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Shaun Livingston Knows His End Is Near

Spencer Davies discusses a multitude of topics with Golden State Warriors’ veteran Shaun Livingston, including retirement, player development and the season.

Spencer Davies

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Ever since taking hold of the Golden State Warrior reins in 2014, Steve Kerr has had an embarrassment of riches to work with.

The mainstays—a two-time NBA MVP in Stephen Curry, a three-time All-Defensive first-teamer in Draymond Green, a four-time All-Star in Klay Thompson—got their first taste of gold in year one of Kerr’s tenure.

Sprinkle in Kevin Durant, a former regular season MVP and two-time Finals MVP, to sweeten the original pot and it’s resulted in two more NBA titles (three in total). And, with DeMarcus Cousins added to the mix, the team may end up with its fourth in five seasons.

Those are the sexy names, the media darlings and the star talent—but there are two players who have been there since the inception of this dynasty that don’t receive nearly enough credit.

Mention Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston to Kerr and you’ll hear him rave.

“In many ways the unsung heroes of our team over the last four years,” Kerr said of his veteran pairing.

As the “backbone” of Golden State’s second unit, Iguodala and Livingston have made their biggest impact through pestering opposing offenses. Having the luxury of tall wings with long arms, Kerr experimented with a tactic, which, at the time, hadn’t been implemented before. To say it worked would be an understatement.

“They represent a lot of what we’ve done defensively, in that, we put a bunch of 6-7 guys who could switch,” Kerr said. “And Shaun and Andre were two of the biggest reasons we decided to go with that strategy because they were great with that stuff.

“So I’m just lucky to have coached them and to continue to coach them. They still are an enormous part of what we do, on and off the floor.”

Father Time Is Undefeated

Both Iguodala and Livingston were selected in the top 10 of the 2004 NBA Draft, with the former being older than the latter.

Though Iguodala’s 36,013 career minutes essentially doubles that of Livingston’s total, the younger one feels about the same age as him.

Battles with injuries early in his career and putting in extra hard work to continue playing at 33 years old have admittedly worn on Livingston.

In late November, Iguodala hinted to NBC Sports Bay Area about retiring within the next few seasons. Is it fair to say Livingston is in the same boat?

“I mean, honestly who knows?” Livingston told Basketball Insiders as Warrior trainer Drew Yoder wrapped a bag of ice around his knees. “A year, couple years? But I mean, it’s coming sooner than later. Handwriting is on the wall.”

Named Mr. Basketball for Illinois in 2004 and a McDonald’s All-American standout at Peoria Central High School, Livingston was a top point guard prospect in the nation. Instead of attending Duke, he decided to enter the draft, where the Los Angeles Clippers took him fourth overall.

Livingston’s stint with the Clippers went well when he played. The issue was his body wouldn’t allow him to stay on the floor.

As a rookie, a dislocated right patella and torn shoulder cartilage sidelined Livingston for 52 games. The following year, he missed the first 21 games of the season with a lower back injury.

What happened on Feb. 26, 2007, however, was a tragic moment no basketball fan will ever forget.

On a fastbreak drive to the basket, Livingston lost his balance after a layup attempt and landed awkwardly. Writhing in pain, he had broken his left leg, dislocated the same knee, severely sprained his MCL and tore his ACL, PCL and meniscus—all in one life-changing sequence.

It was so devastating that Livingston almost lost his leg. He had to re-learn how to walk. Months upon months of rehabilitation were necessary to do so.

But Livingston was determined to return. Sure enough, in June 2008, he was cleared to resume basketball activities.

His contract with Los Angeles had already expired and he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, so he became an unrestricted free agent.

While he was blessed to be playing at all, the road was still rocky for Livingston from there. The Miami HEAT offered him his first contract post-injury. He only played four games for the organization before he was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies and subsequently waived the same day.

Whatever it was—a D-League stint, 10-day contracts, trades—Livingston continued to grind, playing for seven organizations in six years. He found footing at the end of 2013 in Cleveland and continued the momentum the next season in Brooklyn, where he started a career-best 54 games and averaged 26 minutes per contest.

Livingston’s fight to not only keep his career afloat, but also make an impact in the process attracted the Warriors’ front office towards him. Three championship seasons later—the rest is history.

“Just being able to get to a position to where I can contribute, and for me personally, that was my goal,” Livingston said of what kept him going. “My goal was to continue to get better and be on better teams.

“I felt like if I was on better teams and able to contribute to a winning team, I felt like I was doing something right because they wanted me.”

