Tag Archives: indiana pacers

PacersrecaP #33: What is lost when losing is winning

The Indiana Pacers had just about everything go wrong for them on the final day of the regular season as they dropped into a tie with the Washington Wizards for the 7th-worst record in the NBA.

The Wizards not only lost to bring themselves down with the Pacers but lost to the Houston Rockets, who Indiana will now have to hope win a coin flip against the San Antonio Spurs for the 2nd-worst record because that would send the Rockets 2nd-round pick (32nd overall) to the Pacers. If they lose the coin flip, it goes to the Celtics at 33rd overall.

The Orlando Magic, who entered the day tied with Indiana, were going back and forth throughout their entire game against the Miami Heat in Udonis Haslem’s final regular season game of his career. But in the fourth, they quickly lost a small lead and it ballooned into a double-digit deficit.

Oh and the Pacers beat the New York Knicks after being down 16 points midway through the third quarter by a final of 141-135. Yes, that’s correct. Everything went wrong for the Pacers on a day where they made a big second-half comeback and won a game in the sport they are paid to play while the other teams close to them in the standings all lost. Makes sense.

The Pacers will now have a 29% chance of moving into the top-4 on lottery night.

The Pacers won a game that most fans watching at home likely wanted them to lose while so many fun things were happening that those same fans were unable to fully embrace and enjoy.

George Hill showing up in vintage form and scoring 17 points on 5 of 6 from deep in perhaps his final game in a Pacers uniform and hitting a buzzer beating half-court shot to end the first quarter? Sorry, seeing a franchise legend possibly go out on a high note with a +29 performance in 22 minutes is actually not a good thing for the team you love to root for.

Aggressive George Hill? What? Why now?

Bennedict Mathurin scoring 26 points on only 13 shot attempts to go with a career-high six assists as he got to the free-throw line like a future star (12 of 13)? Nah, you were hoping to see him be a little more inefficient in his last game.

Andrew Nembhard going for a smooth 19 and 9 while continuing to look very good running the show as the point guard with Tyrese Haliburton out. Why can’t he just have an off game to finish out the year?

Rookies being good? Be bad rookies!

Buddy Hield hitting a logo triple in the fourth and going 5 for 6 from deep? Young prospects in Aaron Nesmith and Jordan Nwora combining to go 12 for 17 from the field? Please, no. Save it for next year!

You really didn’t want to see the Pacers make 19 of their 34 3-point attempts (55.9%) or get to the free-throw line 16 more times than the Knicks on their home court.

Such is the state of the late NBA season where for many teams losing is winning. The Blazers tanked their hearts out and sat 5-10 players every game for the last few weeks as they filled their roster with G-League players on hardship exemptions and players than sound more like randomly generated draft prospects from 2k. Now they sit in the fifth lottery slot with a much higher chance to land a generational prospect than any of the teams behind them that didn’t try as hard to lose. Suckers.

The Mavericks said the quiet part out loud, essentially admitting that they weren’t trying to win when Jason Kidd said they decided to “go in another direction” with a chance to still make the play-in tournament available to them and now they’re being investigated by the league. But tanking isn’t going anywhere, it makes too much sense in the long term.

I don’t have any solutions to this but it sucks to not be able enjoy a team winning a basketball game to end the season because it hurts their lottery odds and moves them down a slot in the draft. Maybe that’s more of a problem for me than others but it feels like there has to be a better way. Can we stop the count once a team is eliminated from postseason play? First team eliminated is at the first spot, etc.? Incentivize winning games after you’ve already been eliminated by offering extra lottery chances for each win?

Maybe those are bad ideas that lead to far more tanking to start the year in a race to be eliminated. I don’t know but just give me some way to watch the end of a down year for the Pacers without the smartest thing for them to do being to sit all of their best players and to lose all of their games.

I certainly would have preferred to watch Tyrese Haliburton play basketball the last couple weeks than spend multiple games hoping TJ McConnell doesn’t play in clutch time because he’s been playing too well. But that’s what the NBA is for the teams at the bottom in March and April.

In the end, the Pacers still have a chance to move up in the draft and it’s the second best chance they’ve had to do that in over three decades. Perhaps their wins over the last week against the Thunder and Knicks will be karmically rewarded by the basketball gods. If they aren’t, this is a loaded draft class with lots of intriguing talent in the lottery and at the forward spot the Pacers so desperately need to fill. The Pacers have three picks in the first-round and two in the second. It’s an immensely important draft night for the franchise.

Whatever happens with the lottery, this wasn’t a fun way to get there. Here’s to hoping the Pacers don’t need to be in these situations for many seasons beyond this one.

Myles Turner’s historically efficient night showcases his improvement this season

In a back-and-forth battle that featured 20 lead changes and nine ties in the second half, the Indiana Pacers gave the Boston Celtics all they could handle but they fell short in overtime by a final score of 142-138. One thing the Celtics never did figure out was how to stop Myles Turner, who scored 40 points on 13-of-15 shooting overall with 10 rebounds and a career-high eight 3-pointers.

It was an outrageous night for the Pacers center, who had the most efficient 40-point game in NBA history.

Klay Thompson scored 44 points on 110% true shooting in 2019 as the previous high.

“Just being aggressive,” Turner said on what led to his career night. “I think the 3s were presenting themselves the most tonight. I was just making the most of my opportunities. The guys were getting me the ball in the right spot. Fortunately for me it was a great shooting night.” Continue reading Myles Turner’s historically efficient night showcases his improvement this season

On the Pacers’ developmental path for Bennedict Mathurin

A rookie season is often an uneven journey filled with bumps along the way and Bennedict Mathurin’s rookie year has been no exception to the rule. He’s shown plenty to be excited about to start his career and some areas for improvement. The Pacers see the highest level of potential in their prized rookie and the coaching staff has every intention of pushing him to get the best out of him. 

“We know he can score,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle recently said. “… We’re moving him in the direction of being a championship-caliber, two-way player. That’s it.”

These comments came after a 22-point performance against the Suns but were really directed at his previous game where he played a season-low 13 minutes, scored only 2 points, and didn’t get off the bench in the fourth quarter. Mathurin had fallen asleep on defense and gave up an easy backdoor; Carlisle immediately pulled him from the game after the error. It was the first of two quick exits for the rookie due to mistakes. The staff has been preaching attention to detail on defense to the whole team and that’s something that will help the sixth overall pick reach another level in terms of impact.

“With all the guys on our team, if we’re going to preach accountability, there has to be accountability,” Carlisle said. “There can’t just be unconditional minutes.” Continue reading On the Pacers’ developmental path for Bennedict Mathurin

A dream come true for George Hill to return to Indiana Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana Pacers gave George Hill a choice after acquiring him at the trade deadline. Do you want to stay or would you rather be waived to go to a contending team?

“We really wanted to respect his wishes,” Kevin Pritchard said. “… He immediately said, ‘I want to come back and be a part of this.’ … He’s got some valuable insights into the game and I think he takes a lot of pride in what he did here.”

Hill told reporters after the game that he hopes to retire with the Pacers, doesn’t want to just be a rental for the rest of this season, and said it was “almost like a dream come true” to get this opportunity to finish his career here.

“This is the place I always wanted to be. I never wanted to leave when I got traded out of here,” Hill said. “To be able to come back with a guy that you’re already familiar with in the locker room plus Jordan [Nwora] coming in. I just think it’s a great opportunity, a great situation, and it’s close to family and friends in a city that I love.”

