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The Many Problems of the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers are 9-16. The 7th-worst record in the NBA. They are on their third head coach in three seasons and out of excuses.

“We can’t be an organization or a team that accepts mediocrity,” Myles Turner said after the latest embarrassing loss for the Pacers who fell to the Miami Heat without both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. “That’s what we’ve been playing like. We got to up the ante, somehow someway … we have to find a way to fucking win.”

So what’s the problem with these Pacers?

The roster that Kevin Pritchard, Pacers president of basketball operations, put together three off-seasons ago has struggled to finish games. They have a positive point-differential this season while sitting four games outside of the last play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. The only teams behind them in the East are the rebuilding Magic and Pistons who on average get beat by nearly 10 points each game.

Me watching the Pacers this season

Somehow a team built with the hope of being greater than the sum of its parts has been less. Injuries can’t be used as an excuse for this group anymore. It’s a pipe dream for this entire roster to be healthy at the same time after the last three years. And they’ve treaded water much better than this through injuries before.

Is it the overly discussed and debated Turbonis duo? Domantas Sabonis and Turner have somehow played better together this year than ever before with a 8.8 net rating while playing over 400 minutes with each other. Pacers lineups with only one of the centers have both been outscored by opponents to this point. There are bigger issues here than the imperfect fit for the team’s two most important players.

But the fact that two centers are the most important players on the Pacers is an issue in itself. Centers may be the least valuable position in the league if you aren’t at the level of Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic. Many teams prefer to spend their cap space elsewhere and find cheaper options at the position. Trading one may help solve some of the other Pacers issues but there just aren’t many teams in the league that are desperately looking for a center and willing to part with much to get one.

That the Pacers have used two of their last three first-round selections on centers in Goga Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson–with no consistent rotation minutes available for either of them–only exacerbates this problem. The Pacers have used a lot of cap space and a lot of draft capital on centers.

You have to think that if there was another team willing to give up something decent, the Pacers would have made a deal by now. But Sabonis is their best player and a 2-time All-Star and Turner has been the entirety of the Pacers defense since their defensive guru Dan Burke left so it’s understandable why the team hasn’t been in a rush to just hand one away without getting value in return. 

If you look at the Pacers roster, there are plenty of good players. But if you really think about the positions that they best fit at, there’s a problem there as well. I would say that the Pacers currently start two centers and three shooting guards. In a league where switchable positionless wings are highly valuable, the Pacers have none that are above replacement level.

Malcolm Brogdon has flourished offensively as a point guard with the Pacers in terms of his counting stats but his best role on a winning team is probably in more of an off-the-ball role where he doesn’t need to defend at the point-of-attack on defense. His slow release also prevents him from being able to consistently take advantage of defenders that go under on all of his screens. He’s far too casual with his passes at times in late-game situations to be relied on as a lead ball handler.

Caris LeVert and Chris Duarte both also fit better as secondary or tertiary playmakers and can’t really run an offense. LeVert’s defense is not great and he’s been frustratingly bad at times offensively since returning from his back injury. Passing can seem like a last resort to him and he never seems to find a teammate when they would be in rhythm. Duarte may be the Pacers’ best on-ball perimeter defender among usual starters but he’s completely lost as a team defender. He’s the Pacers first good pick since Turner but he’s almost the same age as Turner already and it’s unclear how close he already is to his ceiling. When Justin Holiday starts, he’s a serviceable small forward but he’s also so slender that bigger wings eat him alive.

Sabonis is the team’s best player but smarter people than me have noticed his role has been de-emphasized in the offense compared to previous years. It also feels like when good teams key on taking him away by packing the paint, daring him and his teammates to make outside shots, they can’t make them pay.

Turner has been better with both rebounding and outside shooting than ever before in his career but he can’t create his own looks and he disappears on nights when the ball doesn’t move well. His poor hands and questionable feel rob him of having a more consistent impact on the offensive end as much as his role.

Clearly, there are some chemistry issues. Caris LeVert and Sabonis got into a bit of a heated argument towards the end of the Heat loss after a defensive miscommunication.

LeVert downplayed it as two super competitive guys that are frustrated with losing and they “hugged it out” right after that, but we know the locker room wasn’t great last season and it doesn’t seem like that has improved.

T.J. Warren is missed. Truly. Madly. Deeply. But hoping he comes back, is immediately the guy from the bubble and magically fixes all the team’s issues by himself is an illogical plot that would only make the cut in the final season of Game of Thrones.

Rick Carlisle certainly isn’t blameless in all of this. He has the same roster as the last two coaches but with the worst results. Say what you want about Nate Bjorkgren but it wasn’t this bad especially this early. Under Nate McMillan, you never questioned the team’s effort.

