Going into the season the Pacers will be quietly confident, yet again, for playoff success. Bojan Bogdanovic – who finished the season second in points per game for the team, and first in games started and minutes played – left in free agency for the Utah Jazz, and Thaddeus Young also departed from the franchise after three seasons, signing with the Chicago Bulls. Although statistically past his peak from his seasons with Philadelphia and Brooklyn, he provided the Pacers with a veteran presence and experience in crunch time situations.
Other notable loses include Wesley Matthews who signed with the Bucks, and former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who was banned by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug program.
Acting almost as a replacement for Bogdanovic, Indiana executed a sign and trade with Milwaukee for Malcolm Brogdon, coming off a season in which he became only the eighth player ever to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free-throw line. His sharpshooting and ability to handle the ball will be a much-needed relief for Victor Oladipo coming back from his quad injury, after Darren Collinson retired in the offseason to focus on his faith.
Jeremy Lamb is another under the radar pickup that will give the Pacers meaningful experience (being the only player currently rostered with more than six years of experience). Over the years, Lamb has been cited as a weak defensive player, however, last season (for the Hornets) he ranked in the top 15 amongst Shooting Guards in defensive real plus/minus and defensive player impact plus/minus (both stats that are generally cited as evidence of good defense).
T.J. Warren from the Suns was a surprise pickup for Indiana. Warren is a versatile scorer; however, he will have to remain healthy if Indiana are seriously looking to contend (having only played an average of 52 games a season since joining the league five seasons ago).
Indiana became a national underdog story going into the playoffs, after relying on the play of big men, Miles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Turner led the NBA in blocks per game at 2.7 (and ended the season only 6 blocks away from beating the rest of the entire roster combined) and provided interior defense the Pacers haven’t had since – in retrospect – the transcendent seasons provided by then Defensive if the Year candidate, Roy Hibbert. On a team which have been characterised as hard-nosed and rugged, Turner is the alpha dog on defense and will be an intimidator to anyone looking to challenge him in the paint.
Sabonis may have been the best Pacer on paper last season, leading the team in rebounds per game at 9.3, and shooting a franchise record 59 percent from the field. He also led the team in PER (21.9), TS percent (.630) and Win Shares (7.6). Despite this, scepticism persists on if Sabonis should be a starting player for Indiana, considering with him and Turner on the floor together smaller teams will have a huge speed advantage and could dominate on the perimeter. If Nate McMillan decides to pair the two near-7-footers, he will have to figure out a defensive scheme in which he can exploit the marked height differential.
It should be noted that whilst the only team in the NBA who have are not in negative cap space are the Atlanta Hawks, overall the Pacers have the fifth-most cap space, and currently sit around $14 million under the luxury tax threshold. Whilst unlikely, if the Pacers front office feels it necessary they can make more moves either this off-season or during the season.
Due to LeBron James’ exit to the Lakers in 2018, Kawhi Leonard’s move to the Clippers this year and Kevin Durant likely to miss the entirety of this season, the Pacers will have a similar sentiment to that of the 76ers, Celtics, Raptors and Bucks; the East is there for the taking.