Tag Archives: Pacers Analysis

With Kemba Walker available, should the Pacers make a deal?

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker has been made available in trades according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Hornets would be looking to unload one of their bad contracts (they have a lot of them) in any potential deal that included Walker, who is averaging 21.7 points and 5.8 assists, according to Wojnarowski.

Any time an All-Star caliber player (Walker was selected as an All Star last season), every team, including the Indiana Pacers, has to consider whether or not they should pursue that player. Kevin Pritchard and company will have to do their due diligence and weigh the pros and the cons of any possible Walker deal.

Continue reading With Kemba Walker available, should the Pacers make a deal?

Advertisements

Victor Oladipo is everything the Indiana Pacers could have possibly hoped he’d be and more

You might be surprised at Victor Oladipo’s performance this year, but he isn’t.

He expected to be this good.

“Y’all might be surprised,” Oladipo told reporters after his 47-point night against the Denver Nuggets earlier this season. “I put in the work. I work every day. I have no limit to how hard I work. I’m trying to be great. There’s no in-between and I can’t settle for anything less.”

He did try to warn us.

Continue reading Victor Oladipo is everything the Indiana Pacers could have possibly hoped he’d be and more

New Year’s Resolutions for the Indiana Pacers: Part Two

2018 is upon us and the Indiana Pacers have things to improve on as they await the return of Victor Oladipo and attempt to get back to their previous winning ways. We have resolutions for all the Indiana Pacers for the rest of this season.

If you missed part one:

Domantas Sabonis: Shoot 3-pointers instead of mid-range jumpers

While Sabonis doesn’t shoot jump shots very often (EDIT: which is good for him, I’m not saying he should take more jump shots), his mid-range percentage for shots from 15-feet up to the 3-point line is just 34.5% on 55 attempts. Meanwhile, he’s shooting only slightly worse from distance, 33.3% on 15 attempts from 3-point range. Sabonis shot 32% over his entire rookie season from range, so he can shoot a similar percentage with more volume.

With how Sabonis is shooting his jumper, there’s no reason that this pick and pop shouldn’t be stretched out to the 3-point line.

Continue reading New Year’s Resolutions for the Indiana Pacers: Part Two

New Year’s Resolutions for the Indiana Pacers: Part One

The Indiana Pacers have lost three straight games as Victor Oladipo has missed the last two and head into the New Year on a bit of a down note on what has otherwise been a terrific start to the season. Everybody has something to improve on, however, so in the spirit of New Year’s, here’s part one of resolutions for each of the Pacers for the remainder of the season.

Part two coming soon. (Now available)

Myles Turner: Use the fadeaway in the post sparingly when faced with a mismatch

Myles is the league-leading shot blocker and perhaps as a victim of high expectations hasn’t had the start to the season than many were hoping for. That being said, he’s averaging 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks with a usage rate that is lower than his rookie season. He’s still just not a featured part of the offense on most nights but he’s putting up solid numbers with efficiency.

One area that he can definitely look to improve on is taking advantage of mismatches in the post. Too often, Turner tends to fade away when matched with a smaller player instead of taking advantage of his height. Here’s an example from the Mavs game with Harrison Barnes guarding him.

Turner has shown improvement in this area and has gone straight up more often of late as was the case with a couple of chances with Gary Harris on him in the post against the Denver Nuggets switching scheme, but he still has a tendency to fade more often than not.

This play is exactly how you want to see Turner take advantage of the mismatch. He doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be in the post all the time (or even most of the time) with that smooth jump shot, but the more he improves with someone smaller on him, the less likely teams will even consider switching on the pick and roll.

Turner’s also gone away from his no-dribble turnaround shot in the post, which has always been very effective since his rookie year. Even just going straight up is preferable to the fade as most of the smaller players won’t have any shot at blocking the high-release attempt and it has a higher chance of getting a foul call as well.

When I asked Turner about a one-leg, Dirk fadeaway that he used in the first game against the Bulls, he said, “I don’t want to always settle for that, but it’s a move that I know is tough to guard.”  So Turner knows that fading shouldn’t be something he does every time. Hopefully it starts to become like junk food at the top of the old food pyramid and is used sparingly.

The Dirk fadeaway in discussion was against Robin Lopez and not a smaller player.

Bojan Bogdanovic: Let yourself be fouled in late-game situations.

Please. Bogdanovic is shooting 84% from the free-throw line this season, but didn’t seem to want to be fouled in the closing seconds against Boston with that inexplicable high pass that was stolen by Terry Rozier. He almost dribbled into a turnover earlier this season in a similar scenario, but was given a foul call. If the Croatian Mercenary is going to play in the game’s final moments, he has to be willing to take those fouls.