So how will Livingston look back on his career when it is all said and done?

“I’ll be pretty proud of the fact that I was able just to stick with my career,” Livingston said. “I didn’t give up on myself.

“It’s just something to hang my hat on. A part of my character. It’s who I am more than anything, not the kind of player I was. It’s more about who I am as a person. That means more to me than anything I could do on the court.”

Who’s Up Next In The Bay

Of course, the show must go on in Golden State once Livingston decides it’s time to retire. Luckily for the franchise, they have a ton of promising players on deck.

Warrior guards Quinn Cook and Jacob Evans, along with young frontcourt players like Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and Damian Jones, are the future. Some of them are getting meaningful minutes already, while the others are observing and preparing themselves.

“I mean, those guys are grinders,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “They’ve worked their way to this position, now it’s about getting better. It doesn’t stop once you’re here. They haven’t ‘made’ anything. It’s just about getting better and continuing to help the team grow.”

As soon as the subject of growing talent was brought up, Livingston loudly responded with a stern voice: “LOONEY.”

“I mean that’s a perfect example,” Livingston said. “He’s our most important big right now with Draymond [Green] out, know what I mean? ‘Cause of what he brings to the table and he knows how to play. He’s always in the right spot.

“So that’s the progression of him being here these years and watching, learning from the vets – watching Andre [Iguodala], watching Draymond. And now he’s one of the main core guys that has to be on the floor.”

Player development is an element of Golden State’s organization that hasn’t really been talked about all that much, but has certainly been impactful on the depth of the roster.

Just look at when Curry went down with an injury—Cook had to step in and start, while two-way player Damion Lee supplanted those bench minutes.

Or with Green and, recently, Jones being out now, consider the job Looney, McKinnie and Bell have done filling the void.

“It’s important for every organization to grow from within and to develop young players, guys who may be new to the league and put into complementary roles,” Kerr said.

“We work really hard with our guys who are in that situation and I think they’ve made great strides. But it’s critical. You have to constantly be thinking about your entire roster.”

Durant insists that player development is the main focus of the league and has been an integral part of Golden State’s reign as champions.

“Obviously when you win, it’s always about the trophy or the guys that help you get the trophy,” Durant told Basketball Insiders. “But you’ve got a lot of young guys in our organization that work extremely hard every day. That’s the core of the league. That’s just the foundation of the league, is player development.

“It’s a next man up league and you’ve got an opportunity to play or get minutes, shots and you want to take full advantage. So everybody’s putting in that work just in case their number’s called.”

And if you want to know who’s next up for the Warriors, both Livingston and Kerr agree that it’s Evans.

Focus On The Season At Hand

While looking at the past and pondering the future can be on Livingston’s mind, he is 100 percent locked in on what’s happening in the present.

Golden State’s record is 17-9, good for fourth place in an extremely tight Western Conference at the beginning of December. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster season for the back-to-back defending NBA champions.

“Keeping guys’ body language, keeping their spirit right, that’s pretty important,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders of powering through.

There has been a bunch of injuries to key players, reported discord between certain guys in the locker and inconsistent effort game-to-game. Basketball Insiders asked what needs improvement on the court.

“I think it’s our defense, but I think that comes from energy and effort,” Livingston said. “I think we have the right group. And part of that is we’re a younger group, so we’ve got some young guys out there that’s feeling their way out.

“But it comes down to energy and effort and sometimes in the regular season, obviously the 82-game schedule catches up to you.”

However, the Warriors are well on their way back. After missing 11 games with a groin injury, Curry has returned to the floor, invigorating the team’s spirit with more than just his talent.

“The fact that he’s the type of player he is only elevates us,” Livingston said. “And then, his presence, as far as just his positivity. He never gets too down on himself. It’s just more about next play mentality and that just always helps coming from your best player.”

Livingston’s shooting numbers are down this year. On the bright side, he is coming off a 3-for-4 night against the Cavs.

He’s not asked to do much scoring with the abundance of talent around him, but when he does, there’s always the bread-and-butter of Livingston’s game—the backdown, turnaround 10-foot jumper.

It’s been a staple to the veteran’s career ever since he’s been in the league and it has served as a dagger to many opponents.

“You always have to try to have a go-to move or something that can get you a bucket when you need it, that you rely on when you may be struggling,” Livingston said. “It’s just about being a threat on the court and that’s really where it comes from.”

