As free agency draws near, the Indiana Pacers know that a lot of their players will be back next season. Kevin Pritchard said after the draft that he hoped to bring back the team’s top six or seven players and with Thad Young exercising his player option yesterday, all seven will return: Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic and Young.
“They wildly overachieved and they deserve to see if they can build on that,” said Pritchard. “It’s my job to add a few more players, a few more pieces that could help them get past the first round or make the playoffs.”
Even with all those players returning, the Pacers can still create nearly $20 million in space by waiving Al Jefferson and declining Joe Young’s team option after already declining Lance Stephenson’s team option.
With so few teams having available cap space, if the player the Pacers want is out there in free agency, they won’t have a ton of competition for many of the players. For now, let’s look at a few wings that are in the midst of their prime and among the second-tier of free agents (after the superstar level) that have already been connected to Indiana via rumors and see how they could possibly fit on the team.
Later, we’ll take a look at less established players the Pacers could take a cheaper flier on and veteran wings that could be an asset to a playoff rotation.
Last season in Memphis, a revitalized Tyreke Evans averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game with the Grizzlies. He’s still only 28 with nine years of NBA experience.
Evans is a career 30% shooter from distance but he has improved his stroke tremendously since the first few seasons of his career. Over the last three seasons, he has made 38.8%, 35.6%, and a career-high 39.9% of his 3-point attempts.
Last season’s nearly 40% average is even more encouraging because of the volume of the attempts. Evans took 5.5 threes per game last season after never taking more than 3.4 in his career before that.
His improved stroke will be a big reason why teams are interested. The Grizzlies don’t have his Bird rights and will only be able to offer the mid-level exception. Evans couldn’t find any takers last off-season and bet on himself with the short-term contract and it should pay off this year.
One of the biggest questions with Evans is his health. He had struggled to stay healthy in the two previous seasons while playing for the Pelicans and Kings, but stayed pretty much injury free with Memphis. He played in only 52 games but the majority of the missed games were because the team thought that he would be traded before the trade deadline and had him stay home and he missed most of the end of the season for personal reasons as someone in his family dealt with an illness.
The question for the Pacers whether or not he fits next to Oladipo. Evans has had a huge usage rate in every season of his career (28.4% last season) and needs the ball in order to be his best self. It’s a large chunk of the possessions that Evans will be eating up. He’s not going to be a guy that you can just sit in the corner for multiple possessions (he made 3 of 14 corner 3-pointers all of last season).
He does have some encouraging numbers when working off the ball. He doesn’t have a ton of spot-up attempts but ranked in the 74th percentile with 1.08 points per possession on that play-type. He rarely came off screens but in the small sample size, he actually ranked in the 98th percentile with 1.46 points per possession but on just 0.5 possessions per game.
If he was going to share the floor with Oladipo often, the Pacers would need a lot more of this type of off-the-ball movements from Evans.
He’s a bit of a ball stopper when the ball gets swung to him on the perimeter but with his improved shot this is less of an issue. While he averaged over 5 assists per game, he definitely could move the ball more decisively at times. Even when he ends up shooting the ball after catching a swing pass, he doesn’t often rise straight up with it, but will jab step or hold for a moment before taking it.
Evans is very good at getting to the basket of the dribble and his most frequent play type as a pick-and-roll ball handler is the basis of the Indiana offense. He ranked in the 85th percentile in the pick and roll scoring 0.97 points per possession.
Many of his assists come from this type of play as well, typically of the pick and pop variety which would work well with Myles Turner, but Memphis also liked to run the play with a design on getting an alley oop for the roll man.
In watching many of his assists from last season, it was rare for him to hit the roll man all that often but that might be because Marc Gasol was simply far more likely to pop for a jump shot last season than to roll. There were far more assists that resembled this one:
Than this one:
Evans would give the Pacers another option to bail them out at the end of the shot clock as well. Currently, there aren’t a ton of options after Oladipo that would be able to create something out of nothing within just a few seconds. Evans over a few isolation possessions per game was in the 83rd percentile with 1.02 points per possession.