Lance Stephenson: Keep the ball moving.

This has always been one of the things that I’ve disliked about Stephenson’s game even during his first tenure with Indiana. When the ball gets swung in his direction, he almost always ball fakes to no effect and gives the defense a chance to reset before making a decision. More often than not, the right play is just an immediate pass to the next man on the perimeter. Here’s an example of Stephenson doing this here, though Oladipo is still able to hit the 3-pointer as the Thunder don’t recover with the extra time Lance allowed them with the unnecessary fake.

Stephenson’s done far more good for the Pacers than bad this year, especially while being a big part of sparking some huge comebacks at home and getting the crowd amped up on a nightly basis, but a few quick swings per game would go a long way for the offense that sometimes doesn’t move the ball as much as it should.

Bonus resolution for Born Ready: Find his shooting stroke on the road. Before the game against the Chicago Bulls where Stephenson made two of his five 3-point attempts, he was shooting only 17% from deep. At Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, he’s shooting 38%.

Darren Collison: Don’t settle for mid-range attempts when the opponent switches on the pick and roll

Collison had a terrific offensive game against the Bulls, scoring 30 points on just 16 shot attempts. One area where the point guard could get more movement into the offense is any time the opposing team is switching in the pick and roll. Collison with a big man on him is reluctant to try a pass into the post over the taller player and instead most of the time ends up taking a contested mid-range attempt.

This happens so often that many times Turner doesn’t even look to post up when Collison is the ball handler in a switched pick and roll, because he knows what he’s likely to do more times than not.

The Pacers have also started having Turner post on the opposite side so Collison can swing it to the next guy on the perimeter and allow that man to make the post-entry pass that DC doesn’t make very often with the taller man defending him. You can see Turner going to post up on the opposite end on the previous video. The problem is that this allows the opposing team to switch the point guard off of Turner and get at least a slightly bigger player on him, which you can also see happen on the play above as well, and it takes more time to accomplish.

Collison is shooting well from the mid-range in certain areas, but oddly the area that he takes the most attempts in the mid-range is where he shoots by far the worst percentage. From the right elbow to the 3-point line, Collison is shooting a dismal 25.7% on 35 attempts.  In all other spots from 15-feet to the 3-point line, Collison is shooting a very good 53.6% on 56 attempts. If DC is going to take those type of shots, he has to start shooting more often in the areas that he’s been far more successful in. It’s very rare to see him take the opposing big to the rim as well, which could open up shots for others if he forces the defense to help as well.

TJ Leaf: Stay confident, grow in team defensive concepts.

Nate McMillan recently said that there aren’t really any expectations for TJ Leaf in his first season they just want him to get some experience on the court.

“We know that he can score the ball,” McMillan said about Leaf after practice. “We want to see him defend and continue to work on, certainly scoring, but really his first year is about just playing. There’s no pressure, no expectations, other than getting out there to play.”

The problem lately has been that Leaf hasn’t seen much or any playing time. Alex Poythress has gotten the most recent chance at the backup four minutes and when Glenn Robinson III comes back, it may likely be Bojan Bogdanovic playing some extra minutes as the backup power forward.

Leaf was a very confident rookie to start the season and will need to remain so even while he’s likely to sit the bench. Learning more about how to be a better defender will be the biggest thing he can do to help himself earn more minutes when his opportunities do come. Maybe sit next to Pacers defensive assistant coach Dan Burke on the bench every night.

McMillan praised his attitude recently when he went down to the G-League and played well.

“We do respect that,” McMillan said of Leaf’s mindset of wanting to do whatever is best for him. “Some guys feel they’re above (the G-League). His thing was, ‘It was good to play and get some minutes.’ … That’s what these guys love to do, is play basketball. That’s the purpose of sending him down there.”

Al Jefferson: Get a makeover.

Fortunately for the Pacers this season, Al Jefferson hasn’t been needed to play a whole lot. Hopefully that stays true in 2018. Turner and Oladipo both said that he was the one player on the team that most needed a makeover on the team. Big Al needs some new style.

Joe Young: Stay committed to the role of pesky, full-court defender

Young has embraced being the annoying, pesky defender that guards the opposing point guard the entire length of the court and it’s resulted in the occasional forced turnover. His minutes are likely to remain sporadic barring any injury and this is the easiest way for him to make an impact as he’s not going to be looked at as a primary scoring option when he plays.

Young has added a few points in the last two games (6 and 7 points respectively), but for him to continue playing in the league, he’ll have to up his defensive game. He’s got the right attitude and you know a guy that sleeps on the practice court is going to work hard.

