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Indiana Pacers 2017-18 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Indiana Pacers as they begin life without Paul George.

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And so begins life after Paul George. What had been a year or two in the making finally occurred over the summer, as George was sent to Oklahoma City Thunder for the uninspiring return of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Now, the Pacers look to recover, somehow avoiding a complete rebuild in the process. This probably isn’t going to be a fun year, but Indiana’s rebuild isn’t the most depressing in the Eastern Conference by a long shot. There are some things to like here, and this will be the season when they cultivate the beginning of the organization’s next chapter.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Let’s start by admitting right out in the open that the Oklahoma City Thunder won the Paul George trade by a wide, wide margin, and then let’s use that as fodder to predict that the Pacers probably are due for a step back this season. Bringing Victor Oladipo back to Indiana is a fun narrative, and Myles Turner has the look of an All-Star, but outside of that it’s hard to know who the real players are on this team. I love Lance Stephenson, but it’s horrifying that he’ll be asked to play a leadership role on the team this year, and the rest of the roster is filled mostly with replacement-level guys. They will be worse than last year but perhaps better than many people expect. At least the new uniforms are fire, right?

4th Place — Central Division

— Joel Brigham

Everything for Indiana starts with the Paul George trade. Simply put, the Oklahoma City Thunder won that trade – regardless of the fact that George could walk away for nothing after this season. The Pacers took on Victor Oladipo’s bloated contract, did not get any draft picks and actually take on money in the deal. It’s one thing if the rest of the league made no offers on George. However, we know that there were other bids for George’s services, which makes this deal so puzzling. With a roster featuring Oladipo, young stud Myles Turner and a list of mostly replacement level players, it’s hard to see this team making much noise even in the weak Eastern Conference. There’s more that can be said about Indiana, but it’s hard to get much further than the lopsided deal that sent George to Oklahoma City.

4th Place — Central Division

— Jesse Blancarte

Much like their in-conference contemporary in Chicago, the Indiana Pacers lost most of their firepower from last season as well.

Heading into this year, the Pacers will be without Paul George and Jeff Teague, as both players made their trek into the Western Conference. As a result, Indiana has been left to switch immediately from postseason appearance to rebuild mode.

By securing Victor Oladipo, an Indiana State legend from his college time with the Hoosiers, in the George trade, the Pacers at least have some type of marketing ploy at their disposal. But past that and the continued emergence of young big man Myles Turner, next season looks pretty bleak for Indiana.

At least from the looks of it, the Pacers will have a decent draft pick in what projects to be a deep lottery crop next June.

4th place — Central Division

— Dennis Chambers

Life in the post-Paul George era certainly won’t be quite as exciting for the Pacers, at least not to get started. This team won’t be good enough to challenge for anything real in the East, and that’s put them in a slightly tough position: Their best team-building avenue might be to simply bottom out completely and shoot for a high draft pick, but they might have just enough talent on the roster to make this difficult. Guys like Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Thaddeus Young aren’t anyone’s idea of a contender, but they’re good enough to get you some wins in this awful conference. Combine that with some possible improvement from youngsters Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and securing a high lottery slot might not be so easy. Turner remains key here – his development should take priority over virtually any standings-related questions this year. Beyond that, we’ll see whether this Pacers team is taking a shot at the eight seed come trade deadline time, or whether they’re considering a fire sale and a full tank.

4th place — Central Division

— Ben Dowsett

Now begins life without Paul George.

On paper, the Pacers are a team that is full of complementary pieces, but one that’s devoid of one that’s capable of leading the pack. I count eight players on the roster that I like as individual contributors, but aside from Myles Turner, I’m not sure who (if anyone) has the potential to be a truly impactful player on his own. Through the early years of his career, Victor Oladipo has had some high moments, but he’s already been traded twice. To me, that means he failed to convince two separate franchises that he has “it.”

