30 Teams in 30 Days: Pacers look poised to make noise once again
NBA.com Global on Sep 19, 2019 09:36 AM
Photo c/o @Pacers
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Indiana Pacers
2018-19 Record: 48-34, lost to Celtics in first round of playoffs
Key additions: Malcolm Brogdon (free agency), TJ Warren (trade), Jeremy Lamb (free agency), Justin Holiday (free agency), TJ McConnell (free agency)
Key departures: Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Corey Joseph, Wesley Matthews
The lowdown: The rebuilding of the Pacers suffered an unfortunate detour when Victor Oladipo, the club’s most accomplished player and its All-Star, suffered a knee injury 36 games in and was finished for the year. It was a sad setback for the club and also Oladipo, whose career and role as a leading man finally had traction after stints in Orlando and Oklahoma City. Almost immediately, there was concern whether Oladipo’s career was in jeopardy, and also if the Pacers were at risk of falling fast in the East.
For the Pacers at large last season, they regrouped and salvaged things by playing inspired team basketball and reaching the playoffs. It was a credit to coach Nate McMillan and such players as Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, among others. Bogdanovic became the Pacers’ go-to savior for the most part and the swingman averaged 20.9 ppg after the All-Star break. Sabonis and Turner worked fairly well together and did much of their damage near the paint, averaging nearly a combined 16 rpg. Turner also developed his 3-pointer (38.8%) last season, too.
Without Oladipo, though, the playmaking suffered and the Pacers lacked a starter-quality point guard. They also didn’t get a big leap from former first-round pick TJ Leaf or Doug McDermott, who signed a big contract the summer before. Regardless, the Pacers nearly won 50 games and ranked as one of the league’s more unexpected surprises, especially after Oladipo’s injury and as doubt was cast after his injury.
Summer summary: As one of the teams flush with salary-cap cash, the Pacers' offseason reopened the conversation about small-market teams and free agency. Namely: what big star is willing to play in the city formerly known as "Nap Town?"
The answer was, as expected, none. The Pacers weren’t on radar for the Durants, Kawhis and Kembas of the world, and a club that craves a superstar was left holding the (money) bag. The Pacers anticipated this and had a more realistic approach to spending their money to add to a team that’s among the top-six in the East. Why not spend that money on a committee of very good players instead?
They landed Brogdon via an $85 million sign-and-trade deal, and while this may seem rich to give a player who only started regularly in one of his three NBA seasons, it seems a smart buy on the surface. Brogdon, 25, is a very cerebral player who routinely makes smart decisions on the floor and is wise beyond his years of age off the court. He will represent Indiana very well, image-wise, and the Pacers couldn’t have done much better.
Brogdon improved every season with the Bucks and last season, he shot 50.5% overall, 42.6% on 3-pointers, 92.8% from the free-throw line and 3.2 apg. The Pacers believe Brogdon, who can play on or off the ball, will be an ideal fit next to Oladipo and it’s hard to argue that.
As a bonus, the Pacers took Brogdon away from one of their biggest competitors in the East, so it’s potentially a win-win for Indiana.
Another medium-sized offseason move was swinging a trade for Warren, who cost Indiana virtually nothing. Warren was the No. 2 option in Phoenix after Devin Booker and averaged more than 18 ppg and shot 48.6% or better over the last two seasons. He also stretched his shooting range, making 42.8% of his 3-pointers and Warren's addition will help offset Bogdanovic's departure.
They added another swingman by signing Lamb, who’s coming off his best NBA season. After supporting roles in Oklahoma City and initially in Charlotte, Lamb was given a meatier piece of the rotation last season and made the most of it, averaging 15.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg while shooting 34.8% on 3-pointers. All of that put him in position for free-agent riches.
While waiting on the progress made by Oladipo in his offseason rehabilitation, the Pacers found security at point guard with McConnell and Holiday. McConnell was one of the league’s better backup point guards, a change-of-pace/pass-first point guard. Holiday, 23, is still developing but comes from good NBA family stock.
And so, with their cap room, the Pacers added a starting guard in Brogdon, a scorer in Warren, a sixth-man type in Lamb and a set-up guy in McConnell. It’s no surprise that a segment of league GMs feel the Pacers quietly had one of the best offseasons. They added to the rotation, which now goes 8-9 deep with quality, and gave Oladipo solid support for his comeback season.
In the Draft they took Goga Bitadze, one of the more attractive European eligibles, with the No. 18 pick. The husky 6-foot-11 Georgian center is just 20 and will immediately become the Pacers’ top projections in player development. He was voted one of the best under-22 players in the Euroleague. He also became an Internet sensation based on a photo -- which showed him sitting, alone, at his designated table during media day just prior to the Draft while reporters swarmed Zion Williamson a few feet away.
That won’t be the case in Indiana this season. If nothing else, thanks to their summer haul, the Pacers will bring strength in numbers.
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