Damien Wilkins: Don’t get your LaVar Ball on.

Old Man Wilkins just found out that he was having his third son as he was surprised by a gender reveal during the Pacers/Mavericks game.

Please, no. We don’t want or need another LaVar Ball. We didn’t need the first one.

The Indiana Pacers no-point lineup key to comeback victory

With 3:51 remaining in the game, the Indiana Pacers were down by eight points as Nate McMillan called timeout and went to a lineup that had played only a single minute together all season: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner.

“Nate called a timeout,” said Oladipo, who was named  Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season, “and all I said was, ‘There’s a lot of time left. We just gotta take it one possession at a time,’ and we did a great job.”

Almost no previous time together. No point guard. No problem. Oladipo took care of the offense to the tune of 47 points and the defense took care of the rest down the stretch.

Continue reading The Indiana Pacers no-point lineup key to comeback victory

Hot-Takebuster Part Two: Myles Turner’s Rebounding & Defense

Myles Turner has scored at least 15 points in each of his last four games while averaging just 11.8 shots per game. He continues to be efficient in his at times limited opportunities on offense. But with high expectations coming into this season, grumbling about Turner has reached an all-time high.

This is the second part of a column taking on the hot takes of Myles Turner. If you missed the first part, you can read about his offensive game here.

“Myles Turner is not a true big man” is quickly becoming this team’s “George Hill is not a true point guard.” Both claims pointless, perplexing and frustrating to see about players that add tremendous value to their team while playing their position in perhaps a non-traditional way.  Continue reading Hot-Takebuster Part Two: Myles Turner’s Rebounding & Defense

Hot-Takebuster Part One: Myles Turner’s Offense

Myles Turner hasn’t gotten off to the tremendous start to the season that many expected in his third year. Whether that’s due to his concussion in the opener or a smaller offensive role than expected, this has caused many to air their grievances about the Pacers young big man. Even in a game against the Boston Celtics where he led the Indiana Pacers in scoring while taking only nine shot attempts, the noise for much of the game was all about what Turner can’t do or won’t do.

“Myles Turner is not a true big man” is quickly becoming this team’s “George Hill is not a true point guard.” Both claims pointless, perplexing and frustrating to see about players that add tremendous value to their team while playing their position in perhaps a non-traditional way.  Continue reading Hot-Takebuster Part One: Myles Turner’s Offense

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #5: Chemistry is Cooking

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of big (like, HUGE) wins, I thought it best to focus on something that is all too rare in the NBA: noticeable chemistry.

Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #5: Chemistry is Cooking

Stray Pacervations: Odds and Ends of the Indiana Pacers winning streak

Stray Pacervations is intended to shed light on the odds and ends, the small things and possible trends that happen during Indiana Pacers games. Some good. Some bad. Some neither.

The Pacers have won four games in a row, four road games in a row, five out of six overall, and just won all three games in a 4-night stretch. It’s been fun. Let’s dive right in.  Continue reading Stray Pacervations: Odds and Ends of the Indiana Pacers winning streak

Myles Turner gets a confidence boost from a late-night visit from Victor Oladipo

Myles Turner struggled to make shots against the Detroit Pistons on Friday and didn’t play down the stretch as the Indiana Pacers went on a 51-22 run to come from behind and win.

“I didn’t have such a great game last game,” said Turner, who finished with just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting against the Pistons, after tonight’s game. “It’s all about bouncing back. This was a statement game for me.”  Continue reading Myles Turner gets a confidence boost from a late-night visit from Victor Oladipo

Why everybody loves playing with Domantas Sabonis

Game after game, it seems like there are more and more reasons to gush over the performance of Domantas Sabonis.

He’s been called the quarterback of the offense by Thaddeus Young. Nate McMillan said early in the year that they like to run the offense through him while he’s out there. He’s played two games while battling an illness only to produce a couple of his best performances of the season in those contests.  Continue reading Why everybody loves playing with Domantas Sabonis

For Myles Turner to grow, more opportunities are necessary

Should Myles Turner be considered in the NBA’s group of future frontcourt stars along with Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid?

If the Indiana Pacers want to find out, they’re going to need to give Myles Turner the ball. With a lot more consistency and frequency.  Continue reading For Myles Turner to grow, more opportunities are necessary

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #3: Captain Thaddeus

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of lost big leads, we need some positivity.  Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #3: Captain Thaddeus

Stray Pacervations: The Good, The Bad and the In-Between

Stray Pacervations is intended to shed light on small things and possible trends that happen during Indiana Pacers games. Some good. Some bad. Some in between.