Hill was traded in a point-guard shuffle that sent fellow Indianapolis-native Jeff Teague to the Pacers after the 2015-16 season and Hill to the Utah Jazz. There is still one Pacers player on the roster from Hill’s last season with the team: Myles Turner.

“Just his maturity. I think he’s turned into a great leader, a great vocal guy in the locker room and in the huddle,” Hill said of what’s different about Turner now. “It’s good to see when he was a baby when we were here full circle now where he’s one of the older guys in the locker room. He’s got the younger guys listening to him like he was listening to us back then. I’m very excited that he’s still here.”

Hill, who will wear number seven in this stint with the team, was on the Pacers roster for five seasons including the Eastern Conference Finals groups that battled with the Miami Heat. Since then he’s been on six teams including two separate stints with the Bucks and a finals appearance with the Cavaliers. He’s now looking forward to the role of veteran mentor.

“I’ve been at the high and the low and in the middle. I’ve been around the block a couple times but I think we have a great, young core here that still has so much to learn and is so much fun to be around,” Hill said. “Looking forward to it and looking forward to getting to it with these guys in practice and teaching them all the things that I can teach them and being out there with them. It takes time. We’re going to continue to learn and get better each and every day.”

Hill, who played at Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI, is in his 15th NBA season. He’s averaged 10.5 points in his 904 career games while shooting 37.9% from 3.

Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton to compete in 3-point contest

First-time All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton will be competing in the NBA’s 3-point contest with teammate Buddy Hield according to Shams Charania, who reported it today on the Pat McAfee Show.

Haliburton is shooting 39.2% on over seven attempts per game from deep. He set a franchise-record for 3-pointers in a game with 10 during his career-high 43-point performance. Continue reading Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton to compete in 3-point contest

On the moves the Indiana Pacers made and the moves they didn’t at the trade deadline

The Indiana Pacers worked around the edges of their roster at the trade deadline as they acquired Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka, and three second-round picks from the Milwaukee Bucks as part of what became a 4-team deal in the Suns blockbuster acquisition of Kevin Durant as Jae Crowder was sent to the Bucks. In order to make the trade work, the sent out the draft rights of Juan Pablo Vaulet and waived Terry Taylor, James Johnson, and Goga Bitadze.

Tony East of SI.com reported that the draft picks obtained in the deal were the following:

  • More favorable of Milwaukee 2023 2nd and less favorable of Cleveland or Golden State 2023 2nd
  • 2024 Milwaukee 2nd – unprotected
  • 2025 Indiana 2nd – unprotected (this pick was originally sent to the Bucks when the Pacers completed the sign-and-trade for Malcolm Brogdon)

Kevin Pritchard said prior to tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns that this opportunities to get in on these trades come from their front office team (Chad Buchanan, Ted Wu, Kelly Krauskopf) working the phones to find out what deals are going on.

“From a capology standpoint, you can be a little more creative if you know what’s out there,” Pritchard said.

Shams Charania has already reported that Serge Ibaka will be waived, Scott Agness reports that George Hill will remain on the roster at least for now, and there are reports that the Pacers would like to bring James Johnson back once they waive Ibaka and Johnson clears waivers.

“He had a great impact,” Rick Carlisle said of Johnson, “and who knows maybe there will be a way to get him back.”

This is Serge Ibaka’s Pacers legacy.

In terms of the effects on this year’s team, it’s minimal. None of the players the Pacers waived were playing with any consistency. Goga was buried under a mountain of centers in the final year of his rookie deal with the team having no incentive to play him over others with longer contracts. Taylor’s best position also is at the five where he can utilize his impressive offensive rebounding skills to the fullest and spend less time on the perimeter. He started a few games to begin the season but rarely did much with those minutes playing as a forward. Johnson has been the sage veteran locker room presence, the Splinter of this young ninja turtle roster, but outside of a few games, he was just a break-in-case-of-extreme-emergency player in terms of on-court usage.

As for the players coming in, Hill, if he sticks through the season, is a veteran presence that has been on numerous contending playoff teams including the last great Pacers teams from nearly a decade ago but his play has been steadily declining over the last few seasons. He’s shooting just 31% from three with the Bucks. He’s a nice emergency point guard if they go through a stretch with no Haliburton and McConnell again but he’s mostly another veteran that can teach the young guys how a contending team works and behaves, and the level of commitment it takes to succeed in the NBA. Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get the IMCU commercials back and we can start gifting backpacks to kids for made free throws again or if we’re really lucky, Hill will go blonde again and give him his powers back.

Pritchard said they gave Hill the option to be a veteran leader in this locker room or for him to get waived to go to a contending team.

“We really wanted to respect his wishes,” Pritchard said. “… he immediately said, ‘I want to come back and be a part of this.’ … He’s got some valuable insights into the game and I think he takes a lot of pride in what he did here. It was a cool conversation.”

Nwora is the intriguing acquisition beyond the picks here. As a 24-year-old 6’8” forward, he fills a spot in the roster that only Oshae Brissett currently fits as a larger wing/forward type player. Nwora is a capable 3-point shooter who makes 41.9% of his non-corner 3-pointers this season but he’s really struggled shooting anything inside the arc as his overall field-goal percentage is less than 40%. He’s worth a flier to see if he can grow his game with how short the Pacers have been on forwards for years now.

“Nwora’s a guy that we’ve had interest in over the last couple years,” Carlisle said. “We’ve at times been somewhat close to acquiring him but could never quite get there.” Carlisle also noted that he can play the 3/4 positions and has played very well against the Pacers in the past.

Juan Pablo Vaulet, if you’re curious, was a 2015 draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets. His draft rights were originally acquired by the Pacers when they traded away Edmond Sumner to the Brooklyn Nets to clear roster space after his achilles injury. He’s 26 years old and unlikely to ever come to the NBA. He averages 8.7 points for a team in Spain this season.

If I were grading the Pacers on their deadline, it’s a B-. There’s nothing exciting here but with the Pacers place in the standings, it’s not the time to throw all of your chips in for a final piece and while it would have been nice to find a taker for Daniel Theis, they didn’t have a ton of veterans that they really needed to sell off at the moment either. Now if Theis remains in the rotation, that’s a whole different issue to discuss.

Kevin Pritchard said that the Pacers were aggressive in trying to acquire a couple of players to add to their “young nucleus” and they made offers on those players. Their backup plan if that didn’t work was to use their cap space to gather assets like they did. Pritchard declined to give the names of the players they were targeting for obvious reasons but reports have given us a hint at least one of those players: OG Anunoby.

They offered the Toronto Raptors three first-round picks and the Rockets 2023 second-round pick for OG Anunoby according to Zach Lowe on The Lowe Post. Lowe said that the Raptors were looking for draft capital plus at least one good player and the Pacers couldn’t offer anything of interest to Toronto in terms of players. Many teams were said to have put in offers for the wing.

Pritchard said the Pacers identified players that fit their core with talent and character a few weeks before the deadline. They made “big offers, but it takes two to tango and sometimes you can get them and sometimes you can’t.”

It’s not clear what specific picks the Pacers offered so it’s hard to evaluate the offer fully. But with three picks in the first round this year, it’s good to see they were trying to use assets to acquire big talent that fits the team’s timeline. Anunoby would be a perfect fit for the roster but it’s also a risky move because he’ll be able to reach free agent with a huge payday and a ton of suitors waiting for him after next season. Who knows maybe the Pacers will end up making a run at him then?