Pose a question to Livingston about what makes him who he is as a player, and he’ll tell you that it’s unselfishness—the characteristic that made Livingston so highly sought-after as an 18-year-old.

And that’s why Kerr and Golden State’s organization love him.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA Daily: Horton-Tucker Making Most Of Time With South Bay Lakers

David Yapkowitz has a chat with Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Talen Horton-Tucker about getting reps in the G League with South Bay and what he sees his role being in the NBA when that time comes.

David Yapkowitz

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When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Talen Horton-Tucker this summer, the expectation was that he probably wouldn’t receive much playing time. On a veteran-laden team with championship expectations, there wasn’t going to be much of a role for a rookie.

That was further accentuated when Horton-Tucker suffered a stress reaction in his right foot, causing him to miss all of Summer League, which kept him limited during training camp. When he was finally cleared to return to the court, the Lakers assigned him to their G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers.

He has suited up in only one game for the Lakers this season, but he’s played in every game with South Bay so far. In 11 games in the G League, he’s shown flashes of why the Lakers still drafted him despite suffering the foot injury during the draft combine.

His time in the G League was his first meaningful court action since leading Iowa State to the NCAA Tournament last spring.

“It feels great to be out here finally. I’m just trying to catch a rhythm with South Bay,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just taking it a day at a time. I feel like it’s been pretty good for my overall growth, that’s what’s important.”

Horton-Tucker has fit in well with the South Bay roster. He’s shown an ability to shoot from the perimeter at times, and he’s looked comfortable in putting the ball on the floor and making plays off the dribble.

His shot hasn’t always been on point, though. He’s shooting only 32.4 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from the three-point line, but he’s gotten good looks from the perimeter within the flow of the offense. And despite that, he’s made himself valuable on the court by contributing in other ways. He’s attacked the glass well, and he keeps the ball moving while looking to set teammates up for easy shots.

He’s managed to average double-digits in scoring with 11.8 points per game, and he’s put up 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists as well. Being able to be a positive on the court when his offense isn’t quite there yet is something he believes will help his career moving forward.

“I feel like if you play basketball, you’ve got to learn how to do everything. It’s just something I got to do,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Whenever my shot is not falling, I know I can stay involved and rebound. I’ll still be able to contribute to a winning environment. I feel like I’ve been doing that the last few games that my shot hasn’t been falling.”

A few years ago, Horton-Tucker wouldn’t have had this opportunity to work on his game. The G League was much smaller than it is now, and most teams didn’t have affiliate they could send young players down to for development. NBA teams didn’t use the league as much, and many players viewed being sent down as punishment rather than a positive.

Without the G League, Horton-Tucker would likely have spent the majority season gathering splinters on the Lakers bench. With the growing expansion and usage of the G League, he’s able to get actual game reps in against legitimate competition to stay fresh.

He knew coming into this season that he wasn’t going to play much for the Lakers, if at all, so he’s grateful for being able to play with South Bay.

“It’s good to get your run in when you need to. I understand that I’m probably not going to get minutes with the Lakers right now,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I feel like the G League has been great. It helps us get our reps in and it helps our careers get started.”

While Horton-Tucker is still very young — he was one of the youngest players in the draft and just recently turned 19 years old last month — he has a skill set that should be able to eventually translate to regular NBA minutes. He’s a big guard who can generate his own offense, and he’s strong enough and skilled enough to be able to match up defensively against multiple positions.

He was recalled to the Lakers this weekend for their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played in two minutes of garbage time and missed his only shot, a three-pointer. He’ll likely return to South Bay sometime soon, and when he does get brought back to the Lakers, garbage time minutes will be his role. But the NBA can be unpredictable at times, and injuries and whatnot can strike at a moment’s notice forcing players into immediate action.

In the event that he is called upon for regular minutes at some point this season, Horton-Tucker is confident in what he can bring to the team.

“I feel like I can bring the same things I bring to this team right now,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “It’s my versatility, being able to do things like rebounding, passing, just doing whatever they need me to do, I can do that.”

The Lakers are clearly going to be in win-now mode for the duration of LeBron James’ contract, but if Horton-Tucker continues with his development, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the court. He’s going to use this year to continue to learn, with the hopes of being able to play a meaningful role next season.

“I just want to get better all around. I want to play on the Lakers next year, that’s just my goal,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Not being cocky or anything, but that’s just my goal, to play with the Lakers next season. That’s something that I’m going to work hard towards.”