1. Domas Sabonis rebounding and pushing the pace. There are so many things to love about Sabonis’s game already, but this might be my current favorite. When Sabonis grabs a defensive rebound and no defender is near, instead of pausing and finding the outlet pass, Sabonis will immediately turn into a dribble while looking for an open man. It’s a small thing but it helps the Pacers gain a little bit of extra time for their budding transition offense.  Continue reading Stray Pacervations: The Good, The Bad and the In-Between

Is Victor Oladipo’s contract really that bad? 

After seeing reports/tweets almost daily from outlets like The Ringer, and even some subtle pokes from those at Indy Cornrows, I wanted to dive into the current contract miasma for NBA talent and see where Oladipo finds himself.

Why do writers flaunt Oladipo’s $84 million price tag or use “20% of the cap” for next season like it’s a bad thing rather than place his contract in context? Did OKC really give him that terrible of a contract extension? Is it really that bad?

No, it’s not. Really. And when Oladipo is at the crest of his prime, it might even look good instead of just fine. Oladipo will make $21 million next season. And the season after that, he will make $21 million. After that, another $21 million.  Finally, he will play in one more $21 million year, collecting his last paycheck with this current contract near his 29th birthday.

There are three main reasons this contract is fine (not good, not bad), and two relate to simple math.

  1. Paying the person you believe will be the number one or number two option most plays places Oladipo in the same pay range as guys like Lamarcus Aldridge ($21.5 mil), Harrison Barnes ($23.1 mil), Dwight Howard ($23.5), Brook Lopez ($22.6), and Nicolas Batum ($22.4 mil). An obvious superior player in Paul George would have made only $19.3 million for the Pacers next season, so the $21 million to Oladipo stings a little, until you remember that George will earn the max in 2018-19 (30% of the cap, or roughly $30 million, for a player with his experience).
  2. The salary cap historically goes up. This means the Oladipo contract over time continues to look better. In 2017-18, the salary cap will be at $99 million, an increase of about five million dollars from the previous season. This raise was smaller than expected, with earlier projections closer to $103 million, but it did rise, and it’s projected to continue to rise in the next few seasons. Though there will not be a dramatic $24 million raise coming like we saw entering last season, a conservative raise from 99 million to 102 million is projected for the 2018-2019 season. For 2019-2020, we can expect a similarly small bump–the cap is not expected to stall completely, like it did from 2010 to 2012. So that 20% of the cap that Oladipo takes up will get smaller as time goes on.
  3. Victor Oladipo is entering his prime. He should improve with his increased opportunity in Indiana, and he is already a good player. Is he great? No, but he also isn’t paid like a great player. Can he get better? All signs, historical and commonsensical, point to yes, he can. And the more he improves, the better the deal becomes.

Victor Oladipo is not a superstar. He is also not getting paid like a superstar in the long-term with a max contract and his deal will continue to look better comparatively after the now-budget deals for players like George, Kawhi Leonard (18.8), Jimmy Butler (18.7) and John Wall (16.7) dry up in the next couple of seasons.

Look at some of the middling, average wings that hit free agency in the last two years: Tim Hardaway, Jr. just got a deal worth over $17.5 million per year; Kent Bazemore makes an average of $17.5 million per year at the end of his deal; Allen Crabbe will make $19.3 million this season. Wings get paid in today’s NBA, and Oladipo will have plenty of opportunities to show he’s worth his $21 million as a featured player for the Pacers this season.

Attempting to inflate the OKC-IND trade in OKC’s favor by using next season’s contract number against Oladipo is unfair and a little lazy. Context matters. When players like Detroit’s KCP (18) or J. J. Redick (23) sign one year contracts at that value, it becomes a little easier to see the upside in locking down your starting shooting guard for the long-term, when the Pacers might be good again, at a flat rate, especially when only his deal and Myles Turner’s future extension will be taking up any real space on the Pacers books in just a couple seasons.

Who starts for the Indiana Pacers in 2017?

The Indiana Pacers roster is starting to take shape after many changes to the team in the first couple of weeks of the off-season.

Additions:

Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Darren Collison, TJ Leaf, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ike Anigbogu, Edmond Sumner

Subtractions:

Paul George, Monta Ellis, CJ Miles, Jeff Teague, Lavoy Allen, Rakeem Christmas 

As the Pacers begin their “rebirth,” who are the Pacers going to start next season?

After the press conference introducing Oladipo, Sabonis and Collison, Nate McMillan said the only starters that were for certain were Oladipo and Myles Turner. After that, “we’ll see.”