The Pacers have been unlucky this season and unofficially lead the league in Last 2-minute Report Ws. Duarte’s had two potential game-winning free throws taken away with no calls that were deemed fouls after the fact in recent games. The Pacers lead the league by a long shot in close losses. Eight times this season they have lost by four points or less. No other team has more than four such losses. You don’t outscore your opponents over 25 games and only win 9 of them without some bad luck. But as Caitlin Cooper explains here, it’s not all luck either.

It also probably doesn’t happen if you have a true star to rely on to avoid needing some of those last-minute foul calls to go their way. The Pacers haven’t been seven games below .500 since the 2014-15 season when Paul George broke his leg.

And that brings us to the core issue for this team: they don’t have a star that can put the team on their back and get a basket whenever one is necessary. Not one of their best players is a consistent scoring threat that can be counted on each and every night in the clutch. A basketball team without a star is a football team without a quarterback. It’s a television show without its show-runner. It’s the fourth season of Community. The Pacers delayed the inevitable for a long time but George leaving the franchise has finally caught up to the team.

This is the season that many expected to happen when George was sent to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Sabonis. Let’s be honest, Pritchard and the Pacers got incredibly lucky with this trade. Everyone made fun of that trade for a reason. Both of these players’ values were at all-time lows at the time, Oladipo had been solid but unspectacular for four seasons in the league and Sabonis had been dreadful in an ill-advised role as a stretch big in his rookie season shooting under 40% overall. There was very little reason to think that the Pacers would get four All-Star level seasons out of these two players at the time of the trade.

But they did and Victor Oladipo was a top-15 NBA player in that first season in Indiana and it looked like the Pacers by some miracle would be better off without George in the long run. I even made those 4+11>13 shirts at the time. But then Oladipo got hurt and also wanted to leave and here they are: 9-16 with the 7th-worst record in the league. A franchise searching for answers with a fanbase that’s losing interest at a rapid speed.

The Pacers are dead last in the league in attendance. It’s not like you can blame the fans. This is Indiana. We grow basketball here so why would anyone pay for this version of it?

If there was ever a time to blow it up, trade everyone you can for prospects and picks, it would be now. No one is coming to the games anyway. Attendance can’t get any worse. Herb Simon could save some money potentially depending on what money comes back in any deals. The only player that can’t be traded this season is Brogdon because of his extension.

The Pacers likely aren’t as bad as their record seems. But even if they manage to turn it around, what’s the ceiling here with the hole they’ve put themselves in? Losing in the play-in tournament again? Is that really something anyone is going to be excited to see?

As Myles Turner said, they can’t be an organization or a team that accepts mediocrity. They have to get rid of that “tough out” mentality. If that’s all you’re striving for, what’s the fucking point? It doesn’t have to be championship or bust. Everyone has great memories watching Pacers teams of yesteryear but I don’t think Reggie Miller’s goal was ever to almost win in the playoffs. He didn’t come into the locker room after losing game seven in the conference finals to the Bulls shouting, “Mission accomplished! We really made Michael Jordan work for that one, gentlemen!”

Frankly, they’ve been worse than mediocre so far this season and they’ve been stuck in mediocrity since the conference finals battles against the Heat. So what are they going to do about it?

After Sabonis extension, these Pacers have time to grow together

Do you like the look of the current Pacers roster? Because the majority of this team could be in Indiana for awhile after Kevin Pritchard and the front office agreed to an extension with Domantas Sabonis less than two hours before today’s deadline.

It was a bit of a surprise development after rumors that the Pacers were at least listening to offers for their young center this past week and Sabonis seemed unhappy and a little frustrated with the situation after practice on Saturday.

Bobby Marks of ESPN had reported that Myles Turner extension amount of $72 million was seen as a “non-starter” by Sabonis’s agent, so it seemed he was looking for much more than the terms that ended up being agreed upon.

Sabonis’s contract extension is for four years and $74.9 million according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, just a shade larger than Turner’s deal signed last year at about this same time. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that with bonuses the deal can reach up to $85 million. This amount won’t start until next season as he plays out the last season of his rookie contract in 2019-20.

With Sabonis under contract for the next five seasons, he joins many Pacers that are in long-term deals with the team: Continue reading After Sabonis extension, these Pacers have time to grow together

Rumors: Thoughts on the Domantas Sabonis trade talk

The Indiana Pacers have until Monday to sign Domantas Sabonis to an extension, but the two parties appear unlikely to agree to terms before that deadline according to multiple media reports.

