2016/17 Record: 42-40 (First Round Exit)
2017/18 Salaries: $95,903,311 (Under The Cap Team) – full IND salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: Nil.
Outgoing Draft Picks: BKN ’18 2nd (31-44).
Erick Dampier, Jonathan Bender and Paul George.
Not players you would necessarily normally link together, but these are the last three Indiana Pacers Top 10 picks (George at pick ten in 2010, Bender at pick five in 1999 via trade and Dampier at pick ten in 1996). Indiana’s inability to be bad enough to draft top end talent, or be a destination to attract high level Free Agents, eventually led to franchise star Paul George becoming frustrated with the organisation’s direction and his eventual departure. This leaves Indiana in unfamiliar territory.
It speaks to the Pacers remarkable ability to not bottom out that they have only had three top ten picks in twenty years, but it seems topical given the eventual departure of PG13 to OKC. In fact, the Pacers have not drafted near the very top of the lotto since Rik ‘The Dunking Dutchman‘ Smits was pick two in 1988. We’re talking nearly thirty years here!
Looking at this Pacers roster though, it would appear that a Top Ten pick is almost inevitable this season, even in a weak Eastern Conference. The Pacers managed to finish the 16/17 season at 42-40 and scrape into the playoffs, but that was with Paul George having a terrific year and a solid veteran supporting cast. While the Pacers are sporting a new look this season, it’s highly unlikely that a George-less (and to a lesser extent Teague-less and CJ Miles-less) Pacer team can get anywhere near that win total.
One major plus that Indiana does have is that they hit big on their last lottery pick, 2015’s Myles Turner. Turner made major strides in his Sophomore season, his first as a Full-Time Starter, and becomes the face of a new era of Pacer basketball. Turner opened the 16/17 season in highly impressive fashion, dropping 30/16/4/2 in a win over Dallas and showing what his future holds. While he never quite hit those super elite heights again, Turner showed that he could be a dominant modern day stretch 5 – capable of sticking top of the key threes and mid-range jumpers, while still providing the boards and blocks (where he was 3rd in the NBA last season) that big men are known for.
Turner has a soft touch and is particularly proficient in the pick’n’pop. He had the fourth highest catch and shoot makes for a Center in the NBA (behind the Gasol brothers and Brook Lopez) last season. That’s some of the most well regarded big men shooters in the league. It’s conceivable that, in time, he could be a 50/40/90 type percentages guy as a Center, which would really put him in unique company. In fact, no Center has ever done it before.
A comparison from each of their first full years as starters:
JERMAINE O’NEAL (22 Years Old, 2000 – 2001)
12.9ppg, 9.8rpg, 1.2apg, 0.6spg, 2.8bpg, 2.0tpg in 32.6mpg on 46.5%fg (10.5fga) and 60.1%ft (4.8fta).
MYLES TURNER (20 Years Old, 2016 – 2017)
14.5ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.3apg, 0.9spg, 2.1bpg, 1.3tpg in 31.4mpg on 51.1%fg (10.7fga), 34.8% 3fg (1.4 3fga) and 80.9%ft (3.7fta).
O’Neal came out of high school as an 18yr old and backed up a veteran Blazer big man crew for four seasons, before he broke out in his first full year as a starter in Indiana. However, it was O’Neal’s second season as a Starter where he truly became dominant, upping his numbers across the board, winning the Most Improved Player award and becoming an All-Star. His field goal attempts went up to 15.7 per game, as the Pacers clearly moved from being Reggie Miller’s (and Jalen Rose’s) team, to his.
Expect similar from Myles Turner this season, who with increased offensive touches, shot attempts and focus, should press for an All-Star berth this season.
Helping Turner make this push is former Indiana Hoosier, Victor Oladipo. Dipo joins the Pacers following a fairly non-descript season in OKC where he became the forgotten man hidden in Westbrook’s shadow. Dipo became a decent three point shooter playing off the ball (36.1% and 2.1 3fgm), but his free throw rate plummeted (down to just 2.3 fta per game last season) given he was relegated to spot-up shooting and rarely attacking the rim.
With the trade to Indiana, this will be perhaps the biggest opportunity that Dipo has had thus far in his NBA career.
Oladipo has largely stagnated over the past three years – a combination of playing for an Orlando franchise that lost its way, and that lone, forgotten year in Oklahoma. Dipo has all the tools to be a two-way wrecking ball, but has not been able to put those pieces together for more than just flashes of brilliance. Consistency will be key, and Oladipo will have the ball in his hands perhaps more than at any other time in his career. Of all guards that played over 30 minutes per game last season, Oladipo ranked 27 out of 36 players with a 21.4% in Usage rate, sandwiched between Zach LaVine and new teammate Darren Collison. For the Pacers to even remotely challenge for a playoff spot, Oladipo simply must have the ball in his hands.