Today, McMillan said that Bogdanovic will start training camp as the starting small forward. “It’s his job to lose,” said McMillan.

Here’s some different options that TJ Pacers can look at with their current roster:

Start the Vets:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner

Currently, it seems this is the most likely starting lineup, though it’s surprising that McMillan didn’t list Young among his for-sure starters when he was among the most important players for the Pacers last season. This may mean the Pacers are looking to move Young before the season. If they move Young, Sabonis likely takes the starting power forward spot.

Start the Youth:
PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Domantas Sabonis
C: Myles Turner

If the Pacers look to move some of their added veterans at the deadline, this could be the lineup by the end of the season. Robinson seems like the most likely to earn his spot over the incoming veteran as the fourth-year player has consistently shown improvement from year to year and performed well starting in place of George last season. Even if the Pacers keep their roster intact this season, the lineup may end up like the next one before too long.

Middle Ground:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner

The Pacers would be wise to see if Robinson can handle a full-time starting role before he enters free agency next season. With the way young wings always get paid in free agency, the Pacers have to find out if Robinson is worth investing $15 million per season. If they don’t start him, he may be cheaper next season or he could look for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Let’s Get Weird:
PG: Lance Stephenson
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Bojan Bogdanovic
C: Myles Turner

Starting Point Lance seems to have completely died now that Collison and Joseph have joined the team, but this unit that surrounds Stephenson with shooters could score a lot of points. Oladipo could guard opposing point guards and Stephenson would run the offense. Even with Joseph, Stephenson should be running the second unit most of the time as the first man off the bench.

A Little Less Weird:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Lance Stephenson
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner

A Little More Weird Super Small Ball
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Lance Stepenson
PF: Glenn Robinson III
C: Myles Turner

Here’s a couple unconventional and unlikely options with Stephenson at small forward.

Kevin Pritchard found what he was looking for in Victor Oladipo

For a couple of weeks, we heard non-stop rumors about Paul George. Would it be Boston? Maybe some high draft picks, Bradley and plan for the future. Could it be Cleveland? Maybe a 3-team deal with Kevin Love for draft picks again. Maybe Denver? Gary Harris could come back to Indiana. How about Portland? Loads of mid-first-round picks and a role player? Or just ship him where he wants to go in Los Angeles? Late-round firsts and Julius Randle is all they’ll offer? Pass.

Fast forward to June 30th hours before free agency officially starts, and I bet not a single fan or NBA junkie was expecting to hear Oklahoma City and Paul George spoken in the same breath. But Ramona Shelburne tweeted it (Woj was waiting to start his new ESPN gig at midnight) and the madness became reality.

Paul George was going to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. No draft picks involved in the deal. The Pacers made the trade official today.

While we all have our opinions on Kevin Pritchard should have done or should have taken, we’ll never know what any of the other offers actually were. We’ll hear rumblings, especially from Boston, but only Pritchard knows what he had on the table and why he felt like he couldn’t wait another week before pulling the trigger on the OKC deal.

While the trade has been mostly panned by critics, there are a few things to consider.

First: The draft isn’t a sure fire thing. Sure a top-15 pick is more likely to warrant a higher caliber player, but busts outnumber the success stories in some drafts. A known commodity that has some NBA experience and still has room to grow is sometimes better than an unknown draft pick. Even most of the rumored offered didn’t include a top-15 pick anyway.

Second: The OKC front office is one of the most esteemed in the league. They viewed Oladipo and Sabonis as obviously valuable. They just gave Oladipo a 4-year, $84 million contract extension. You don’t give that to a player you don’t think is any good. And they spent a first-round pick on Sabonis last year and it’s unlikely they were ready to give up on him after just one season.

“We feel very strongly about the potential Victor and Domantas bring to our team and what they mean for the future of the franchise,” said Pritchard in the Pacers statement officially announcing the trade. “Both are highly competitive, highly skilled and both are winners. That is why both were lottery picks, that is why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”

Of the three big names traded in the offseason (Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler), Oladipo might be the best over Patrick Beverly and Zach LaVine.

So what are the Pacers getting in Oladipo and Sabonis?

You can read about why you should be cautiously optimistic about Sabonis here.

Victor Oladipo, 25, returns to Indiana where he spent three years collegiately down the road at Indiana University.

With a new era emerging for the Pacers organization, Pritchard has already told us what he wants the new identity for this Pacers team to look like.

“I think if you look at some of the teams that are successful, it gets a little position-less, and they just have flyers all over the court,” Pritchard said in his opening press conference as president of basketball operations. “It’s drive and kick and shoot a lot of threes, and then back on defense you can switch. I’d like to get more to that.”