They were also reportedly one of the teams that was talking to the New York Knicks about Obi Toppin but the price was significant. It’s unclear if that was the other potential big target or not but he feels like a fantastic fit as a transition and lob threat with Haliburton but it’s hard to know what price the Knicks were seeking for their sparingly used forward. They had rumored interest in Matisse Thybulle who ended up with the Blazers in a 3-team trade that saw Jalen McDaniels end up with the Sixers. McDaniels would have been a very interesting player for the Pacers but he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer likely to command a large contract. And these players were shuffled around for second-round picks which the Pacers acquired three of today, making it more likely that they are able to make a similar move sometime in the future.

Wish the Pacers made a bigger offer? Make it happen here 👆

Indiana Pacers acquire Jordan Nwora, do business with the Bucks at the trade deadline

The Indiana Pacers have been active in the trade deadline by using their cap space to help facilitate deals for other teams. The Milwaukee Bucks are sending them Jordan Nwora, George Hill, and Serge Ibaka and three second-round picks. The Bucks are getting Jae Crowder from the Nets and the Nets are getting either two or three second-round picks. This is according to reports from both Woj and Shams.

Full updated article on the trade deadline above

It is unclear what the Pacers are sending out in this deal or deals. The Pacers have to send out something to make the trade legal. It could be cash considerations, it could be the top-55 protected second-round pick from the Spurs, it could be players, or it could be the draft rights to an international player that will never actually come to the league. Continue reading Indiana Pacers acquire Jordan Nwora, do business with the Bucks at the trade deadline

PacersrecaP #32: Mathurin’s short leash and other observations

The Indiana Pacers are now 12th in the Eastern Conference with the sixth-most losses in the league after they lost to the Miami Heat by a final score of 116-111.

Jimmy Butler put on a foul-drawing clinic in the third quarter and Bam Adebayo had an impressive array of mid-range shots go in all night in a 38-point effort. The Pacers primarily lost this game by getting dominated on the glass, losing 48-31 while giving up 15 offensive rebounds and being unable to keep up at the free throw line where the Heat made 36 of 39 and the Pacers made just 20 of 28.

With the trade deadline coming tomorrow, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, moves Kevin Pritchard and company make. Carlisle said before Sunday’s game that he felt it was “very doubtful” in terms of him anticipating anything happening before the deadline. Pritchard didn’t sound like he was going to be super aggressive but more opportunistic if a good deal became available during the Myles Turner extension press conference.

In case you haven’t been here before, welcome to PacersrecaP where every column ends the way it began much like a Christopher Nolan film. Think of it like Tenet, confusing at first, no one knows what I’m talking about but slowly it starts to make more sense as time goes on. Or maybe I just like palindromes and couldn’t resist being clever for the sake of being clever … like a Christopher Nolan film.

In reality, this column tries to highlight the standout events, performances, and whatever else catches my eye in hopefully a fun and creative way. Let’s get to it:

Bennedict Mathurin is starting to get an oddly short leash from Rick Carlisle

Mathurin played only 13 minutes against the Heat as he missed both of his shot attempts and finished with 2 points and 2 assists. Normally, you see Mathurin enter the game about halfway through the first quarter and he’ll stay in until around halfway through the second. Give or take a few minutes either direction. 

In this one though, Mathurin came out in the first quarter at 2:51 left immediately after he fell asleep on defense and gave up a back cut for a wide open dunk. Continue reading PacersrecaP #32: Mathurin’s short leash and other observations

One-third, Two-third, Win-third, Lose-third

Now that Tyrese Haliburton has fully recovered and is back on the court, is it possible that his minor injury could have been one of the best things to happen to the Pacers this year?

It’s a dangerous choice to open with finding a positive in a star player’s injury, so might as well double down and bring in some fractions too. The 2022-23 Pacers season breaks up nicely into thirds: 28 games through mid-December, then 28 games until the trade deadline, and finally 26 games until the end of the regular season.

In the first third of the season the Pacers went 14-14, only 10 wins shy of their Vegas win prediction for the entire season. Excitement around Gainbridge Fieldhouse was as high as it’s been in the last five years, and some fans were even talking about upgrading the roster on the way to a playoff push in 2023.

The Pacers followed that up by going just 11-16 in the second third of the season, with one game to go before the trade deadline. Their 25-30 record puts them in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, with the seventh-best lottery odds if the season ended today.

Which is right where they should be…if not further down. Continue reading One-third, Two-third, Win-third, Lose-third

Rick Carlisle expects a quiet trade deadline for the Indiana Pacers

The NBA trade deadline is approaching on Thursday. Will the Indiana Pacers make another big move like last season when they acquired Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield for Domantas Sabonis? 

“If you’re asking me if I anticipate anything happening,” Rick Carlisle said before the game against Cleveland on Sunday, “I always say it’s very doubtful.”

Carlisle’s doubtful assessment lines up with how Kevin Pritchard talked about the deadline during Myles Turner’s extension press conference when he indicated that the Pacers would be opportunistic but cautious in chasing deals and said that he’s not a big deadline guy typically despite the multiple moves made in February last year.

“This is a dynamic business and the possibility of being traded is part of it but the human element is always there,” Carlisle said of his general feelings about the deadline. “There’s always going to be some sensitivity and to just ignore it and just say, ‘Hey, it’s part of the business,’ it’s not that simple. But as a coaching staff, as a support staff, other guys in the locker room, we’ve got to help our guys get through this week.” Continue reading Rick Carlisle expects a quiet trade deadline for the Indiana Pacers

PacersrecaP #31: The backup big conundrum and Myles Turner’s stellar play

INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana Pacers fell to 25-30 after getting blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night. They now sit a half game out of 10th and the final play-in spot and tied with the Toronto Raptors for the league’s sixth-worst record.

The good news these last three games is that Tyrese Haliburton is back. The bad news is that the Pacers are still in a tough stretch of their schedule and continue to slide down the standings as they won just one of three games in the last four nights. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in the long run but it’s a far fall from the 23-18 record the Pacers had before Haliburton went down with an injury.

In case you haven’t been here before, welcome to PacersrecaP where every column ends the way it began much like a Christopher Nolan film. Think of it like Tenet, confusing at first, no one knows what I’m talking about but slowly it starts to make more sense as time goes on. Or maybe I just like palindromes and couldn’t resist being clever for the sake of being clever … like a Christopher Nolan film.

In reality, this column tries to highlight the standout events, performances, and whatever else catches my eye in hopefully a fun and creative way. Let’s get to it:

Myles Turner living up to his contract extension

Since the extension became official, Myles Turner has rattled off three straight double doubles with averages of 17 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. Against the Cavaliers, he did everything he could to keep the Pacers close by scoring 27 points in only 24 minutes. The Pacers were down just two when he left the floor with foul trouble with 5:44 left in the second quarter. By halftime, the Pacers were down 16.

He scored 15 points in the third quarter alone with an array of 3-pointers and aggressive drives to the basket but the Pacers just couldn’t string together many stops or find offense outside of their big man often enough throughout the entire second half. Continue reading PacersrecaP #31: The backup big conundrum and Myles Turner’s stellar play

Choose Your Own Adventure: 2023 Indiana Pacers Trade Deadline

The Indiana Pacers have some decisions to make as they approach the trade deadline. One of these decisions has already been made as the Pacers re-signed Myles Turner to a 2-year extension. Would you have done the same? What would you do next? You never know how things could end up. The options will branch out in endless possibilities so why don’t you test a few of them out and see what happens? This is Choose Your Own Adventure: 2023 Indiana Pacers Trade Deadline Edition.