The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that they are far apart to the point that the Pacers “have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week.” While Amick notes that there is no lack of interest in the young center, his sources say that the Pacers asking price remains too high.

The IndyStar’s J. Michael confirmed that an extension is not imminent at the moment and said he “wouldn’t be surprised by anything as the deadline nears.”

Based on all the reporting, here is some speculation on what’s going on. I repeat this is just speculation and is only my best guess for the entire situation:

When the Pacers realized that they were probably not going to reach an agreement with Sabonis, they started to check what the trade market would be for him.

This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily looking to trade him right now (unless they got a huge offer they couldn’t pass up which would line up with their rumored “high” asking price) but perhaps it is more of a situation where the Pacers are just seeing what they could possibly get in a deal and what teams would be interested down the line if Kevin Pritchard and company decided to go that direction in the future. In other words, it’s just due diligence. Continue reading Rumors: Thoughts on the Domantas Sabonis trade talk

Pairing of Turner and Sabonis the talk of Pacers Media Day

With Media Day unofficially marking the start of a new season for the Indiana Pacers, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the team that saw a lot of change over the off-season  with no bigger question than the now starting big-men duo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

Can the two play together on a successful team? Who guards who defensively? Can they figure out the spacing issues on offense? These are questions that may decide the fate for the upcoming season and both Nate McMillan and Myles Turner’s press conference started off with a question early on about the pairing.

“Me and Domas have been talking about playing together for a long time now,” said Turner. “We definitely still have a lot of work to do but I think we bring a lot to the table.”

Coach Nate McMillan said match-ups will dictate who guards the four and who is the five, but deep down, we know they are both centers. Turner acknowledged the challenge that guarding the perimeter will be for one of them as well. Continue reading Pairing of Turner and Sabonis the talk of Pacers Media Day

Breaking down what T.J. Warren brings to the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers new acquisition T.J. Warren brings a versatile scoring ability that should give his new team a boost offensively next season. In a deal that came as a surprise, Warren’s production eerily matches his predecessor in the starting lineup and he’ll have his first opportunity to play for a team that expects to win a lot of games.

“It makes me feel great,” Warren said of the Pacers making a deal for him. “I feel like every day matters here. Every day is taken seriously. I’m ready to contribute to that.”

After a five-year start to his career stuck in a perpetual rebuild in the desert with the Suns, it’s understandable why he feels that way.

For the Pacers, it was a trade offer they initially didn’t think was serious according to ESPN’s Amin Elhassan. All they gave up was cash and salary cap space and they received a capable scorer in Warren and the 32nd pick in the draft (which they flipped on draft night for three future second-round picks).

“We weren’t expecting that one,” Kevin Pritchard told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com of the Warren trade. “But when it came, we made the decision in five minutes. We knew it was the right thing.” Continue reading Breaking down what T.J. Warren brings to the Indiana Pacers

Malcolm Brogdon makes perfect sense for the Pacers

The Indiana Pacers addressed one of their flaws from last season by bringing in Malcolm Brogdon as their new starting point guard.

The Indiana Pacers finally got a running-mate worthy of sharing the backcourt with Victor Oladipo in the form of Malcolm Brogdon. The 26-year-old former member of the Milwaukee Bucks isn’t a short-term solution or specialist serving as a band-aid — he is the future of the position for Indiana.

Last season we saw how the Pacers couldn’t score when it mattered, especially in the playoffs. but that won’t be an issue with Brogdon. He isn’t an efficient but safe player like Darren Collison was. He isn’t a defensive maven that might go a month shooting 28.4% like Cory Joseph did.

Numbers-wise, Brogdon averaged 15.6 points per game on a 50.5/42.6/92.8 shooting line while handing out 3.2 assists and grabbing 4.5 rebounds. Of the players that recently served in the role he will with the Pacers, no one scored more, was more accurate, or rebounded better than Brogdon. Continue reading Malcolm Brogdon makes perfect sense for the Pacers

Indiana Pacers cash in on their flexibility with Brogdon, Lamb

The Indiana Pacers will look very different than its last iteration when the new season starts after making some major moves on the first night of free agency. Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb are arriving and Bojan Bogdanovic and Thad Young are departing.

When Kevin Pritchard took over for Larry Bird as President of Basketball Operations, he immediately set out to have a lot of flexibility in the deals that he signed and the roster he constructed after completing the trade for Victor Oladipo. Darren Collison and Bogdanovic both got two-year deals with partial guarantees for the second season to give the Pacers plenty of options. Cory Joseph was acquired with just two years on his deal.