He also emphasized physicality and toughness.

Let’s start with shooting, Oladipo, who averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, has been steadily improving his jump shot each year of his career as his shooting percentages have gone up after each season. He’s gone from shooting 41.9% in his rookie season to 44.2% overall and from 32.7% as a rookie to 36.1% from 3-point range.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, Oladipo can shoot the 3-pointer, he’s just incredibly inconsistent. He’s similar to CJ Miles in the past in that he’ll go through stretches where he can’t miss, but then it’ll seem like he hasn’t made a three for weeks right after. These are his monthly percentages splits from long range:

October: 25%
November: 44.2%
December: 25%
January: 35.8%
February: 25%
March: 49.2%
April: 18.2%
Playoffs: 34.4%

If he can find some consistency with his shot, he might push that 3-point percentage up to 38-40% where defensives will have to respect his outside shot. This will be paramount to his long-term success as a Pacer.

This past season spent alongside ball dominant Russell Westbrook gave him plenty of opportunity to play off the ball and spot up more, albeit at the detriment of his driving preference. His catch-and-shoot ability has definitely improved.

Oladipo is known for having a great work ethic, so if he never finds a consistent shot it won’t be from a lack of trying.

On defense, Oladipo definitely fits the bill as a player that can switch onto multiple positions and in the defensive-minded mold Pritchard wants. He receives a handful of votes each year for the all-defensive teams and he’ll be a definite improvement defensively for the Pacers at the shooting guard position. So long, Monta Ellis.

The fact that he can play both ends of the court is best part about his game. He won’t be a liability on either end though he has room to improve in both areas. Per NBAWowy, the Thunder were a net 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Oladipo on the court than off.

You just might not want him to be guarding any children.

If he spends time on the court with Lance Stephenson, Oladipo can guard point guards while Stephenson can run the offense on one end but guard bigger wings on the other.

Oladipo can also be a ferocious finisher at the rim as he won the Dunk of the Year at the first NBA Awards show and he’s competed in a slam dunk contest in the past.

As former Pacers player and current announcer Clark Kellogg once said, “Victor Oladipo is like a baby’s bottom, smooth and sometimes explosive.” At times, he does make poor decisions on his aggressive drives as he averaged nearly as many turnovers as assists (2.6 assists and 1.8 turnovers) last season. His assist numbers were career lows; however, that’s due to playing with Westbrook who ran everything in OKC.

But what is Oladipo’s ceiling? He’s now been in the league for four full seasons. Can he become more than a solid starter or rotation player? Is he just a great sixth man? The Pacers have him under contract for the next four years to figure out if he can become more. Time will tell if the Pacers bet on Oladipo was a good one.

Cautiously Optimistic: Sabonis will be a bonus

If you are honest with yourself, you probably have to admit you have not seen much game footage of the Pacers newly-acquired lottery prospect Domantas Sabonis, whether in college or in the pros, and your perception of his value as a player may be shaped mostly by his end of the season statistics and the plethora of salty fans wishing for future draft picks.

That would put you in good company (I was there!). However, digging a little deeper into this player revealed why the Pacers wanted him and why you should be skeptically optimistic about what he might do in his second year and beyond in the NBA.

In college, Sabonis was one of the best low-post players in the country who showed a potential ability to stretch the floor with limited opportunities (>35% from 3; 22-45 on jump shots). He hustled, had a great feel for the game, and though he did not display elite athleticism, he did show his agility, strength, footwork and ability to finish through contact.

However, projecting him into the pros, scouts were concerned about his average physical tools (he’s got short arms, played below the rim in college) which would make him a liability on defense and offense, especially if that ability to hit jump shots did not continue to improve with more attempts.  Still, within his weaknesses, nothing was glaring. Mostly, the concern from scouts could be summed up like this: “He does X thing (slide his feet, challenge shots, etc.) okay, but he has to improve to be an effective NBA player and not just a hustling big off the bench.”

Oklahoma City decided they liked what they saw and drafted him (through Orlando) with the 11th pick of the 2016 NBA draft. He was an opening day starter and had his first double-figure game against Golden State eight days into his rookie season.

In fact, he was on fire through his first two months of the season until he hit the proverbial rookie wall and his consistency fell off a cliff.

In November, he shot 46% from the field and 45% from 3; in December, he shot 39% from the field and 32% from 3. From there, his averages ebb and flow, ultimately ending the season shooting a shade under 40% at 39.9% for the year, which is concerning for any player that is 6’10”. For someone who ranked 3rd in true shooting percentage (66%) in the DraftExpress top 100, this was surprising and disappointing.