You are Kevin Pritchard, president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers. It’s your choice to decide what to do with the roster as the Pacers sit at 24-27 with nine losses in their last 10 games and waiting for soon-to-be-All-Star Tyrese Haliburton to return from injury.

With the trade deadline two weeks away, you have a meeting scheduled with franchise owner Herb Simon to discuss how you’ll be approaching the deadline.

The choices you decide to make will affect the outlook of your franchise for now and years to come. Luck comes into play too; some endings will be more common than others while others will be incredibly rare. Can you get the Pacers to the mountaintop? Start with your first choice below.

Continue your trade deadline adventure by clicking the link of your choice:

With the trade deadline approaching, the Pacers must choose a path

The Indiana Pacers miss Tyrese Haliburton desperately. They’ve now lost seven straight games since his injury and have gone from being 23-18 and feeling pretty good at 6th in the conference standings to 23-25 and just a half game ahead of the 10th seed.

Your fortunes can change so quickly in the NBA.

With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, that puts the Pacers at three wins behind the Miami Heat for 6th in the conference and three wins ahead of both the Wizards and Raptors who sit outside the play-in and in the lottery. Thus, Kevin Pritchard and the front office find themselves at a decision point in this choose-your-own-adventure season that’s only going to become more critical if the losing streak continues: Continue reading With the trade deadline approaching, the Pacers must choose a path

Bennedict Mathurin, the antagonist, a win streak, and secret conversations: PacersrecaP #30

In another battle against a team full of large wings, the Indiana Pacers came away saying, “Who needs wings anyway?” as they collected their fourth straight win and sixth in their last seven with a 122-114 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

In case you haven’t been here before, welcome to PacersrecaP where every column ends the way it began much like a Christopher Nolan film. Think of it like Tenet, confusing at first, no one knows what I’m talking about but slowly it starts to make more sense as time goes on. Or maybe I just like palindromes and couldn’t resist being clever for the sake of being clever … like a Christopher Nolan film.

In reality, this column tries to highlight the standout events, performances, and whatever else catches my eye in hopefully a fun and creative way. Let’s get to it:

Bennedict Mathurin is a glorious antagonist

Mathurin led the Pacers in scoring with 21 points and was a team-high +21 on the night where the bench units were the decisive factor in the victory. But better than the efficient night from the floor than featured more free throw attempts (7 for 10) than shot attempts (6 for 9) was how he was able to get under the skin of multiple members of the Raptors organization. Continue reading Bennedict Mathurin, the antagonist, a win streak, and secret conversations: PacersrecaP #30

Reflecting on a year of monumental change for the Indiana Pacers

2022 brought about a lot of change for the Indiana Pacers. That probably undersells the transformation of an overall organizational culture not just in terms of its on-court product but in trying to build its roster in ways that the team had largely avoided for over three decades.

Liz Lemon knows what I’m talking about.

Just compare how you may have been feeling after DeMar DeRozan hit a one-leg 3-pointer to beat the Pacers at the buzzer on New Year’s Eve 2021 as the team lost yet another close game in clutch time to how that one felt with Haliburton and the Pacers besting a 45-point night from George and winning in thrilling fashion. These Pacers have already won two more clutch games this season (13) than what I’ll refer to as the Injury List Era team won all of last year (11).

With all due respect to Ben Gibbard, so this is the new year, the Pacers feel very different. We’ve gone from feeling like Lieutenant Dan on NYE to feeling like Lieutenant Dan with new legs in one short trip around the Sun.

As far as the roster goes, Myles Turner is the only remaining starter from the Injury List Era. In types of trades that the Pacers have rarely done in their history, they sent out veterans primarily for draft capital. Caris LeVert was the first to be dealt which eventually netted the Pacers Andrew Nembhard as the first pick in the second round last summer and a likely first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Malcolm Brogdon was dealt in the off-season to the Boston Celtics for a first-round pick and Aaron Nesmith.

T.J. Warren and his troublesome foot that haunted him for over 2 years after his unbelievable NBA Bubble run exited to Brooklyn as a free agent. And of course, 2-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis was dealt near the trade deadline for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. While Sabonis is doing his hub-of-the-wheel thing to perfection surrounded by a terrific cast of shooters and a speedy point guard for the Kings, Tyrese Haliburton has become the face of the franchise and its leader in every way.

There’s no moment that tops that seismic trade for best of 2022 for the Indiana Pacers. As hard as it might be to let go of a 2-time All Star in Sabonis, Haliburton was the ideal candidate if they were going to move him and he instantly–from his first moments wearing a Pacers jersey as they blitzed the Cavaliers with 40 first-quarter points–showed how he was something they haven’t ever had: a guy both capable of leading the league in assists and with enough scoring and shooting skills to be a primary option as well. Suddenly with Haliburton, the Pacers were fast, fun, and there was hope of more to come in the future.

Where the previous iteration of the Pacers had become stale and a painful watch with little to look forward to in its future, these new-look Pacers are somehow both younger and better with far more room to grow. While not many expected that hope that was felt after the trade deadline last year to turn into wins so soon, the Pacers are 20-17 and sit at sixth seed in the Eastern Conference standings as 2023 begins. And Haliburton not only looks like an All Star but a potential All-Star starter and perhaps an All-NBA level player in his third season as he’s figuring out how to close games before our eyes in the 5-1 stretch with wins against the Celtics, Heat, Hawks, Cavaliers, and Clippers.

His latest closing masterpiece against former Pacers star Paul George and the Clippers was the exclamation point to a stunning set of 4th-quarter performances of late. Coming into the final 12 minutes with only six points, Haliburton scored 18 points including 13 of the team’s final 15 points, answering every score by George with his own including drives through contact to the basket to earn trips to the free-throw line, nifty hesitation dribble to blow by the switching big man, and a pull-up 3-pointer that followed a George turnover in transition that may have been the play of the game.

“In that fourth, I knew what time it was,” Haliburton said after the game. Carlisle called him a “basketball savant” that has an ability to feel what the team needs in big moments and Haliburton echoed that point, “It’s a feel thing. It’s just feeling what a team needs in that moment. Today we needed some energy. We needed a boost from me.”

The veterans that remained on the roster despite never ceasing rumors of deals for picks far off in the future: Myles Turner and Buddy Hield have been instrumental in the team’s success. You can talk all you want about Hield’s shooting and spacing that he adds to the team but perhaps his best quality given the state of the previous roster is the fact that this guy never misses games. 

“We’re just trying to build a culture here with guys who want to play every night,” Haliburton said after a game in December, “who want to compete, just love the game of basketball.”

Shots fired at the Injury List Era squad

As for Turner, he’s played the best basketball of his career and is relishing being back at his comfortable center position full-time while also playing with the best playmaking guard that he’s ever had as a teammate. He’s played so well that talks of a re-negotiation and extension have begun between him and the front office that could allow the team to give Turner a hefty raise this season while signing him to a reasonable extension over future years. While there’s no guarantee that an agreement will be reached, it’s a much different story than before the year when Kevin Pritchard said matter of factly that Turner would be a free agent after the season despite those extension options being available if both sides were interested.

