managed to make only one attempt of his four tonight, it was encouraging to see him look to shoot from distance with confidence. Turner’s defense was also impressive. Turner was active at the rim, looked to consistently be in the correct position, and grabbed nine rebounds. Turner showed some improvement in post defense, forcing multiple misses in the first half, while also showing his great rim protection on multiple occasions with three blocks. Turner’s development is the key for the Pacers to accelerate this rebuilding era, and it’s quite possible he’ll have an All-Star selection coming his way this season.
Victor Oladipo has the greenest of green lights. Oladipo shot it early and often, shooting 8 times in the first quarter. He finished with 15 points on 15 shot attempts (making six). It’s clear that Oladipo will be one of the Pacers first scoring options and may lead the team in scoring, efficiency probably won’t be great.
Lance will make us dance. Stephenson will serve as the sixth man this year and he looked much like the player that he only seems to be in a Pacers uniform. Stephenson was the main ball handler for the second unit and set up Domantas Sabonis numerous times with nifty passes as they’ve seemed to gain some chemistry over the summer as both have spent the offseason in Indianapolis. Stephenson is going to flirt with triple doubles, get hyped, take maddening mid-range jump shots, bully his way to the rim, make some occasional threes. Stephenson finished with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds.
Damien Wilkins looks alright. Old Man Wilkins, complete with gray facial hair, was a questionable free agent signee at 37 years old and being out of the NBA for the past four seasons. Tonight, Wilkins led the Pacers in scoring in the first half with 10 points and finished with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting. He looks like he’ll adequately serve as the backup small forward while Glenn Robinson III is out with his severe ankle injury. While you could still argue that the Pacers would be better served giving those minutes to a young player like Alex Poythress or Ben Moore that need the development time, Wilkins won’t be a liability on the court and should be a good veteran presence while with the second unit. His situation seems reminiscent of Rasual Butler from 2013-14.
He currently looks like a lock to make the roster. Alex Poythress may be a candidate for the final spot as he was the 12th player to enter the game tonight, which would open up one of the Pacers 2-way contract spots for either Jarrod Uthoff or Ben Moore, neither of whom played tonight.
Al Jefferson is going to have to earn his way back on the court. At least for tonight’s game, the Pacers played Sabonis at the backup five and rookie TJ Leaf as the backup power forward. While Less Big Al lost 40 pounds over the offseason and seems more intent on a better season this year, he’s currently the third-string center. It’s possible the Pacers end up deciding that Leaf isn’t quite ready for minutes yet, but at least to start the season (and in training camp practices), Jefferson will be mainly on the bench.
It’s perilous to make many judgments based on the first preseason game (the Pacers showed encouraging signs last year in the first preseason game too), but the Pacers seemed committed to the running style that they’ve been talking about pursuing for years, and Wilkins praised the team chemistry after the game, which has been a struggle for the Pacers for the past couple of seasons as well.