If you are interested in checking out his full strengths/weaknesses as a pro prospect coming out of Gonzaga, check out this link and this link…oh and this link (see bottom for scouting chart).

However, a dive into those numbers show he has the ability to develop into a strong jump shooter for a big man. According to Basketball Reference from 16ft to a step inside the 3pt line, Sabonis shot 47% on 55 shots (By comparison, Thaddeus Young shot 35% on 49 attempts). From 3, he only shot 32% on 160 attempts (Thaddeus Young shot 38% on 123 attempts). Sabonis needs to get comfortable one more step away from the basket, and I believe he will, especially when considering this was the first season where he was asked to shoot that deep of a shot.

Beyond the expectation that Sabonis will improve as a shooter, growing through his time in the NBA and his time with the Lithuanian national team, his motor, which I loosely define as a player’s give-a-damn-ness, is unquestioned.

He ran the floor, finished through contact, and made hustle plays, and this kept him in the starting lineup for 66 games despite his poor shooting. In a modern NBA power forward, you need someone who can shoot and someone who will not quit in-game—someone who will battle for rebounds and fight for position in the post.  Also, if they can dribble and get to the rim, that’s a plus, and that is his skill that intrigues me most.

At 6’ 10”, Sabonis deploys pump-fakes and hesitation moves to get to the rim. Though he lacks elite speed at his position, if he creates an angle, his strength allows him to keep his driving lane to the basket once the defender recovers. Looking through his top 50 plays, you will find examples again and again of creating angles and attacking the rim. Discount the dunks in this video and focus on what might make Sabonis special: his jump shot, his power on the drive, and his positioning in transition.

In OKC, he didn’t see a lot of opportunities in the post, which was his bread and butter at Gonzaga. While he won’t be able to overpower opponents in the post like he did in college, his shooting percentage may rise with more opportunities down low.

Now, I have been very positive here, so let’s pause to be really, really negative for a moment and think worst-case scenario that does not involve injury or scandal, based on what one season has shown us: if Sabonis does not follow a standard rookie progression and improve elements of his game, he becomes a reserve big man joining the contingent and borrowing the combined skillsets of Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes, Luis Scola, and Taj Gibson to become a poor man’s version of these players.

If he is able to improve his consistency and become the starting power forward counterpart to Myles Turner, the Pacers could have a formidable front court for the next ten years (both players are 21). The Pacers are hoping the ~4 million dollars a year bet on Sabonis over the next three seasons returns a promising starting power forward—and you should too.

It is easy to dream about the potential of draft picks outside the lottery who might develop into starting-level talent and get upset with Sabonis, but avoid dreaming and realize he was last year’s 11th pick and the Pacers now have two lottery-level talents in their frontcourt.

Free Agency Targets: Rebuild

Kevin Pritchard said in his post-draft press conference that the Pacers have options with Paul George trades that could put them in a position to rebuild around young players or could keep them in the playoff race with established veterans.

These two options also give two contrasting plans for free agency. Today, we’ll look at players that the Pacers should look at if they choose to go with a George trade that gives them youth and development. The Pacers won’t be going after free agent targets in “win-now” moves like Jrue Holiday and Danilo Gallinari that they were rumored to be interested in before the George news broke in this rebuilding scenario.

Those types of veterans aren’t going to be looking to join a rebuilding team, and the Pacers will be looking to give as many minutes as possible to their young players with little care about how many games they end up winning next season.

So what kind of targets should the Pacers be pursuing?

Players that are young and cheap. Players that haven’t been given much of an opportunity in the NBA so far in their careers, whether that’s a D-League (now G-League) All-Star or a young player that’s been riding the bench in the NBA. Players that are former high draft picks that fizzled out elsewhere. The Pacers should be looking for guys that you hope can turn into valuable assets or at least rotation-level players with more opportunity and playing time. Lots of low-risk, high-reward potential players, diamonds in the rough, sleepers, whatever you want to call them.

The Pacers have had success with taking fliers on these type of players in the past with Glenn Robinson III, who played briefly with both the Wolves and Sixers in his rookie season.

Here’s some options for the Pacers to consider that would fit the bill:

(Note: The Pacers generally avoid RFAs so I will too. Besides, if teams can match potential deals, it’s unlikely their current team will let them go on cheap deals anyway.)

Willie Reed:

Age: 27    Stats: 5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks in 15 minutes per game

Willie Reed was fighting to get into the NBA for years in the D-League before finally getting an opportunity with the Brooklyn Nets two seasons ago. He declined his $3 million player option with the Miami Heat after signing a 2-year deal last offseason. In five games as a starter, Reed averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Ian Clark:

Age: 26    Stats: 6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 15 minutes per game

Clark had his best season as a pro with the Warriors last year with his first consistent rotation spot. He shot 37% from 3-point range.