While the defense isn’t amazing, it’s better this year despite the roster still being short of bigger wings and playing four guards almost all the time because of the presence of Turner, who missed the second half of last season, and the additions of capable defenders in Nesmith and Nembhard in the starting lineup.

Nembhard is the best perimeter defender on the team, makes savvy, veteran-level plays without thinking while taking on assignments like guarding Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. He’s hit a buzzer beater in Los Angeles to beat the Lakers and defeated the defending champion Warriors in their arena while doing basically everything for the Pacers offense who were without all of their other point guards. That 31-point, 13-assist performance might be the best game a Pacers rookie has ever had. 

Nesmith, who could never manage to get consistent playing time in Boston, has found his footing with the Pacers over the last month. His detonation at the rim against Jarrett Allen and the Cavaliers seemed to further his confidence and in December he had shooting splits of 50.8/39.7/100 while averaging 11.6 points in 23.9 minutes per game. If he can consistently make his 3-pointers at an above average rate while playing his energetic, do-the-dirty-work style on the other end, the Pacers might have found something in the 2020 lottery pick.

While attacking on closeouts and driving to the basket had been dicey early in the season for Nesmith, especially with his left hand, he’s had a series of nice attacks, including that vicious dunk, to the rim lately while being under control and finishing. He started the year off slow with his shot but also had been dealing with a foot injury. You wonder if that was affecting his play on offense with how well he’s come along of late.

Oh and the Pacers had their first draft pick (besides the Jonathan Bender pick they acquired in the Antonio Davis trade) in the top-9 since they took George McCloud 7th in 1989. It’s truly incredible that a sports franchise can go through three entire decades without ever being bad enough to pick in the single digits in their next draft. With that rare opportunity, Kevin Pritchard and the front office had to nail that pick and by all accounts through this nearly half a season, they did just that in selecting Bennedict Mathurin at sixth overall. 

While he’s only started two games, he’s been an absolutely electric scorer and driver off the bench for the Pacers. He already might be the team’s best player at drawing fouls ever … as a rookie. As a player with an unwavering confidence, Mathurin has gone through countless scoring outbursts that keep the Pacers in games to start the second and fourth quarters as he becomes the go-to option in bench lineups. His ability to both get to the rim and force contact and whistles often stems the tide of opposing runs and swings momentum in the opposite direction. He leads the league in bench scoring at 17.2 points per game and is a legitimate contender for sixth man of the year.

While his efficiency has dipped in the last month, you can see how much potential there is for him to grow as he gains a strong handle and a better feel for when he should look to pass to an open teammate. The fact that he’s succeeding this much already even with those clear areas of improvement for him to work on are really encouraging to his future outlook.

In December of 2021, I wrote this on the many problems of the Pacers:

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.

No one wants to watch that gas leak season and that’s what the Pacers solved in getting Haliburton and him quickly figuring out just how good he can be. With Mathurin, they may eventually have two guys that they can count on in these crucial situations and if that’s the case, watch out in 2023 and beyond. I don’t know what the future holds for the Pacers or even whether they can keep up this level of play this season, but I’m sure excited to find out and that definitely was not the case one year ago.

Why the Indiana Pacers should look back before moving forward

I recently wrote about how important it is for the Pacers to maintain balance, but not just on one side of the ball or with the makeup of their roster. It’s also important to maintain balance with their approach to the trade deadline (and eventually offseason) with a team that’s overachieving, but still trying to maintain the idea of thinking in three- to four-year increments that the front office was adamant about before the 2022-23 season started.

That was easier to do before the Pacers were on pace to win 20 (!!!) more games than expected, a mark only five teams have matched since 2000-01. That’s too small of a sample to make any conclusions, especially when combined with the drastic shift in how teams now have to navigate player empowerment, but it does point to how unlikely this season has been.

Thanks to Basketball Reference, widening the scope found more than 40 teams in the last 20 years that won 12 or more games than their preseason over/under. Since that list included teams like the 2008-09 Boston Celtics and 2014-15 Golden State Warriors on their way to winning titles, looking at the teams expected to be under .500 is more relevant:

  • 2022-23 Pacers, Jazz
  • 2021-22 Cavs, Raptors, Grizzlies
  • 2020-21 Knicks, Suns
  • 2018-19 Kings
  • 2017-18 Pacers, 76ers
  • 2015-16 Hornets, Blazers
  • 2014-15 Celtics, Bucks
  • 2013-14 Hornets, Suns, Blazers, Raptors
  • 2012-13 Rockets

19 teams on the list, but one thing almost all of this group has in common is young players stepping up much sooner than expected. Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin. Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The list goes on.

If it isn’t young players being better than expected, it’s players on their second contracts that exploded after being given the keys to an expanded role: Lauri Markkanen, Pascal Siakam, Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, James Harden and last but certainly not least…Victor Oladipo.

The overachievers in the last couple years are the ones that encapsulate the same sort of situation the 2022-23 Pacers find themselves in. They’ve got multiple young players producing at a level hardly anyone saw coming for each of them, certainly not all of them at the same time, on top of veterans stepping up into bigger roles and playing better than ever.

We’re all familiar with the idea of crawl, walk, run. It’s to drive home the importance of taking the right steps in the right order to avoid falling flat on your face, whether figuratively or literally. But the saying is especially relevant when considering how the Pacers might operate compared to how some of these past teams approached building their team after their unexpected success.

Editor’s Gif Note: So there’s a *PACE* they need to take in advancing through these stages

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ path to overachieving actually started the year before anyone was really paying attention, with a trade the Pacers were involved in. Just like the Pacers inserted themselves into the James Harden trade in 2020-21 to acquire Caris LeVert, the Cavs joined in by poaching 22 year old Jarrett Allen from Houston with just a late first prior to his restricted free agency. Despite being under .500 on the season, the Cavs targeted an undervalued asset prior to the summer where they would have significant cap space.


The Cavs finished the 2019-20 season with the fifth-best lottery odds, jumping up to third to draft 20yo Mobley. Days later, they traded for 24yo Markkanen and his new four-year, $67 million contract and signed veteran point guard Ricky Rubio for a year to play with 22yo rising star Darius Garland. Then in the midst of surprising the league by floating between third and fifth in the Eastern Conference, they moved their own protected first plus a good second round pick for Caris LeVert, a deal Pacers fans are familiar with. Getting LeVert did bring some questions about his exact fit with Garland, but it was also yet another data point on the value of having multiple ball handlers on the floor with their young core.


After compounding injuries and eventually losing in the play-in, the Cavs entered the 2021 offseason as a fun up-and-comer that had holes around their core but an idea of what they might need after some test runs. Then they shocked most of the world, and definitely the entire state of New York, by pushing darn near all of their chips to the center of the table to acquire Donovan Mitchell with three years plus a player option left on his max deal.


The Mitchell trade was analyzed for weeks, but this wasn’t an all-in move for just one year by a team desperate to be relevant again (don’t worry, we’ll get to those). This was adding a 26 year old All-Star to a legitimate core of players who are 20, 22 and 23 that are cost-controlled for at least four more seasons.

How about the Memphis Grizzlies? They’ve continually improved the last few years, but then made trades that appeared to make them worse in the short term in favor of getting extra assets and betting on internal development. That process has led to Memphis being one of the best teams in the Western Conference and having two legitimate Most Improved Player candidates in the same year while maintaining a war chest that will make them competitive for the next available star player.