Whether Evans can co-exist with Oladipo on the court at the same time is the biggest question about his fit. Is Evans willing to be the 6th-man? Would he want Bojan Bogdanovic’s starting spot at small forward? These are some of the questions the Pacers would have to figure out with him. Evans also had a lot of his success playing as the point guard with the Grizzlies as Mike Conley was out. With Indiana, at least this season, he’d primarily be a small forward or shooting guard.
Denver Nuggets free agent Will Barton averaged 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season. He started 40 games and played in 81.
Barton, 27, excels in transition with nearly a quarter of his offensive possessions coming from these plays and he scores 4.2 points per game on the break.
He’s primarily played shooting guard in his career and played some point guard this year, though that seems to be by necessity for the Nuggets as they struggled to find adequate depth at that position. Barton had a usage rate of 20.7%, so he’s used to playing off the ball much more than Evans and would likely work better when sharing the floor with Oladipo.
He’s run some similar plays to the Pacers offense with the Nuggets as this one here is basically identical to the backdoor play Indiana runs with Domas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo so often. The Nuggets do the same here with Nikola Jokic and Barton.
He’s spent most of his career as a shooting guard and would probably play a lot of small forward with the Pacers. His handles are shaky at times as he seems to lose control of his dribble with little defensive resistance at least once per game.
Barton is probably best suited for a bench scoring role, but he may be looking for a starting position. He did shoot the ball much better as a starter than as a reserve in his prior season with the Nuggets by a large margin, shooting 40% as a starter and only 33% as a reserve. His usage rate was actually higher as a reserve so it could be his percentages dropped as he was taking more difficult shots as the primary option with the bench unit.
He’s about a league average shooter and finisher percentage wise as his shot chart shows. He’s a poor mid-range shooter, but didn’t take a ton of looks in that area. It wouldn’t be surprising to see attempts in that range go up with the Pacers as they shoot those long twos more than most teams in the NBA.
Barton makes some nice passes and has steadily improved his assist averages over the last three seasons (2.5, 3.4, 4.1). While he’s increased his playmaking duties for others, he hasn’t increased his turnovers as they’ve stayed steady. He can make an entertaining pass every once in awhile as well.
Marcus Smart fits Pritchard’s spoken need of “toughness” more than just about any available free agent. The 24-year-old restricted free agent guard is well known for his high effort and skill on the defensive end first.
When you watch Smart’s steals, you see very few where the offense just lost the ball or mistakenly threw it in his direction. These aren’t giveaways; they’re takeaways. Smart earned nearly every one of his steals. He often looks like a defensive back ready and waiting to pounce on a quarterback’s poor decision.
His restricted status will make it more challenging for the Pacers to sign him than the other two listed here since the Celtics will have the chance to match any offer. Indiana may have to overpay a little to dissuade Boston for wanting to keep him.
Smart’s shooting is his biggest weakness. He shot just 30% from 3-point territory and a putrid 37% from the field. He will provide zero spacing and would need to be surrounded by shooters to be successful on offense. His signing would make it very unlikely that the Pacers would re-sign Stephenson as keeping both players that struggle to shoot would seem unwise as Pritchard has preached the need for the team to add more shooting to its lineups.
Indiana might have a more optimistic view of his shooting than most teams as Smart somehow made 11 of his 18 3-pointers (61%) against the Pacers and averaged more points per game against them than any other opponent last season.
Evans and Barton both struggled with their jumpers early in their career and figured out how to shoot much more efficiently, but they never struggled so badly from the field overall either. If Smart ever finds a consistent jump shot, he could be a tremendous player. Even with his inconsistent shooting, he’s had a positive net rating in every season of his career.
- Will Barton
- Tyreke Evans
- Marcus Smart
Barton over Evans because he does a lot of the same damage that Evans does but while using less of the team’s overall possessions which would help his fit alongside a high-usage player like Oladipo. Smart comes in last because of his restricted status making him much harder to obtain and his complete lack of shooting at this stage in his career.