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NBA Daily: Most Improved Watch – 12/6/2019

A quarter of the way into the season, multiple players have begun separating themselves for the Most Improved Player award. Quinn Davis takes a look at five of these players and why they are worthy of the consideration.

Quinn Davis

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The NBA season is now a quarter of the way through and the sample size is nearly large enough to make meaningful assessments of players and teams. This sample size is especially important when evaluating the Most Improved Player, as an early-season hot streak could prove to be fool’s gold by Christmas.

Two weeks ago, Basketball Insiders grouped certain players together to encapsulate a large number that could then be reasonably considered for Most Improved. Now, some of those players have separated themselves, rendering those groups unnecessary.

Andrew Wiggins has fallen closer to Earth since his early-season shooting barrage, while Brandon Ingram has continued his hot start and has shown no signs of cooling off. Luke Doncic has been a revelation and an MVP candidate, while Trae Young has continued to put up impressive numbers but is stuck on a 5-17 Hawks team.

I’ve already given away two, but here are the five names that have stood out from the rest.

5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Siakam has cooled a bit after his scorching start to the season, but his vast offensive improvements still make him worthy of a spot on this list. He is still hitting 38 percent of his non-corner threes and has been the central cog of the Raptors’ offense.

The Raptors’ offense is blitzing opponents with Siakam on the court, scoring about 114 points per 100 possessions. With him off, that number plummets to 99.8 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s the equivalent of going from the second-best offense in the league to two points below the New York Knicks’ league-worst number.

Siakam is using three more possessions per game than last season in isolation and is scoring 0.90 points per possession on those plays. That’s only slightly below the 0.97 number he put up last year on the much lower volume. His post-game has also stayed efficient with higher usage. He is taking two more possessions per game in that department and is scoring 1.01 points per possession, compared to 1.08 last season.

His unique combination of strength and balance allows him to make multiple moves while staying in complete control. Here he overpowers a very good defender in Royce O’Neale, before flipping up a nifty turnaround bank shot.

The most impressive part of his game this season might be his pull-up shooting. This was simply not in the repertoire last season. He can dribble at the top of the arc and launch a three on a sagging defender with confidence like he does here over Bojan Bogdanovic.

Siakam has been great, but the biggest hindrance to his Most Improved campaign will be the fact that he won the award the last year. If his efficiency continues to dip, he will likely not receive consideration. That said, his jump to near-superstar this season is worthy of praise.

4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Next on our list is a player who has also made a leap to superstardom. Doncic has taken the league by storm in his second season, blossoming into a genius point-forward that can dominate as a scorer or a passer on offense.

He is putting up stat lines that can only be described as Lebron-esque. Just earlier this week, he put up 33 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists against the Pelicans, physically overpowering their frontcourt at only 20 years old.

Per Cleaning the Glass, his usage is at 40.5 percent, which is second in the league to only James Harden. Doncic has been asked to completely control the offense in only his sophomore season and has done so better than anyone could have expected.

Despite the increased usage, his effective field goal percentage has increased six percent from last season. Doncic’s three-point percentage has stayed constant at 34 percent, so this increased efficiency is coming almost solely from his dominance at the rim.

He is finishing 72 percent of his shots at the rim, up from 62 percent in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass. Doncic is also drawing fouls at a higher rate. He looks comfortable attacking NBA bodies and using his size to get where he wants on the court.

His scoring is bested only by his virtuoso passing. Better, Doncic’s assist rate is up a whopping 17 percent this season to 48.7 percent, putting him second in the league in that category.

Additionally, Doncic has the ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes. In the play below, he stares down the cutter on their move to the rim. Jordan Clarkson notices this and shifts to the paint to help. As soon as he veers too far from Delon Wright in the corner, Doncic whips the pass that way for a wide-open three.

Doncic’s MVP consideration may overshadow his Most Improved consideration, but the leap he made this season is certainly one of the league’s biggest.

3. Bam Adebayo, Miami HEAT

Adebayo makes his debut on this list after throwing his hat into the ring over the last few weeks. His defense has been key in the HEAT’s strong start to the season, anchoring the middle and keeping opponents out of the paint.

Opponents take only 31.4 percent of their total shots at the rim when Adebayo is on the court per Cleaning the Glass. That places in the 90th percentile of the league. When Adebayo takes a rest, that number soars to 40.9 percent, which is in the fifth percentile of the league.

His raw numbers are up across the board as well. The center is averaging a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while shooting an efficient 56 percent from the field. Adebayo is up over 40 percent from mid-range for the first time in his three seasons.