The 2020-21 Suns are a story similar to the Cavs, getting incrementally better in consecutive years with small tweaks to the roster, then making a massive trade to get Chris Paul. Someone decently smart wrote after last year’s trade deadline about how that blueprint might actually be something for the Pacers to consider because of how massive the benefit of multiple rotation players on rookie contracts is. Phoenix has historically been an organization not worth mirroring for a whole list of reasons, but there’s a decent argument in favor of this specific team-building pathway.

Almost more important than the exact transactions that each team made is the invaluable knowledge of testing what might work with your core. The Cavs knew they needed another high-level guy who could create shots for themselves and others. The Grizzlies have one of the deepest teams in the entire league, constantly able to compensate for injury or mix and match for different looks. The Suns saw how well Devin Booker played with Ricky Rubio, and made a relatively low-cost bet on the Point God that resulted in the best record in the NBA and a trip to the Finals.

Just like the three teams above, everyone will have a different path to their version of contending, and that’s the beauty of the NBA. Unfortunately there’s also quite a few examples of teams who tried to skip steps, of organizations that thought they were ready to sprint with the top of the league but quickly fell on their face once the season started.

Sometimes NBA teams forget to pull their pants up before they ramp up the timeline.

The 2020-21 Knicks drastically overperformed on their way to a playoff appearance thanks to Julius Randle and others having career seasons. But then they spent $66million per year in long term money to retain a group of players that are either not on the team or not in the rotation just 18 months later. Not only that, but New York then had to use some of the draft capital they stockpiled for a star to shed that bad salary, all while not prioritizing about two years of young player development.

The 2018-19 Kings won 13 more games than expected and their most since 2005-06. Trading for 27yo Harrison Barnes at the deadline prior to his free agency, then signing him to a descending contract with your extra cap space? Sure! Spending another 35% of the cap on 28yo Corey Joseph, 30yo Dewayne Dedmon and 34 Trevor Ariza to multi-year deals? Not good, especially when the last two didn’t finish the first year of that contract on the team.

The 2021-22 Wolves didn’t make the list above, but they definitely belong in this section. They were so excited to have made the playoffs for the second time in the last 20 years, they gave up everything to acquire Rudy Gobert. Was it really time to do *that*? Spend every available draft pick to bring in a 30yo 7-footer on a $200million contract to match the timeline and cover up the flaws of your other 7-footer on a massive extension? Absolutely not. Minnesota bet that 21yo Anthony Edwards was so talented that he could overcome the weird fit of double bigs (long live Turbonis), and it’s unlikely things could have gone worse thus far.

The Wolves have years to figure out this core if they choose to (even if they might not have the assets), and the Kings and Knicks are on an upward trajectory after some smart moves. But these are just a few examples of the hole teams can find themselves in when they try to run after crawling faster than they expected. There’s a difference between a team being opportunistic with acquiring talent, and a team spending too much, too fast in a desperate attempt to cling to the feeling that came with surpassing low expectations.

There’s a team on the list above that hasn’t been brought up, but one Pacers fans are re all familiar with. The 2017-18 Pacers had basically an entire rotation of guys playing better than anyone thought, led by the shocking All-NBA play from Oladipo. But Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers’ front office stood pat at the deadline despite being 15 games over .500, tinkered in the following offseason with Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott, and were on pace to win 55 games when disaster struck with Oladipo’s knee injury. 

We don’t know for sure how that season would have played out, but we have seen Pritchard be patient, yet aggressive. He took a chance to bring in versatile starters in Malcolm Brogdon and TJ Warren, which was smart business even if injuries constantly plagued that core. When it was clearly time to pivot for both on and off court reasons, KP capitalized on a trade going on James Harden requesting a trade. Then a year later, they seized a chance to completely overhaul the roster in just a couple weeks, and that’s led to what’s currently one of the most fun Pacers rosters in the last decade.

As with any trade discussion for me, everything comes down to what the offers are, which almost no one knows for certain until the Woj or Shams notification comes through. There will be thousands of words written about players and deals that might fit whatever phase of the re-tool the team might be in. But ultimately there’s no doubt that the Pacers brass has earned trust that they can transition this team from crawl to walk to run, and it will be fascinating to possibly gain some insight into where they think they are as the trade deadline approaches.

PacersrecaP #29: On Aaron Nesmith’s emphatic slam and the best game of the Pacers season

The Indiana Pacers are now 4-1 after briefly falling below .500 and sit at sixth in the Eastern Conference after a highly entertaining home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of the first sellout crowd of the season.

This game was perhaps the best game of the season as it was a back and forth affair with neither team ever reaching a lead of double digits and until the fourth quarter neither team led by more than six points. Both teams couldn’t miss and had impressive shot making. There were posterizations, deep threes, tempers flaring, and it came between two teams that may be developing a fun rivalry that will be fascinating to watch over the next few years.

In case you haven’t been here before, welcome to PacersrecaP where every column ends the way it began much like a Christopher Nolan film. Think of it like Tenet, confusing at first, no one knows what I’m talking about but slowly it starts to make more sense as time goes on. Or maybe I just like palindromes and couldn’t resist being clever for the sake of being clever … like a Christopher Nolan film.

Let’s get to it.

Aaron Nesmith murdered a man in front of over 17,000 people

Pacers dunk of the year. Maybe Pacers dunk of the decade to this point. I’ve watched this play a thousand times with no end in sight.

With the Pacers behind 118-119 (but unaware of that because a Buddy Hield 3-pointer had not yet been changed to a 2), Aaron Nesmith received the ball in the corner. With Evan Mobley closing out, Nesmith attacked the closeout with his left hand and took two dribbles along the baseline. Suddenly with Jarrett Allen waiting at the rim, Nesmith launched upward like he knew a secret spot on the floor that was actually a trampoline and with his head even with the rim threw it down over the arms and on the head of Allen.

It was a vicious act of violence and the looks on the faces of everyone in the arena said it all.

Both Myles Turner and Tyrese Haliburton immediately put their hands on their heads in disbelief of what Nesmith against the Cavs best defenders with Haliburton calling it the best dunk that he’s ever seen in person.

Bennedict Mathurin’s jaw dropped in pure joy and both he and Buddy Hield were hopping with posterization-fueled hype as they waited for the Cavaliers to bring the ball up. On the bench, Goga Bitadze lost his mind and Oshae Brissett looked like he was in shock.

With renewed spirit and an energized crowd, the Pacers outscored the Cavaliers 15-7 for the last 4:26 of the game with Nesmith scoring 6 points down the stretch after the dunk including a euro step layup and a tough make over the outstretched arms of Mobley on another drive to the basket.

Nicknamed Double A by his teammates for his first name, it’s fitting for the energy he plays with and provides the team. The human AA battery sent a jolt through the fieldhouse and played tremendously all game scoring 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting continuing his stellar play throughout the month of December.

Nesmith said that his teammates were on him to dunk the ball after he turned it over on a pocket pass in the lane in the first half and my goodness did Nesmith make amends and take those words to heart.

After his worst game of the month where he missed all six of his shots, Nesmith bounced back with the second-highest scoring performance of his career. He’s averaging 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 23 minutes per game with a true-shooting percentage of 62.8%.

Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield explode from deep

The entire Pacers team shot it lights out in this game literally from the tip as Buddy Hield set a record for fastest 3-pointer in NBA history by catching the tip and immediately turning around and shooting the 3. The previous record was also held by a Pacers player: the goat, Reggie Miller.