In the end, I expect this coming season to be a very long one in Indianapolis. You simply don’t trade a superstar like Paul George and get any better for it, and you especially don’t become any better for it by trading him for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers simply become another example of life coming at you fast in the league, especially for small market teams. If you stumble across a superstar, you have a short window to build his team into a perennial contender. If you fail and he skates town, you start all over. Unfortunately, the Pacers ran into Miami’s dynasty and saw the clock strike midnight.

4th place — Central Division

— Moke Hamilton

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Victor Oladipo

Let’s start by just pointing out the obvious here; Indiana lost a ton of scoring in their offseason overhaul. Between Paul George, Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles, Indiana is suddenly missing over 58 points per game which have not been replaced by the players they’ve brought in. Myles Turner, who averaged 14.5 points per game last season, should be a focus for the team offensively this year, but Oladipo is the player with best opportunity to average 20 points per game. He’s never done that, of course, but he’s come reasonably close. With years of experience and a bigger offensive role than he’s ever had, Oladipo appears to have the best opportunity to shine.

Top Defensive Player: Myles Turner

After averaging 2.1 blocks per game in just 31.4 minutes last year, Turner seems likely to be among the league leaders in that category this upcoming season as those minutes ultimately rise. Manning the middle last year, Turner allowed just 0.867 points per possession, which is a testament to just how effective he was as just a second-year player on a middling team. He’s quick for a guy his size, and his height, length and athleticism make him a nightmare for opposing players trying to score. In fact, opponents shot 8.4 percent below their season averages when he was the closest defender within six feet of the basket. He’s elite defensively, and should be even better (and stronger) this season.

Top Playmaker: Darren Collison

Collison has never averaged fewer than 10 points per game in his entire career, and only has failed to average four assists per game just once, making him the model of consistency on the offensive end in what will be his second stint with the Indiana Pacers this year. As the Jeff Teague replacement, he will be asked to do a lot of the same things (but for a lot less money), which will include splitting open defenses and finding open shooters. Even with fewer three-point marksmen on the roster this season, Indiana’s new starting point guard should still end up in the neighborhood of four to six assists per contest, easily the best of anybody on this Pacers team.

Top Clutch Player: Victor Oladipo

In April of last season, when Russell Westbrook had finally broken the triple-double record and took a night off ahead of the playoffs, the Thunder found themselves entrenched in a tight game with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Westbrook out of the game, Oladipo took the go-ahead shot with just a few seconds left in the game, and he sank it to seal the victory for OKC. After the game, Billy Donovan said, “I think Victor’s proven in his time being a young player that he’s a guy who’s not afraid of taking a big shot,” and while he’s playing for a new coach, if any big shots come up this year, expect Oladipo to be the one who takes them.

The Unheralded Player: Glenn Robinson III

Last year’s Dunk Contest champ is a lot more than just a leaper, as he proved in inconsistent minutes last year, despite 27 starts. He was incredibly up-and-down offensively all season, but flashed some really interesting moments late in the season, including a game-winning shot and a 20-point outing. Defensively, he’s quite good at forcing turnovers and is a good rebounder at the three spot on the floor, and all of this should come into light as he contends for the starting small forward spot this season. Bojan Bogdanovic is a shiny new toy that flashed bigger stats in Brooklyn and Washington last season, but Robinson is quietly a slightly better all-around player. Hopefully he gets the consistent minutes to prove it this year.

Best New Addition: Victor Oladipo

He better be, anyway. He was the reason Indiana felt better about Oklahoma City’s trade offer than any offer that might have included a draft pick, so for better or worse, Oladipo is the future in Indiana, along with Myles Turner. If he ends up falling flat in this opportunity to get huge usage, the George trade will look worse than it already does.

— Joel Brigham

WHO WE LIKE

1. Lance Stephenson:

Something about Indianapolis brings out the best in Stephenson, who got his groove back to a certain extent after rejoining the team last season. The fans have embraced him—there’s even going to be a “Born Ready Crew” fan zone at the Fieldhouse this year, named after Stephenson’s rap moniker—and he’s talking like a leader already this summer. Indy will need some measure of leadership from him this season, so hopefully he’s got it in him. If nothing else, Stephenson is far and away the team’s most entertaining personality.

