2021-22 Kia Season Preview

2021-22 Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

Indiana has to improve its defense in 2021-22 if it hopes to climb the Eastern Conference ladder.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Will the Pacers return to the playoffs in 2020-21?

There are a lot of things the Indiana Pacers can get defensive about. Such as their problem with injuries, losing 250 man-games overall and 144 to preferred starters Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantis Sabonis and Myles Turner. Such as the name on their fine arena, formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse, then Bankers Life Fieldhouse and now, Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Such as internal strife that finds them with their third coach in three seasons, Rick Carlisle hired after Nate Bjorkgren and Nate McMillan.

But the No. 1 thing about which the Pacers should get defensive is … their defense. Carlisle has red-circled that end of the floor for work and improvement, and it was clear why. Indiana ranked a misleading 14th in points per 100 possession (111.9, same as their offensive rating). The Pacers were 24th in fast-break points allowed, last in opponents’ second-chance points and last in points given up in the paint (53.8). Those last two came in spite of Turner’s work down low as an elite shot blocker.

But wait, there was more: Indiana fouled too much (22nd), giving up too many easy points from the line (26th in free-throw attempts). So for all the offensive punch on the roster, those ambitions fade when the Pacers get punched in the nose first.


BIGGEST QUESTION

Who will step in to fill roles temporarily vacated by Warren and LeVert? Warren still is hampered by the foot injury that limited him to four games last season, with no known return date for now. LeVert, who had enough last season with surgery to remove a growth on his left kidney, began camp with a stress fracture in his back, also without a targeted return. That means holdovers such as Justin Holiday, Oshae Brissett and Jeremy Lamb or newcomer such as Torrey Craig or No. 14 pick Chris Duarte could see longer minutes early in the schedule.


SEASON PREDICTION

Based on the balance between their offense and defense, the Pacers at 34-38 were two games shy of their anticipated finish. They got mired in and bumped via the Play-In Tournament, thus missing the playoffs for only the second time in 11 seasons. Health, defense and blending the parts will determine their direction. Predicted finish: 41-41.


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

Malcolm Brogdon: Strong numbers in 2020-21 and usual stability, he might have luxury of shooting less often.

Caris LeVert: Optimism about clean start in camp dimmed by back injury, but he’s proven his resilience before.

Torrey Craig: Just a guess here as Warren placeholder, given his defensive chops under a new coach stressing that.

Domantas Sabonis: Play the two-time All-Star and fellow big Turner together or staggering minutes? Familiar question.

Myles Turner: Broadening his offensive game and keeping him healthy are Carlisle’s priorities for Turner.


KEY RESERVES

T.J. McConnell: Professional disruptor whose per-36 numbers — 11.9 ppg, 9.1 apg, 2.6 spg — are Jason Kidd-like.

T.J. Warren: All that potential shown in the Orlando bubble remains bottled up by his left-foot injury.

Justin Holiday: His bench scoring needed even more this season with departure of Doug McDermott.

Jeremy Lamb: Still around despite knee injuries and trade speculation, his scoring can help, his defense not so much.

Chris Duarte: Rookie and team could mutually benefit from minutes available and focus suited to his defensive game.


LAST 5 SEASONS

How the Pacers have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …

Season W L Win pct. OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2020-21 34 38 .472 111.9 14 111.9 14 +0.1 16
2019-20 45 28 .616 109.5 19 107.5 6 +1.9 13
2018-19 48 34 .585 109.4 18 106.0 3 +3.4 9
2017-18 48 34 .585 108.5 11 107.3 12 +1.3 12
2016-17 42 40 .512 107.9 16 108.1 15 -0.2 17

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


STAT TO KNOW

53.8 — Last season, the Pacers allowed 53.8 points in the paint per game, the highest opponent mark for any team in the 25 years for which points in the paint have been tracked.

— John Schuhmann

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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.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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