Hield has been a human flamethrower throughout the month of December while shooting 52.5% from deep. He’s 11 for 13 in the last two games including 5 for 6 in this one. A big bounce back month after he made just 33% of his attempts from deep in November.

Much has been made of Hield’s tireless work ethic that gets him in trouble with his family because of how much time he spends in the gym. Oshae Brissett shared that he’s started to join Hield on his early trips to the arena on road trips. If his work ethic can continue to rub off on these young guys, that’s a win for a young team developing habits at the start of their careers.

He had one stretch in the third quarter where he hit three straight triples before he handed off the hot-shooting torch to Tyrese Haliburton, who ended the quarter by making four straight attempts from deep in the last four and a half minutes. Two of the threes came in transition with pump fake passes to Hield beside him and the final coming from 30 feet to put the Pacers ahead by 3 at the start of the fourth where Haliburton pulled up before the defender could complete the switch onto him after a good screen from Bennedict Mathurin.

All told the Pacers shot 61.3% from deep with their hot shooting backcourt duo making 11 of their 14 and every starter making at least 50% of their 3-pointers. It was an outrageous shooting display.

Bennedict Mathurin put the team on his back to start the fourth quarter

The Cavaliers scored 10 straight points to start the final quarter to reach their biggest lead of the game at 7. Lloyd Pierce called a timeout with Rick Carlisle having been ejected for arguing a missed travel late in the previous quarter and didn’t rush to make any substitutions after having played most of the starters the entire third. Instead he drew up a play for rookie Bennedict Mathurin.

Mathurin scored a layup on the ensuing play after the timeout to stem the tide and continued attacking the basket on the next three possessions: drawing two fouls and missing a layup that was then tipped in by Brissett. His aggressiveness to the basket cut the Cleveland lead to 4 and forced a timeout, allowing enough breathing room for the starters to rest long to finish the fourth strong.

He ended up playing the entire fourth quarter and scored 12 of his 23 points in the quarter. Most impressive though was the leadership he showed in not only his actions but calling the team together for a huddle after drawing one of his fouls and encouraging the team to let go of a call and focus on the next play (which is a little funny coming from Mathurin who often has something to say on drives where he doesn’t earn a call but still). It was an encouraging game for the rookie beyond his efficient box score.

Mathurin’s numbers slumped over this last month of 2022 with shooting splits of 39.1/22.6/83.8 but he’s flashed some fun passes on drives as opportunities have come of late. You wonder if part of the struggle with his shot of late is if he is thinking more about whether he should be looking to pass the ball but developing more as a playmaker will be important. He’s still got a long way to go and has a tendency to try and make the passes fancier than they need to be but encouraging to see some of these plays happen.

Stray Observations over the last week:

  • Myles Turner, who has opened extension negotiations with the front office according to Shams, had a season-high six blocks against the Cavaliers and had a 14/12 double double. He’s been terrific during this 4-1 stretch. The one game where he struggled against the Heat and scored just 5 points, he had a fantastic fourth quarter with great defense and scored all of his points.
  • Tyrese Haliburton has been a fantastic closer lately after the team struggled to close out games in the prior week. He scored 7 straight points in the Hawks game to put them away late. He talked about how he and the coaching staff discussed what type of actions the team needs to get into during the closing possessions of games and it’s paying dividends so far.
  • Oshae Brissett, the lone big wing on the roster, continues to show his importance to the group. He was +28 against the Hawks and in December he’s made 39.5% of his 3s. His extra work with Hield paying off.
  • The year from hell continues for Chris Duarte, who started off the season on a major slump, finally broke through with a 30-point explosion, immediately injured his ankle in the next game, and now just a few games after returning he suffered a head injury after getting an elbow to the head against the Cavaliers and looked dazed. Hopefully, it’s not a concussion for Duarte and he can get his sophomore season on track.
  • I still have rotation questions when everyone is healthy on this team and wonder how long it will be until Andrew Nembhard gets the backup point guard minutes over TJ McConnell. And while Jalen Smith is likely better served as a center, letting Isaiah Jackson rot on the bench is not great.
  • I have to give a quick shout-out to NBA Top Shot again. I recently won my fourth pair of tickets of the season simply by owning a complete Pacers series set thanks to Top Shot’s team captain program and the Boom Baby Collectors group while being a local fan that can go to games. Looking forward to owning that Nesmith dunk as a digital collectible whenever it gets minted. If you’re someone that enjoys/enjoyed collecting cards, it’s a good time. Buy a starter pack for $9 (or wait for a new $10 Hot Pack drop) after signing up with this link and we’ll both get $15 in site credit. For $15, you can start your collection off with a handful of fun Pacers moments including Nembhard and Duarte rookie debuts.

For the Pacers, it’s all about balance

The 2022-23 Pacers aren’t a balanced team … but they also weren’t supposed to be.

Kevin Pritchard said before the season they’re looking at this team in three or four year increments, back when saying that was a way to prepare the fanbase for how many Ls were about to be held. They were skewing younger, trade rumors were flying, and fans were already Photoshopping a certain French prospect into a Pacers jersey as a sign of hopeful things to come in the 2023 NBA Draft.

When you’re in the early stages of a rebui…excuse me, retool, it’s about talent and asset acquisition. Retain Jalen Smith and start him at the 4, that’s a win to see if he can develop even more. Trade for Aaron Nesmith as a buy-low flier along with a draft pick, absolutely. Use the 31st pick on a guy in Andrew Nembhard who would end up as the 8th player on the team that’s 6’6” and under because he’s just a good basketball player, who cares about position of need.

But here we are, about to turn the calendar to 2023, and the Pacers are sitting at 17-16 through Christmas. So what now?


This Pacers roster has a lot of young players that are probably going to need time to learn the NBA. Shoot, only four of the top 13 players in minutes played for the Pacers are beyond their rookie contract, and only two of those guys are older than 27. That’s a great position to be in with a three or four year perspective, but that the roster is stuffed full at both ends of the positional spectrum with a gaping hole in the middle where forwards are for every team in the NBA.

Based on height and minutes played data I gathered from Basketball-Reference.com, the 2022-23 Pacers have had a player that is between 6’7” and 6’9” on the court for 6% of their total minutes played so far this year. That makes the Pacers by far the worst in the NBA and the only team below the 15% mark, with the exception of the Bucks who have been without Khris Middleton and his 11% of their minutes last year. 

You can say the NBA is positionless, but it sure doesn’t look positionless when 6’5”, 190lb Nembhard is one of the better options on the team to guard 6’9”, 250lb LeBron James.

Or when 6’10”, 215lb Smith has to try and stay in front of skilled forwards on the perimeter despite clearly being a natural center, with a move to the bench as the backup 5 confirming as much. Oshae Brissett is 6’7” and the only forward regularly in the rotation, but he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer that has played less and less each year he’s on the team for reasons that I still don’t understand.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter is probably tired of hearing me clamor for the Pacers to get a forward, and fans probably have some deep-seated resentment towards waiting on a forward to make the roster make sense after two years of waiting on T.J. Warren to recover from injury, but the Pacers do need forwards.

Editor’s Note: there were a lot more of these to choose from.

Putting players in their more natural position on both ends of the floor can only benefit everyone on the team, make life easier as defenses have to respect skilled size on defense, and take away some of the more obvious mismatches that opposing offenses can exploit every time down the floor.

