2018-19 Season Preview: Are The Indiana Pacers Ready To Make Noise?
by 11 October 2018, 1:40 PM
After pushing the Cavaliers to seven games in the postseason, the Indiana Pacers are looking for more.
After parting with longtime franchise player Paul George, Indiana expected a slow turnaround, and was projected as a bottom feeder in the Eastern Conference. But thanks to the major breakthrough of young guard Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers outplayed expectations in 2017-18. In the end, the Pacers finished 48-34—good for fifth in the East—and pushed the eventual conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round. But after a surprising year with low expectations, the league will be ready for the upstart Pacers this year.
Luckily for Indiana, the roster has improved while much of the conference has held steady or weakened over the offseason. In free agency, the Pacers brought Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, and Kyle O’Quinn aboard to bring scoring punch off the bench. Without a doubt, Evans was signed to help alleviate Victor Oladipo’s scoring burden. With the Memphis Grizzlies last season, Evans averaged 19.4 points per game, better than five assists and rebounds, while shooting 39.9% from the three-point line. He also led Memphis with a 21.1 PER (minimum 10 games played). If he thrives in Indiana, he could be a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year threat.
The addition of sharpshooter Doug McDermott further strengthens the new Pacer offensive attack. Last season, Indiana ranked 26th in three-pointers attempted, 25th in made attempts, and ninth in percentage. These offseason additions would indicate that head coach Nate McMillan might look to modernize his offense by upping Indiana’s 3PA. Last season, which he split between the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks, McDermott averaged 7.8 points, while attempting 2.7 threes and making them at a 42.6% clip. He only averaged 21.8 minutes per game last season, and he might have to fight for minutes on the deep Indiana roster. Regardless, McDermott can be a significant cog in the offense when used correctly.
Indiana signed another former Knick in Kyle O’Quinn to back up Myles Turner at center. Renowned for his hardnosed offensive game, physical rebounding, and hustle, O’Quinn outperformed his $4.1 million contract last season. Though his averages might not impress, he was a shot of energy off the bench in his 18 minutes per contest in 2017-18, finishing fourth on the Knicks in PER. Per 36 minutes, he would’ve put up 14.3 points and 12.1 rebounds, and he is an underrated passer at the pivot. While he will also compete with Domantas Sabonis for minutes, O’Quinn is an excellent pickup at third in Indiana’s center depth chart.
Though the offseason additions will have the biggest impacts, Indiana also drafted Aaron Holiday with the 23rd pick out of UCLA. The brother of New Orleans’ Jrue and Chicago’s Justin Holiday, Aaron played three seasons in college and averaged 20.3 PPG and 5.7 assists in his junior year. He might not see many meaningful minutes for Indiana this year, as the NBA’s three-point percentage leader (46.8%) Darren Collison has the starter job locked down, and the scrappy Cory Joseph is slotted as the backup.
As demonstrated by Indiana’s successful 2017-18 campaign, Victor Oladipo is still the most important player for the Pacers this season. Though the Indiana front office made some nice supplementary moves in the offseason, they will still only go as far as their 2017-18 Most Improved Player can take them. Oladipo really broke out last year after a few middling seasons in Orlando and Oklahoma City. His breakout was predicated on his dominance on both sides of the ball for Indiana; he ranked in the league’s top-10 in points per game (23.1) and defensive win shares (4.0), while leading the NBA steals per game (2.4). Oladipo’s announced his presence in the league, now it’s time to lead the Pacers through the postseason.
One question mark for Indiana is Myles Turner. While he is still a very good—and very young—player, he did not really take the “next step” that some expected. In his sophomore season, Turner averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and more than two blocks per game (second in the league with 172 total blocks). However, he regressed in each of these categories last season, while missing 17 games with various injuries. At just 22-years-old, Turner can certainly course correct when fully healthy, and he could be the second-most important player for Indiana’s playoff hunt.
Unlike many of their Eastern competitors, the Indiana Pacers have improved their roster, with a focus on fixing their deficiencies. The class of the conference, Boston and Toronto, have improved by regaining a healthy Gordon Hayward and adding an MVP candidate, respectively. The East’s top three (including the 76ers) have a good chance at repeating their 2017-18 finishes this season, and Indiana also has a solid chance at finishing in the top five as well. The Cavaliers, who finished ahead of Indiana last year, might not even make the playoffs without LeBron James this season. Many are banking on a Raptors-Celtics Conference Finals, though the upstart Pacers could have a word to say about that.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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