The most impressive improvement in his game might be his off the bounce ability. He can consistently roast unsuspecting defenders with a quick dribble move to the cup. Here’s Jaylen Brown, thinking he is safe to relax guarding a center at the elbow. Adebayo uses one devastating jab step to shake Brown and get all the way to the rim for the dunk.

There are not many centers in the league that can move that quickly to the rim against a wing defender. If Adebayo keeps up the stellar defense and starts making a bit more of an impact on the stat sheet, he should garner serious consideration for Most Improved.

2. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Brandon Ingram’s hot start was written off by some as streaky shooting, but it seems apparent now that he is well on his way to the best season of his career. He is still at 43 percent from deep and he seems more comfortable than ever before at shooting off the catch.

Ingram’s catch-and-shoot three-point percentage is up to 46.5 percent, a steep increase from his 31 percent last season. Even his free throw percentage, which has hovered in the ’60s through his first three years, is now up to about 84 percent.

Most of all, his raw stats are probably his best argument for the award. Ingram is up to 25 points, 7 rebounds and four assists with an effective field goal percentage of 56 percent, career-highs in all categories. As of now, he is having a rare year in which there’s an increase in both usage and efficiency.

He has significantly improved his pick-and-roll game this season as well. The Pelicans have scored 0.94 points per possession with Ingram as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, per NBA.com. That is up from the 0.79 number the Lakers posted in those situations last season.

In previous seasons, Ingram had a tendency to settle for long mid-range jumpers out of the pick-and-roll. He has decreased his attempts from that area now, opting instead to either take the three or get closer to the rim for a floater.

The talented youngster also has had more success attacking switches. If a smaller defender picks up, Ingram is able to use his size and length to get to the rim and easily convert the layup, as he does here against Devin Booker.

If Ingram’s statistics stay at their current levels, he will be right a the front of the race for Most Improved.

1.Devonte Graham, Charlotte Hornets

Simply put, Devonte Graham has been the leader of this race since day one. His meteoric rise from second-rounder seeing minimal court time to stud sixth-man to flamethrowing starting point guard has been a joy to watch.

Graham’s three-point barrage has been unprecedented. After canning 10 triples against the Warriors Wednesday night, Graham is up to second in the league in made threes, behind only the incomparable Harden.

The way Graham hits these threes is a work of art. In the first look at Most Improved, Graham was posting an unreal 50 percent mark on his pull-up. He is down to 41 percent now, but that number still ranks among the best in the league.

If he comes off a high screen and sees daylight, that ball is going up. His release is quick and fluid, leaving no chance for a sagging center to affect the play.

Graham has carried the Hornets’ offense through the first 20 games. The Hornets score about 112 points per 100 possessions with Graham playing. That number drops to an abysmal 95 when he sits, per Cleaning the Glass.

His pull-up shooting combined with much-improved passing — his assist percentage is up to 35.7 percent — has been the lone bright point for a mediocre team.

Being drafted in the second round and seemingly coming out of nowhere makes his story the most likely to gain Most Improved traction throughout the year. If his shooting keeps up, he will be the clear frontrunner for this award.

Those five are the stand-outs, but there is a lot of the campaign left to play. Any number of players could turn a corner and vault themselves into this conversation. Be sure to stay locked to Basketball Insiders as track every major award throughout the season.

In the hunt: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malcolm Brogdon, Trae Young, Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Isaac, Jaylen Brown, Luke Kennard, Aron Baynes, Devin Booker, OG Anunoby, Jabari Parker

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NBA Daily: Pacers Preparing For The Future

Without their star player leading the charge, the Indiana Pacers have quietly been laying the groundwork for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. Chad Smith details how Indiana’s strong start will pay dividends in the second half of the season.

Chad Smith

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Head coach Nate McMillan entered this season fully aware that he would be without his superstar guard for several months. He was cognizant of the roster turnover and understood that the team chemistry was going to take some time. He also knew that the Indiana Pacers had a soft schedule to start the year and that they had a golden opportunity to position themselves well upon Victor Oladipo’s eventual return.

Things got off to a rocky start, as they dropped their first three games, which came against the Cleveland Cavaliers and then the Detroit Pistons sans Blake Griffin. Since then though, Indiana has been on a tear by posting a 14-5 record since the night before Halloween. Over that time span, only the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers have won more games.

Even the losses have been close, tightly contested games too. They lost an overtime thriller in Charlotte, suffered a nine-point loss in Houston, fell to the Bucks and had a three-point loss in Philadelphia. Given their situation with all of the injuries and new personnel, it has been a remarkable first quarter of the season.

