2017-18 Preview: Indiana Pacers

By Bryan Crawford #26

Like many squads in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers have elected to blow it all up and go through a full overhaul. The 2016 firing of Frank Vogel , who missed the playoffs just once in his five-year tenure as head coach was the first step. The writing on the wall was apparent when franchise symbol Larry Bird stepped down as team president. Trading long-running franchise player Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason solidified that the team was ready to start over and head in a different direction. This time, the organization has decided to build the team around Myles Turner, and the big man will have ample opportunity to improve on his individual stats this season. How that translates on the court in terms of winning is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably wise to temper expectations if you’re a Pacers fan.

Pacers 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Joe Young Thaddeus Young, Glenn Robinson III, Lance Stephenson Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, TJ Leaf
Newcomers Darren Collison, Corey Joseph Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrod Uthoff Domantas Sabonis, Ike Anigbogu
Gone Jeff Teague Paul George, Monta Ellis, CJ Miles, Rodney Stuckey Kevin Seraphin, Lavoy Allen, Georges Niang, Rakeem Christmas
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: If Indiana’s four preseason games are any indication, head coach Nate McMillan will take an all-hands-on-deck approach to scoring this year without Paul George. He’s played at least nine players 15 minutes or more in the preseason, and even though his rotations will get much shorter during the regular season, McMillan still has the depth to go eight or nine deep this year, a sign that he has the personnel to play small and fast, something to keep an eye out for. Darren Collison is back in a Pacers uniform, replacing Jeff Teague as the starting point guard. Older, wiser and with more experience, the veteran point guard should easily emerge as the leader on the floor and in the locker room. While he’s more scorer than distributor, Collison understands how to play with a talented big man like Myles Turner after running with DeMarcus Cousins for three seasons in Sacramento. Turner’s focus this season should be to continue developing his offensive game. A capable three-point shooter for a big man who can also put it on the floor and connect on the intermediate game, if playing uptempo is the strategy this season, Turner should certainly benefit with his ability to run the floor like a gazelle. Another player back on familiar grounds is Victor Oladipo, who starred collegiately at Indiana and was part of the return package in the George trade. Even though he’s playing on his third team in five years, Oladipo is still just 25 with a long career ahead of him. At this point, however, Oladipo is what he is: an athletic wing player with an ability to get hot quickly at times, and during others, he can make you forget he’s even on the floor. Still, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 possesses an offensive ability that always makes him a threat and he should have plenty of opportunities this year to look for his own shot and make good on his draft spot. Indiana has a number of guys in Lance Stephenson, Corey Joseph, Glenn Robinson III and Bojan Bogdanovic, who can be leaned upon for scoring on any given night. The Pacers were middle of the pack in scoring last season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them move into the top-10 offensively, and in pace this year. They have a lot of guys who like to run and can excel in the open court, so it’ll be interesting to see how McMillan incorporates guys like Al Jefferson and Domantis Sabonis whose games are a better fit in a halfcourt setting. TJ Leaf, the rookie out of UCLA, will also be worth keeping an eye on how he’s used in McMillan’s offense. He’s one of those guys who can stretch the floor and is a solid rebounder. He certainly has a chance to crack the rotation as he’s looked good in the preseason so far, as has Jarrod Uthoff, the second-year wing from Iowa.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: Under Vogel, the Pacers were one of the better defensive squads in the League. Last year under McMillan they were middle of the road, a trend that will most likely carry over into this season as well, given the young roster. Indiana just doesn’t have the personnel or even the defensive identity to excel on this side of the floor. Turner is solid as a rim protector, averaging 2.1 blocks per game last year, doubling his swats from his rookie campaign. His size and athleticism allow him to cover a lot of ground and contest shots, even when out of position. He will need to be the anchor of the defense this season controlling the paint and the defensive glass much better than he has in his first two NBA seasons. At 6-11, he should certainly be grabbing more than seven rebounds per game and he has the ability to average double digits in scoring and rebounding. The question is does he have the physical and mental wherewithal to mix it up in the paint, or is he purely just a finesse big? Longtime veteran forward Thaddeus Young is Indiana’s best perimeter defender, because of length and ability to move laterally, but outside of these two, the Pacers don’t have players known for their defense. This is a team who will likely rely on timely stops to win games, as opposed to a playing high pressure, physical style of defense for 48 minutes like they did in years past.

Upside: It’s very limited here outside of Turner. It’s hard to replace what Paul George brought to the table. Still, with the Eastern Conference being as bad as it is, the Pacers may have just enough talent to squeak into the playoffs. But if they do, don’t expect them to make much noise.

Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Durability: The Pacers weren’t really hampered by injuries much last season with respect to their starters. Turner played in 81 games and Young appeared in 74. If you look at the new players to the team who will likely be in the starting unit, Oladipo dealt with nagging injuries that kept him out of 15 games last season, and Collison, for the most part is generally healthy and makes his starts. Anything can happen in the NBA, but the Pacers aren’t one of those teams where injuries have been a concern for them.

Experience: The Pacers don’t have a lot of experience where it counts, but that shouldn’t stop them from being a solid team this season. The best part about this squad is there are no expectations attached to any of the players. Turner, the star of the team, isn’t expected to carry this team to great heights in his third year. The goal for Indiana is to just stay competitive, and in the playoff hunt throughout the season.

Win Frame: 38-41 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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