Again, balance.

Good teams have around an above-average offense and defense, while title contenders almost always end up being top-10 in both. At the moment, the only two players locked in to starting on the next great Pacers team are Tyrese Haliburton and Benedict Mathurin. There are some guys on the roster who might be starting for that team, and some will surely be in the rotation, but the two core players that almost every decision should be molded around are questionable defenders at the moment.

There’s a great chance Haliburton and Mathurin will improve on defense to some degree, but those improvements likely won’t yield even an average defense by themselves. Even if Rick Carlisle puts together a great defensive scheme that can cover up some deficiencies, the playoffs often end up with the opposing star looking around the floor and saying “hey you, come out here” to the worst defender. It’s almost impossible to avoid that, so the rest of the team is going to need to defend.

There are credible defenders on the current roster. Myles is obviously one of the best defensive big men in the league. Nembhard shouldn’t be asked to guard LeBron, but he stepped up to that challenge and many more without looking completely outmatched. Nesmith has really come on as of late as an athletic and versatile wing defender. Chris Duarte showed he could hold his own last year, but hasn’t been fantastic after missing some time with an injury that is surely impacting him.

But a team that wants to be good can’t rely on getting by when defending stars. The Pacers are missing someone who they can trust to take the other team’s best player out of the game the way Jaden McDaniels from the Wolves did to Haliburton in November, (though Tyrese did end up dropping 26 and 15 on him two weeks later, because he’s incredible). They’re especially missing someone who can take on the big wing defensive assignment, one of the most important aspects in modern basketball when looking at contenders.

Acquiring players like that is easier said than done. 3&D players are what every contender is looking for, while two-way starters almost always end up getting overpaid because they contribute so much to winning. But the Pacers are in a situation right now that is as flexible as it gets, sitting with extra picks on top of all their own future ones, a slew of tradable contracts to get to nearly any price range and a heap of cap space. So they should make something happen right?

Still, balance.

Like I said earlier, this Pacers team wasn’t supposed to be in this position. Most win projections had the Pacers under 30 wins for the season, selling off some of their veterans as they strive for lottery balls with no chance they end up as buyers at the trade deadline. We should be careful about rooting for the team to get ahead of themselves just because they’re performing better than expected in the first year of this new direction, especially when there are young players on the team like Isaiah Jackson who simply aren’t in the rotation despite showing intriguing potential.

Pritchard has shown us the type of player that he likes to acquire: cost-controlled younger players that are coming from a situation where they may not have been optimized. Darius Bazley, Cam Reddish or Jalen McDaniels might fit and should all be relatively cheap options in a trade or in free agency this summer. Does trading or signing for a P.J. Washington, Cam Johnson or John Collins count as skipping steps? A versatile 24 to 27 year old starting-level forward should never be considered a bad move at the right price, regardless of team direction. The same train of thought goes for what to do with Turner and Buddy Hield: it’s all about getting the right pieces, at the right price, at the right time.

One more time, balance.

The present is entertaining. This is the youngest Pacers team since the 1984-85 season, which is well-known to have been the last time the Pacers had a single digit draft pick, and this is one of the most versatile and athletic rosters in a very long time.

The future is bright. Haliburton is just 22 years old on the way to his first All-Star appearance and a likely maximum rookie extension that will start after next season. Mathurin is 20 years old, with unparalleled confidence and legit NBA scoring in just his first year as a pro. There’s time to find out what works alongside the backcourt of the future. 

And the possibilities are almost endless. There shouldn’t be one decision that’s going to make or break the future of this team in the next couple of months. The Pacers’ front office will make plenty of decisions going one way or another, maybe even multiple directions simultaneously, that hopefully ends up with the Blue and Gold as a true contender again. Ultimately, it will likely end up being all about…


Tyrese Haliburton’s actions speak loudly. He’s an All Star.

“Give me the ball and the game will be over.”

That’s what Tyrese Haliburton told his teammates with the game tied before the final possession.

He wasn’t lying. No OT tonight.

Haliburton hit the game winning 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left to give the Indiana Pacers a 111-108 victory over the Miami Heat. 

The final triple set a Pacers franchise record with 10 3-pointers as Haliburton scored a career high 43 points while making 14 of his 20 shot attempts. Continue reading Tyrese Haliburton’s actions speak loudly. He’s an All Star.

PacersrecaP #28: On Haliburton’s aggression, rotation questions as the Pacers fall below .500

The Indiana Pacers (15-16) are under .500 for the first time since early in the season after winning just 1 of their last 5 games. They are 4-9 over their last 13 contests and have fallen to 9th in the Eastern conference.

If you haven’t been here before, welcome to PacersrecaP where every column ends the way it began much like a Christopher Nolan film. Think of it like Tenet, confusing at first, no one knows what I’m talking about but slowly it starts to make more sense as time goes on. Or maybe I just like palindromes and couldn’t resist being clever for the sake of being clever … like a Christopher Nolan film.

Quick Summary of the Week’s Games:

  • The Pacers and the Heat played in a game that felt like it was from 20 years ago with a final score of 87-82. While it was good to see the Pacers have a tremendous defensive mindset following their lack of effort on defense and the glass against the Nets backups, they couldn’t overcome a late flurry of scoring by Jimmy Butler and an incredibly off-night from their star Tyrese Haliburton, who scored just 1 point and went 0 for 9 from the floor.
  • The Pacers swept the season series against the Golden State Warriors, which if I’m not mistaken makes them the NBA Champions now, with a 125-119 win. The Pacers scored 47 points in the second quarter and built a 20-point halftime lead and survived the Warriors comeback attempt as Steph Curry injured his shoulder and Draymond Green got ejected after complaining about an obvious foul call, though Green may have been an addition by subtraction in the Warriors comeback attempt as he scored just 1 point and had 3 assists and 6 turnovers.
  • The Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off in the battle of teams without wings. The Pacers built a double-digit lead heading into the fourth but the offense struggled in the clutch scoring just 2 points in the final five minutes and Donovan Mitchell scored 18 of his 41 points in the fourth, leading the Cavs to a 118-112 win.
  • The Pacers had a 6-point lead with under two minutes to go but couldn’t close out the New York Knicks who won by a final score of 109-106. Aaron Nesmith had a career high 23 points and 10 rebounds but not enough shot making from the rest of the roster as the clutch-time offense failed the team again.

Tyrese Haliburton still finding the right balance between aggression and passivity

Haliburton started off the week with the worst game of his Pacers career, scoring just 1 point and missing all nine of his shots as he was flummoxed by the defense of Bam Adebayo who repeatedly ended up guarding him after switches. The problem, however, was less than he missed all nine of his shots but that he quit looking to take his shot and only had one attempt in the fourth quarter. There were a couple of possessions where Haliburton had a chance to take an open shot but hesistated and his window quickly closed.

In a game where the Pacers scored just 82 points, they needed more looks for their leader and couldn’t afford him to pass any up. Haliburton recognized that saying after the game that he has to do a better job understanding how quickly you can turnaround an 0-for-9 game. That’s why the most encouraging Haliburton game this week was not the next game against the Warriors where he dazzled with 29 points but the Cavaliers game where he missed all 8 of his 3-pointers but stayed aggressive all night and finished with 17 points and 14 assists by making all five of his 2-point attempts and making all seven of his free throws. Continue reading PacersrecaP #28: On Haliburton’s aggression, rotation questions as the Pacers fall below .500