Now at age 25, can Dipo step up and begin to deliver on being a former number two pick, embedding himself as key member of this Pacer rebuild? Or is Oladipo just who he is, a second or third tier Shooting Guard with a large contract? This season will be a great litmus test.
The Pacers also managed to sign a couple of solid veterans in Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic, and while the initial investment may look a little heavy, it’s important to note that Indiana have maintained total flexibility with these contracts. The Pacers have just $37.2mil in Guaranteed Contracts heading into the 18/19 season, and will have some salary cap space to splash around – even if they are not normally known as a destination ball club. Should the Pacers begin to falter towards mid-season as expected, they may decide to trade these two to contenders and look to acquire some picks to assist in the rebuild.
The Pacers have got their franchise Center. They have Oladipo locked up until 2020/21. What they desperately need is another high end talent – a young, talented SF/PF who can provide the versatility, shooting and athleticism that the modern day NBA demands. There are a number of players that fit the bill in the 2018 NBA Draft – Luka Doncic just balled out in Eurobasket, Michael Porter Jr looks like a star, and Marvin Baguley III could be a perfect fit next to Myles Turner. The Pacers just have to be bad enough to get there.
Turner and who? We might not find out until 2018.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: C-
2017/18 Prediction: 30-52
The Pacers are in for a long year, with the loss of Paul George leaving them destitute at the wing spot. The jury is well and truly out on whether the Pacers got enough for their star wing, but expected growth from Turner and a potential career year from Oladipo would make this season a success, just not in the win column.
Player To Watch: Thaddeus Young
Thad Young has not seen a lot of wins lately. He’s also found it hard to find a home, with the Pacers representing his fourth team in five seasons. Young played for Philadelphia in 13/14 (19-65), split the 14/15 season between Minnesota (11-42 when traded) and Brooklyn (17-13 post-trade) in 14/15, Brooklyn (21-61) in 15/16, Indiana in 16/17 (42-40) and now finds himself once again in a rebuilding phase. Thad holds a Player Option of $13.7mil for 18/19, and may choose to opt-out to secure a longer deal and a Sixth Man role on a contender.
Four Key Questions:
1. Who gets the start at PG? Collison or Joseph?
With Jeff Teague moving on to the Wolves, the Pacers now have two new backcourt leaders. GM Pritchard has showed interest in extending Cory Joseph, and Darren Collison has a non-guaranteed second year. Both players will be fighting to prove that they deserve a longer term investment and are worthy starting Point Guard’s in this league. This will be an interesting training camp battle.
2. Can Lance Stephenson stick?
“Born Ready” is back where he belongs. After appearing to be on the cusp of an All-Star berth at just 23 years old, Stephenson took the money and ran to Charlotte – and has bounced around in nondescript stints with the Clippers, Grizzlies and Minnesota before finding his way home. Now at age 27, can Stephenson stick in Indiana and provide swagger and a stabilising veteran presence? Or will the wind blow Stephenson out of the NBA altogether? With Stephenson, you never really know which Lance you’re going to get.
3. Is Glenn Robinson III the answer at SF?
One of the toughest training camp battles will likely be at SF, where Glen Robinson III and Bojan Bogdanovic will slug it out for starters minutes. Robinson III started 27 games last season and brings youth, defense and athleticism, while Bogdanovic is a terrific floor-spacer and veteran presence. Of those 27 games Robinson III started, five of them were at SF. In those five games? 15.2ppg, 6.4rpg, 1.0apg, 0.8spg, 49.1%fg, 2.2 3fgm (52.4% 3fg), 81.8%ft in 39.0mpg. Robinson III may have the inside edge for the starting spot, but the Pacers’ starting lineup looks lean on floor spacing. If Robinson III struggles from deep, expect Bogdanovic to step in.
4. Is Domantas Sabonis more than a throw in?
2016’s #11 overall pick Domantas Sabonis started 66 games for OKC last season, but not surprisingly, struggled somewhat with the increased athleticism in the NBA and offensive role he was cast in. Limited predominantly to spot up three point shots (2.0 3pa from 5.9 fga last season), Sabonis shot just 39.9% from the floor last season. While he showed some potential as a stretch four, the Pacers will likely let him compete with rookie TJ Leaf for key backup rotation minutes. Is he the reincarnation of Austin Croshere? Or can he uncover more of the old man in his game?