Even while signing short-term contracts, a fantastic culture was created behind their 3T mantra of toughness, togetherness and trust as well as the sheer positivity of Victor Oladipo permeating through the entire franchise. The chemistry of the group was the best they’ve had in recent memory.

They could have tried to cash in on the flexibility to an extent last off-season by letting Darren Collison, Bogdanovic go with their small partial guarantees but Pritchard remained patient waiting for the right opportunity and kept the overachieving team together one more season while still keeping the books relatively clean for the next off-season with short deals (Tyreke Evans and Kyle O’Quinn for one year, no new deal for Young who opted into his player option).

All of it led to this summer with Indiana having more cap space than they’ve likely ever had that could be used to sign free agents or make trades with teams looking for cap space. For Pritchard, this period could end up defining his tenure with the Paces as much as the Oladipo/Paul George swap for better or for worse. The big questions were what would he be able to do with the large amount of available money for a team that hasn’t had much success in attracting free agents over the course of its existence and whether that flexibility that he worked hard to maintain lead to anything at all.

It’s hard to imagine a better scenario coming to fruition than what transpired last night (at least one that’s realistic) in what was a whirlwind in the first 45 minutes of free agency.

Continue reading Indiana Pacers cash in on their flexibility with Brogdon, Lamb

Pacers Free Agency: Russell, Brogdon, Rozier

The Indiana Pacers need a point guard. There are many available on the free agent market. Some of the more intriguing options are restricted free agents, which historically hasn’t been an area where the Pacers have pursued players. Would that change with players like D’Angelo Russell and Malcolm Brogdon?

Restricted free agency is difficult for teams to dive into. Once you agree to an offer sheet with a player, your cap space is held hostage for 48 hours while the player’s original team decides whether or not to match the offer. If they do decide to match, many backup options will have likely signed elsewhere. The Pacers would likely prefer going after these players if they were renounced by their original teams and became unrestricted free agents which could happen with a couple of them.

D’Angelo Russell

Russell is one of the fanbase’s favorite targets. Coming off of an All-Star season and at just 23 years old, it’s easy to see why. If Kyrie Irving joins the Nets, Brooklyn may be inclined to withdraw Russell’s qualifying offer and make him an unrestricted free agent. This would make a lot more teams interested in his services without the hassle of RFA.

Russell, the former 2nd overall pick, averaged career highs across the board with 21.1 points and 7 assists per game while upping his shooting percentage to 43.4% and his 3-point percentage to 36.9%. Continue reading Pacers Free Agency: Russell, Brogdon, Rozier

How Alize Johnson could help the Indiana Pacers this season

As the 50th overall draft pick, the Indiana Pacers rookie Alize Johnson has an uphill climb to make an impact on an NBA roster.

That’s nothing new for him. He’s been the overlooked underdog throughout his high school and college career. His story of small high-school guard as a freshman to junior college to Missouri State is well known by Pacers fans by now.

“I have to do things different,” Johnson said before Summer League play. “Being the underdog I have to show some things that I can do consistently. Rebounding is effort. I’m all about hard work and getting into the gyms. Not really being the most athletic person, but just having the grit to go up there every time and get it is something that’s still in my blood. I have siblings back home and a family rooting for me, so when I’m up there grabbing rebounds, that’s what I’m doing it for.”

If you watched him play in Summer League, you were likely to get at least a little caught up in the Alize hype as his high-motor rebounding was on full display and his ability to start the fastbreak was a highlight of the Pacers play in Las Vegas.

“When you’re picking that deep in the draft, the likelihood of that player succeeding, the percentages are certainly working against him,” Pacers GM Chad Buchanan said after the draft, “so you look for like one trait or one skill that a guy possesses that would give him a chance. And Alize has two things for me; he has tremendous motor, and he just has an innate ability to track down rebounds.”

Pacers coach Nate McMillan caught Alize fever during the exhibition games in Vegas.

Continue reading How Alize Johnson could help the Indiana Pacers this season

Victor Oladipo sees the East as wide open, Pacers ready to do something special

Victor Oladipo is making his media rounds lately and appeared on ESPN’s morning show Get Up! to talk about a variety of topics including being traded twice, about the state of the Eastern Conference after LeBron James decided to go to Los Angeles and about that missed goaltending call in the playoffs.

Michelle Beadle, one of the hosts of the show, wanted to know what players in the East felt like when James, who has dominated the conference, decided to go to a Western Conference team.

“When I first heard about it, I was a little upset,” said Oladipo. “I like playing against the best player in the world and competing against him and seeing where you’re at.”

Despite Oladipo’s love of the competition, he does realize that this an opportunity for the team to take the next step.

Continue reading Victor Oladipo sees the East as wide open, Pacers ready to do something special