While the schedule has been extremely light and the easiest in the league there have been quality wins as well. They have beaten Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, Memphis, plus Orlando two times each. They also have a victory over Utah, but the Jazz haven’t quite been the elite team that many pegged them out to be before the start of the season.

Sure, it sounds cliché but you can’t worry about how the schedule looks, you have to win the games in front of you. Every team will have some easy stretches on their schedule, but those are the games that must be won. For Indiana, this is especially true as they fight without their All-Star guard. Once healthy, this should be a formidable group in the Eastern Conference.

Jeremy Lamb has already missed nine games, while Myles Turner lost eight with concussion-like symptoms. Then there’s Malcolm Brogdon out for three and Domantas Sabonis was for an additional two games. Edmond Sumner has missed the most time as he has played just three games due to a broken hand.

Brogdon was the big addition this off-season, and he has been sensational. The former Rookie of the Year is averaging 19 points, five rebounds and eight assists as the head man. The dynamic guard led the league in free throw percentage a year ago and is on pace for a repeat performance again this season.

Indiana’s biggest concern heading into this season was if the duo of Turner and Sabonis would work. So far, so good. Sabonis is having a career year averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds while also dishing out 4 assists per game. The former Gonzaga product is a big reason why the Pacers have had success in the paint.

Turner led the league in blocks last season, but somehow didn’t even make one of the three All-Defensive teams. That has motivated him to be more aggressive and more diligent in his defensive positioning. His rebounding has improved, and he continues to be an elite stopper at the rim averaging 2.3 blocks per game.

After his first five seasons in the league were clouded by defunct teams in Phoenix, TJ Warren has proven that he is a capable scorer at this level. After shooting a career-high 43 percent from three-point range last season, he is just a tick below that (41 percent) so far this year. He is shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor, averaging nearly 19 points per game. When the Pacers need a bucket, they have been consistently going in his direction with the ball.

This squad is the very definition of the word team and is proving it on a nightly basis. Each night, a different guy is stepping up, whether it is on offense or defense. Indiana ranks fourth in defense, tenth in offense and they have the fifth-best net rating entering today’s game in New York. The Knicks, who just fired head coach David Fizdale yesterday, will get Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back.

The schedule will ramp up for the Pacers after this weekend. They will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, then play in Boston 48 hours later. A showdown with LeBron James and the Lakers awaits the following week, followed by a brutal back-to-back set with Milwaukee and Toronto just before Christmas.

An early tip time awaits on New Year’s Eve against Philadelphia, which is then followed by a matchup with Denver. In this nearly three-week span, the Pacers will face Philly, Minnesota, Denver and Miami two times each. This will be a difficult test, but one that they need.

We are only a week into the month of December but, oddly enough, Indiana has already finished up their four-game series with Detroit. The Central division foes will only meet again if they find each other in the postseason. That is the destination for the Pacers, who will likely get their franchise player back before the All-Star break.

The Pacers still have not yet announced a timeline for Oladipo’s return, but indications are that he will be coming back within the next two months. After such a devastating injury, you can expect the organization to proceed with extreme caution once he returns to the floor.

Oladipo himself has admitted that he has been itching to make his return and that he wants to go full throttle once he is given the green light. Indiana will, of course, limit his minutes early on and there is no chance he will play any back-to-back games. This slow but necessary transition will be another speed bump on the road to the postseason for the Pacers.

The players have had 22 games to get a feel for one another. When you consider how much time each of them has missed, it is actually much fewer than that. They are still trying to build chemistry and camaraderie among themselves. As they inch closer to that point, a new wrinkle will be thrown in when the time comes to work their star back into the lineup.

But, ultimately, it is a good problem to have for Indiana. Adding a top 25 player to your team is obviously a major positive, but it won’t come without any setbacks. The team will once again have to gel and understand how to play with one another — most notably the newest additions to the team, which include their other star guard, Brogdon.

Fortunately for Indiana, the season is a long one, and they should have ample time to get Oladipo back fully integrated into the system. It will be a mega boost for the team and could be a major thorn in the side for the rest of the teams in the East.

A defensive unit with Oladipo, Brogdon and Turner fueled with the offensive firepower of guys like Sabonis, Warren and Lamb could prove to be elite. Should they find themselves healthy, they will be factors in the playoffs yet again. Of course, to get there, they have to keep winning the easy games on the schedule.

So far, so good.

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