Additions: Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Aaron Holiday, Kyle O’Quinn
Subtractions: Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner
Key Bench Players: Tyreke Evans, Domantas Sabonis, Kyle O’Quinn, Doug McDermott, Cory Joseph, Aaron Holiday
This is a Pacers team that brings back every starter and brought in a few new key bench pieces from a 2017-18 team that surprised many throughout the NBA. After losing Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, how could the Pacers possibly remain competitive? The answer is in the return that Indiana received from OKC: Victor Oladipo. In his fifth NBA season, the former Indiana Hoosier had a breakout season to secure the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and go seven games with LeBron James and the Cavs in the first round. In 2018, Oladipo won Most Improved Player, made his first All Star appearance, was on the NBA All-Defensive First Team, and was 3rd Team All-NBA. He did this after posting career highs in points (23.1), assists (4.3), rebounds (5.2), field goal percentage (47.7%), 3PT percentage (37.1), and the league lead in steals at 2.4 per game. Oladipo should have been a higher candidate in the MVP race for bringing an otherwise fairly mediocre team in Indiana to the playoffs. The Pacers’ success this season is in Oladipo’s hands. If he can replicate or even improve upon last season’s performance, the Pacers can once again be a top five team in the East behind Boston, Philly, Toronto, and Milwaukee, but if he cannot, the Pacers may fall to the 6 or 7 seed where they could be a first round exit.
Luckily for Oladipo, he has a running mate in Myles Turner who is expected to keep on improving heading into his fourth NBA season. At nearly 7’0, Turner can operate as both a stretch-5 or handle business on the low blocks, while being a premier shot blocker on defense, averaging 1.8 blocks in his first three seasons. If Oladipo regresses in the slightest, coach Nate McMillan needs his center to step up and become a more impactful player on the offensive end. Turner has the potential, but can he turn that potential into in-game production?
Finishing out the starting lineup is speedy point guard Darren Collison who led the NBA in 3PT percentage last year at 46.8% while playing quality defense, Bojan Bogdanovic, another sniper making over 40% of his threes, and Thaddeus Young, the former 76er who can do anything a team could need from the power forward position. Along with Oladipo and Turner, this is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Oladipo can routinely guard an opposing team’s best wing while Collison takes care of the opposing point guard. Thaddeus Young is versatile enough to cater to Bogdanovic’s defensive shortcomings, and Turner can protect the paint with the best of NBA big men. Now the only question is the Pacers’ bench.
This is a bench unit that is much improved from last season. Domantas Sabonis can play both big men positions with the ability to knock down outside jumpers and rebound, although he lacks the athleticism and length to guard the rim. Enter Kyle O’Quinn who signed with Indiana over the offseason. He does not offer as much offense as Al Jefferson did last year, but is a vast improvement on defense, which was a need playing alongside Sabonis. Tyreke Evans gives the Pacers one of the best sixth men in the league after averaging just under 20 PPG last season in Memphis. He can provide meaningful rest for any of Collison, Oladipo, or Bogdanovic with his versatility and playmaking abilities. Now on his fifth team in five seasons, Doug McDermott is a certified sniper with his 40.3% career 3PT percentage. He does not offer much in terms of playmaking and defense, but his shooting should cement him as the backup small forward. Handling backup point guard duties is between Cory Joseph and rookie Aaron Holiday out of UCLA. The youngest of the Holiday brothers may turn out to be the best of the Pacers’ point guards. In his junior season, Holiday provided all-around production for a Bruins team who desperately needed it. From the point guard position, the junior poured in 20.3 PPG on 46.1/42.9/82.8, 5.8 assists, and 1.3 steals. He shot a career 42.2% from three in his three collegiate seasons, and has all the tools to become a quality starting point guard in the NBA: scoring, shooting, playmaking, and defense. Cory Joseph may get the bulk of backup point guard minutes, but Holiday may take over as the starter next year as Collison and Joseph are both expected to hit free agency next summer.
The Pacers are stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference, but by no means will they be an easy out for the upper echelon of the East. Armed with Oladipo, Turner, their ferocious defense, and revamped second unit, the Pacers may be one of the deepest teams in the league. They could use a second All Star to pair with Oladipo, but it seemed to work out just fine last season. Many experts and analysts keep sleeping on Indiana when talking about the best teams in the East, but they deserve more credit. Remember they almost ended LeBron’s playoff run last year.
Picture Courtesy of Hoops Hype
*For yesterday’s article on the Houston Rockets, click here
Up next tomorrow: Los Angeles Clippers
University of South Carolina ’21