2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

The Pacers seek postseason improvement under rookie head coach Nate Bjorkgren.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Will Victor Oladipo have a bounceback season for the Pacers?

When last seen, the Pacers were … getting bumped off in the first round, a headline you could have read any of the past five offseasons. It got old, and it demanded new – something, anything new. If not roster, then coaching staff, and that’s exactly what Indiana general manager Kevin Pritchard did, hiring Toronto assistant Nate Bjorkgren, who in turn rounded up a new staff. Whatever improvement the Pacers achieve this season will be credited mostly to their input in philosophy, style and points of emphasis. Whether that means a taste of the East semifinals remains to be seen.

What’s New? Bjorkgren will be hoping to replicate his former boss Nick Nurse’s success in sliding one seat over, albeit without Kawhi Leonard coming aboard. The Pacers almost stubbornly resisted the NBA tilt toward 3-point mania and ever-switching defenses under his predecessor Nate McMillan. McMillan got a lot of mileage and commitment out of his old-school ways, but finishing last in 3-point attempts, last in free throws and down the rankings in pace wasn’t working in springtime. T.J. Warren, after his bubble breakout, might enjoy working again with his development guy when they were in Phoenix. The starting lineup looks solid, despite the surprising stat they only played 86 minutes together in 2019-20.

What’s Missing: Wanting to play faster and actually doing it are two different things, though most of the Pacers seem capable – if Victor Oladipo doesn’t ball-stop too often. As much as his sustained health, Oladipo’s frame of mind (does he want to commit or leave?) could move Indiana’s mood meter almost by the day. The Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis big tandem ought to work, but “ought” still isn’t “will” – we need more evidence that Turner can play offense out to the arc and give Sabonis more high-post flexibility.

Potential Starting Five

Malcolm Brogdon | 16.5 PTS, 4.9 REB, 7.1 AST
The underrated playmaker will need to develop rhythm with Oladipo.

Victor Oladipo | 14.5 PTS, 3.9 REB, 2.9 AST
Seeking return to All-Star form after long injury layoffs.

Myles Turner | 12.1 PTS, 6.6 REB, 2.1 BLK
Prototype 3-and-D “stretch 5” needs to boost results on both ends.

T.J. Warren | 19.8 PTS, 4.2 REB, 1.5 AST
Confidence from his “star is born” bubble work could persist.

Domantas Sabonis | 18.5 PTS, 12.4 REB, 5.0 AST
Indiana missed newly minted All-Star (foot) in Orland restart.

Key Reserves

Justin Holiday | 8.3 PTS, 3.3 REB, 1.3 AST
Valuable deep threat and locker room guy.

Aaron Holiday | 9.5 PTS, 2.4 REB, 3.4 AST
His minutes might jump again in balancing backcourt workloads.

Doug McDermott | 10.3 PTS, 2.5 REB, 1.1 AST
A 43.5% shooter on 3s penciled in for more chances.

Indiana Pacers, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 45 28 0.616 109.5 19 107.5 6 +1.9 13
2018-19 48 34 0.585 109.4 18 106.0 3 +3.4 9
2017-18 48 34 0.585 108.5 11 107.3 12 +1.3 12
2016-17 42 40 0.512 107.9 16 108.1 15 -0.2 17
2015-16 45 37 0.549 103.8 25 102.2 3 +1.6 12

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Season Prediction

The Pacers weren’t shy about pointing out McMillan’s 3-16 playoff record when they fired him, so we’ll work with the assumption that’s where they seek real progress. That won’t be easy from a middle-to-low seed in an improved Eastern Conference, but continuous improvement through the first 72 can get them there for the next seven.

Predicted finish: 41-31.

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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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