2017-18 Kia Season Preview

2017-18 Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

Indiana thought its rebuilding already had begun, with Paul George as a two-way star hitting his prime, Myles Turner as a coveted young big and a fellow like Jeff Teague arriving to organize the offense. But that plan unraveled when it became obvious George wasn’t going to stick around Indianapolis for long. That forced more changes to the roster, which moves the Pacers closer to Chicago in the Central Division than to Cleveland or Milwaukee. If this group can gel and win 32-35 games, it will have had what most would call a successful season.

> 30 Teams in 30 Days: With George era over, Pacers hopes center around Turner

> DA’s Offseason Rankings: Indiana is No. 30

> Pacers-Cavaliers series recap

ICYMI

Larry Bird gave folks a pretty clear idea of the Pacers’ direction when he stepped down as president of basketball operations at the start of May. He was succeeded by his lieutenant Kevin Pritchard for what figured to be — and has played out as — a significant makeover. … Indiana drafted an offensively skilled big man in taking UCLA’s T.J. Leaf with the 18th overall pick. Twenty-nine picks later, it added his Bruins teammate, Ike Anigbogu, who brought a sore right knee with him to Indianapolis. … Two weeks after the draft, the Pacers stunned the NBA by trading All-Star wing Paul George to Oklahoma City, opting to act sooner rather than later on George’s expressed interest in signing with the Lakers in July 2018. They got guard Victor Oladipo and young big man Domantas Sabonis in the deal, with NBA conventional wisdom suggesting that wasn’t enough. … Pritchard got busy adding more pieces after that, including free agent signees Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdonovic. Meanwhile familiar faces such as Monta Ellis and Kevin Seraphin will not be back.

THREE POINTS

1. Victor Oladipo is mad, which might be a good way for the Pacers to get his best basketball out of him. Getting traded never feels good, especially not when the team that traded you signed you to a four-year, $84 million extension 11 months earlier. Then there was all the chatter about how Indiana got snookered in the Paul George trade because Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis weren’t worthy. Oladipo isn’t on George’s level as a player, so he needs to be careful about pressing and trying too hard to fill the former Pacer’s shoes. That doesn’t mean he can’t strive to show fans at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse his best NBA self.

2. Myles Turner needs to move onward and upward in his development. The only Indiana starter the past two seasons who still is with the team, the young big man is being counted on to expand his game in just about every category, including 3-point shooting to build on his 34.8 percent accuracy from the arc last season.

3. Nothing like another overhaul at the point guard position to keep a team working overtime in October. From 2015 to now, the Pacers have gone from George Hill to Jeff Teague to Darren Collison as the starter, from Rodney Stuckey to Aaron Brooks to Cory Joseph as the backup. Actually, Collison and Joseph might end up in more of a time-share arrangement than a strict No. 1 and No. 2.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Lance Stephenson has been burning his tires at red lights for much of his NBA career, so it will be fascinating to see what he does with the green light he’s been given to be the Pacers’ Sixth Man. His skills make him an ideal candidate to attack offensively and bring points plus energy to a second unit. But he needs to do it under control and he needs to get the best out of the reserves who’ll be on the court with him for it to work over 82 games. It’s on Stephenson to show he has the mentality, the maturity, the durability and the conditioning to make this a success.

STARTING FIVE

Darren Collison | 15.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.9 apg

Well-traveled and back in Indiana to help as a veteran

Victor Oladipo | 15.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 apg

He won’t replace Paul George but he needs to be at the top of his game

Myles Turner | 14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg

Some other young bigs on roster may allow Turner to shift from center

Bojan Bogdonovic | 13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.4 apg

Washington’s payroll pinch made this valued 3FG shooter (36.7%) available

Thad Young | 11.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.6 apg

Pacers sagged noticeably when Young missed games with injuries.

KEY RESERVES

Lance Stephenson | 6.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.3 apg

Back in his safe space of Indy, Stephenson faces make-or-break year

Cory Joseph | 9.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.3 apg

His rebounds out of the backcourt will help Pacers in that need category

Glenn Robinson III | 6.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.7 apg

Backup wing suffered a left leg injury on fourth day of camp.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Rather than allow themselves to be rocked by George’s departure, the Pacers have opted to plug their holes with serviceable NBA players. Then again, anytime a team spends much time in the preseason talking about improved chemistry and camaraderie, that team likely has taken a personnel hit. Having to be the pluckier team on 82 nights across six months is a grind. It doesn’t leave much room for error, either. Almost everything will have to go right for the Pacers – draft picks developing, Oladipo and Sabonis thriving – to prevent them from getting stuck in the NBA’s vast middle.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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