Tyler Ennis: 

Age: 22    Stats: 4.3 points, 0.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 11 minutes per game

The 6’3″ point guard Ennis found a 3-point shot for the first time in his career last year shooting 39% and played fairly well for the Lakers over 22 games to end the season. The former first-round pick shot 45% from the field with LA and scored in double figures in seven of his final 10 games.

Mike Muscala:

Age: 26    Stats: 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists in 18 minutes per game

Muscala shot 42% on his 3-point attempts last year while spending most of his time as a stretch 5 for the Atlanta Hawks.

Thomas Robinson:

Age: 25    Stats: 5.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.6 assists in 12 minutes per game

In just four seasons, Robinson, the former fifth overall pick, has played for six teams. He’s the type of power forward that has gone out of style in today’s NBA with his lack of outside shooting, but he put up a 17.3 PER last season with the Lakers in his limited minutes. He’s never averaged more than 15 minutes per game in any overall season. His free throw shooting of just 47% last year is a concern.

KJ McDaniels: 

Age: 24     Stats: 4.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists in 10.3 minutes per game

His team option was recently declined, but he could still be tendered a qualifying offer by the Nets that would make him a RFA instead of an unrestricted free agent. The wing still hasn’t found a consistent shooting stroke as he’s only shot 29% for his career from 3-point land, but he was able to get his overall shooting percentage to a respectable 45% this season.

Ben McLemore:

Age: 24    Stats: 8.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists in 19 minutes per game

 

McLemore is a late addition to this list as word comes that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent from Chris Haynes at ESPN (The Pacers don’t pursue restricted free agents per their owner’s rule). Perhaps no better choice on this list than McLemore, who could potentially end up being a starter for the Pacers at shooting guard. He’s struggled to find any consistency with the Kings, but perhaps a better environment could lead to more success for the former 7th overall pick. He’s steadily improved his 3-point shooting a couple percentage points per season to go from 32% in his rookie season to 38% this past year.

G-League players to take a chance on

The best part about giving any of these players a chance with a guaranteed contract would be that it’ll likely be at the minimum. These are the cheapest and lowest risk options the Pacers could take, but all of them could just be waiting for the right opportunity to show they belong in the NBA as a rotation player.

Pierre Jackson:

Age: 25    Stats: 22.5 points, 7.7 assists, 1.9 steals

Jackson is a short point guard, but that hasn’t stopped guys like Isaiah Thomas and many others from succeeding in the NBA. His efficiency was much improved this season in the D-League as his shooting percentages rose to 49% overall and 37% from 3-point distance. You have to think eventually some NBA team is going to give this scoring machine a chance. His PER this year was 22.7 while playing for the Texas Legends.

Jalen Jones:

Age: 24    Stats: 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game

Jones can play either forward position and put up big numbers for the Maine Red Claws in his rookie season, but perhaps his biggest strength is his defensive versatility. G-League expert Chris Reichert calls Jones a Draymond-lite and says he can guard the 1-4 positions. He shoots a respectable 35% from long range and searching for his D-League highlights on YouTube produce a multitude of monster games.

His teammate Marcus Georges-Hunt is also one to lookout for if the Magic end up cutting him after signing him to a non-guaranteed deal at the end of last season.

Cliff Alexander:

Age: 21   Stats: 15.8 points, 8.9 rebounds

Alexander was once a highly-touted high school prospect and looked at as a future NBA star, but after spending a season at Kansas unable to play due to NCAA investigation, Alexander went undrafted in 2015. He’s a power forward that fits the mold of the NBA’s past more than the current shooting bigs that are in vogue, but he did try out a 3-point shot with the Nets D-League team shooting 29.6% on 1.5 attempts per game. He can finish in the post with either hand and is a terrific rebounder. He averaged 22.6 points and 11.1 rebounds over his last 15 games while shooting 58% according to Reichert.

Anthony Brown:

Age: 24    Stats: 20.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists

Brown has earned a couple of NBA call ups in the past but has yet to take advantage, struggling with his shot in those chances. He’s a 6’7″ wing that’s recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, but before he got injured he shot a ridiculous 47% from 3-point range on five attempts per game.

Elgin Cook:

Age: 24    Stats: 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists in 23 minutes per game

Cook shot only 33% from 3-point range, but the athletic, strong wing scored in bunches for Santa Cruz before an injury ended his season early.