NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Indiana Pacers
Coach: Nate McMillan (second year)
Last Season: 42–40 (seventh in Eastern Conference)
Notable Additions: Victor Oladipo (trade), Domantas Sabonis (trade), Cory Joseph (trade)
Notable Subtractions: Paul George (trade), Jeff Teague (free agent), C.J. Miles (free agent)
Vegas Over/Under: 31.5
Best-Case Scenario: Myles Turner is still just a baby, at least by basketball standards. But without George around, the 21-year-old is about to be the man in Indiana. Turner ranked in the 85th percentile for scoring efficiency last season, per Synergy, which is terrific for such a young player, and a sign that he has what it takes. But the game is about to get a lot harder for the center; George won’t be around to draw the double teams and traps anymore. But even under that added pressure, the Pacers shouldn’t shy away from feeding their young beast.
The best-case scenario for Indiana has little to do with wins or losses, or many other players for that matter. It has to do with Turner. McMillan should empower Turner to be the alpha: take shots when he’s open, attack relentlessly, and demand the ball from his teammates. It’s vital that Turner grows into his new role; any other scenario would be a major bummer.
The Pacers do have other players, to be clear. But the same logic applies. The team needs to focus on development. It’d suck to see Thaddeus Young siphoning minutes away from T.J. Leaf, Domantas Sabonis, or Ben Moore. Earthbound Al Jefferson should not be clogging the paint when Ike Anigbogu can soar far above it. We already know who Darren Collison is, and he shouldn’t take valuable playmaking reps from younger options like Victor Oladipo and Cory Joseph.
Aside from Turner, Oladipo is the most important player on the roster. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard played himself trading George for only Oladipo and Sabonis, and Oladipo’s game has plateaued since he was selected no. 2 in 2013, but he’s still just 25. Oladipo was a late bloomer in high school, then didn’t burst onto the scene until his junior year at Indiana. Perhaps the Pacers could get the last laugh if he experiences developmental déjà vu in the NBA. Nonetheless, Indiana is going to stink. But if it focuses on development, there is enough promise in the roster to distract from its short-term problems.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Pacers have a .497 winning percentage since joining the NBA in 1976-77, trailing only the .500 Atlanta Hawks as the most average regular-season team in league history. While straddling the league tightrope, the franchise has proved it can successfully build stars outside of the high lottery with George (no. 10), Reggie Miller (no. 11), Turner (no. 11), and Danny Granger (no. 17). The Pacers have made deep playoff runs in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. That formula has worked.
The true best-case scenario, probably in the eyes of ownership, is that their team remains competitive, fills the seats, and they still land an excellent prospect in the 2018 draft. It'd be misguided to bank on their excellent draft history repeating itself moving forward as the ownership tries for another futile playoff push.
The 2018 draft will feature a handful of top-tier prospects that could quickly put the team back on track. Whether it’s European sensation Luka Doncic, or an American forward like Michael Porter Jr. or Marvin Bagley III, the current top prospects are both extremely talented and sensational fits alongside Turner. The Pacers aren’t in a spot where they should worry about position. Talent accumulation is what matters, but it’s a happy coincidence the top prospects fit like a puzzle next to Turner.
The worst-case scenario is if the Pacers aren’t positioned to draft in the top five, six, or even seven for a chance at one of those franchise-changing prospects. It’s the final season with the current lottery odds. Better take advantage of it. If the Pacers want to reach greater heights with Turner as their centerpiece, he needs a partner in crime. Though they lost George, the East is weak enough that they could drag their way into the 7- or 8-seed of the playoffs. But the team shouldn’t sacrifice the future for the sake of being average again today.
TL;DR: Feed Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo everything they can handle.