2. Bojan Bogdanovic:

It seemed like in every EuroBasket game Bogdanovic played this summer, he’d be Croatia’s top scorer with somewhere between 20-25 points per game. He’s not going to pour in numbers like that with the Pacers, but considering how much offensive firepower departed this roster in the offseason, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to be among the team’s leading scorers. Indiana lost a lot of three-point shooting over the summer, too, and that’s another area where Bogdanovic will be useful. In short, the Pacers needed someone exactly like him to fill out this roster, and it’s hard to imagine him not squeezing into the role set out for him.

3. Cory Joseph:

An ideal fit in Kevin Pritchard’s pseudo-rebuild, Joseph is coming off a strong year in Toronto in which he averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists, meaning he should slot nicely right behind Collison in the point guard rotation. He’s only 25 years old, so there could be even better years ahead. Between his time in San Antonio and Toronto, he’s got quite a bit of playoff experience for a kid his age, which should be a welcome addition to a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of that in its clubhouse.

4. Domantas Sabonis:

As the other piece in the Paul George trade, Sabonis’ development as a second-year player will speak volumes about how Pritchard did in moving his former team cornerstone. Last season Sabonis shot 46 percent from three, but his bread and butter typically comes in closer to the basket, where his post moves are slippery enough to get the better of bigger, bulkier fives. He should back up Turner and get more of an opportunity to succeed playing on the receiving end of pick-and-roll plays that don’t involve Russell Westbrook. His defense and fouling need to come down to earth, but offensively he’s got a bright future.

— Joel Brigham

SALARY CAP 101

The Pacers are under the NBA’s $99.1 million salary cap by as much as $7.6 million, even after signing Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison (not to mention their blockbuster trade of Paul George to bring in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). Indiana also has their $4.3 million Room Exception.

Assuming the team picks up Sabonis’ team option for the 2018-19 season before November, the Pacers could have roughly $36 million in space next summer under a $102 million cap. That partially relies on Thaddeus Young ($13.8 million) and Cory Joseph ($7.9 million) opting out. Also, Al Jefferson, Bogdanovic and Collison each have partially-guaranteed deals for 2018-19; Lance Stephenson has a team option. The Pacers have valuable contract flexibility as the work through a rebuild in the post-George era.

— Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Nothing stands out. The team was top-ten defensively last year, but not only did they lose an elite perimeter defender in Paul George, they also added two brutal defensive players in Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison. Turner anchoring the defense will help, but chances are pretty good that this team will be in the middle of the road pretty much across the board this year. They are relatively young and athletic, which is a good thing, but statistically it’s hard to envision them overachieving.

— Joel Brigham

WEAKNESSES

Scoring is going to be the biggest problem this season. The Pacers were smack-dab in the middle of the league last season in terms of points scored per game, but that’s likely to take a hit with so many of the team’s top scorers gone in favor of lesser-scoring counterparts. It’s asking a lot for the offense to improve with worse offensive player, which places them squarely in the bottom half of the league in terms of scoring. Unless the defense is great, Indiana is going to get outscored a lot this season.

— Joel Brigham

THE BURNING QUESTION

What does life after Paul George look like, exactly?

From an aesthetic standpoint, we know it looks really, really different, thanks in large part to Nike’s radical redesign of the uniform sets. On the court, though, it’s hard to know how well (or perhaps how poorly) the team pops back up after the Paul George fiasco this summer. We expect a huge jump from Myles Turner, but we don’t yet know if he’s capable of shouldering a franchise. We expect Oladipo to make a leap, too, and if both players can do it, the playoffs are more than just a pipe dream for Indiana. If the Pacers underperform, though, they’ll wish they had gotten some draft picks in that George trade.

— Joel Brigham

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
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