If this sports wagering stuff were available everywhere, the smart money would be on the Pacers to finish 48-34. Why? Because that has been their record in each of the past two seasons. Despite injuries, despite roster changes and despite new looks from various Eastern Conference rivals, Indiana’s consistency of results is a reflection of the consistency of its players’ and coaches’ efforts. After an offseason of significant movement, both for the Pacers and their foes, chances are Indiana will figure it out again. It’s what they do.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers were done but the NBA playoffs still were chugging along in May when guard Tyreke Evans was suspended for two years for violating the league’s anti-drug program. Some saw this as a possible explanation for the decline in Evans’ play from his previous standards, particularly in his shooting. … Guard Darren Collison surprised many around the league when, on the brink of free agency, he announced he was retiring at age 31. … With the No. 18 pick in the first round, the Pacers drafted big man Goga Bitadze from Sararejo, Georgia. They tabbed Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley in the second round. … Other notable departures over the summer included Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph and Kyle O’Quinn. … Newcomers include Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren,T.J. McConnell and Justin Holiday, Aaron’s brother.
1. Malcolm Brogdon is ready for his close-up. While continuing to be a solid team-first guy, Malcolm Brogdon had grown weary of his role-player status with the Bucks. He had shown enough to create a market for his skills, with a price that got too rich for the Bucks’ blood. They worked out a sign-and-trade with Indiana and now will hope they don’t miss his clutch moments too much. Indiana gets a guy who they’ll lean on until Victor Oladipo returns, a player who figures to be renewed with his return to playing point guard.
2. Present in his absence. Oladipo is unquestionably the Pacers’ leader, though injuries can render such a player irrelevant while he rehabs. Oladipo’s strong presence has been muted during his recovery from right knee surgery. That’s why the Pacers are eager for his return, even as they don’t want to rush him back. The one-year anniversary of his mishap will come on Jan. 23 – that’s a fair target date for his return to action.
3. Turnover vs. turnovers. Two years ago, the Pacers began the season with seven new faces. Last season, they had five newcomers and seven of their nine top-salaried players heading toward free agency. Now here they are again, soldiering on without contributors such as Young, Bogdanovic, Joseph, O’Quinn, Collison and Evans. Roster upheaval is a fact of NBA life these days, but the lack of continuity can work against players’ and coaches’ best interests.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Domantas Sabonis. The promising young big man got some acclaim as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season, but by the end, he made it clear to management that he preferred to start. That was fine with Indiana center Myles Turner, though the twin-tower concept has been abandoned by most strategists. So it will be on the coaches and Sabonis to demonstrate that he can hit some outside shots and chase around other teams’ “stretch fours” to justify his starting role. The plot thickens, too, with Arvydas Sabonis’ boy eligible for a contract extension this month, with his eventual contribution unknown.
Malcolm Brogdon| 12.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 5.3 apg
Playing point again, freed from Bucks’ Bledsoe/Antetokounmpo log jam.
Victor Oladipo| 18.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg
Pacers were 25-11 with him, 23-23 when he did not play.
Myles Turner| 13.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.6 apg
Averaged 2.7 blocks; bosses want more rebounds.
T.J. Warren 14.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.5 apg
Seeking stability, Warren needs to show defensive chops now.
Domantas Sabonis | 11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.9 apg
Thaddeus Young was deemed expendable, so this move better work.
Jeremy Lamb| 15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.2 apg
A natural for the Sixth Man role, once Oladipo returns.
Aaron Holiday| 5.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
Backup point guard spot is waiting for him.
T.J. Leaf| 3.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.4 apg
Team’s third “T.J.” (with Warren, McConnell) facing pivotal third season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Coach Nate McMillan has his players’ respect, despite (or maybe because of?) some of his old-school ways. Indiana can reliably be counted on at the defensive end. But there are big challenges in both the frontcourt and the backcourt as the season begins. Oladipo’s return, for as many games as he can play, will be essential. These guys have been bumped from the playoffs in the first round for four consecutive springs. The old saying about how “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward” is starting to get some traction in Indy.
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