There is hope on the horizon: as more and more teams continue to re-open their facilities, the NBA would seem that much closer to a return.
That said, there is still a very long road ahead. And, in the meantime, Basketball Insiders has done our best to help mitigate the monotony of quarantine. Recently, we’ve taken a look at the last decade of the NBA draft, breaking down each player pick by pick.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our analysis of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth overall picks. Today, we’ll be looking at the players taken with the seventh selection. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Stephen Curry — Golden State Warriors — 2009
In the last 10 seasons, Curry, by far, is the best player to occupy the seventh draft slot. Arguably, he’s the best player to ever do so.
For a down-and-out franchise like the Warriors, Curry’s drop in 2009 was a franchise-altering stroke of luck. The Minnesota Timberwolves even doubled-dipped at the point guard position ahead of them, selecting Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, yet the sharpshooter out of Davidson, the future two-time Most Valuable Player and three-time champion, fell into their lap.
Would Curry have led the Timberwolves to their first Larry O’Brien trophy? It’s hard to say. What isn’t hard to say is the major impact Curry has had on the NBA would transcend almost any alternate reality where Minnesota, or any other team for the matter, draft him ahead of Golden State.
If the first unanimous MVP in league history doesn’t convince you of that fact, his career stats might: 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals and an NBA record (among players with at least 2000 attempts) 43.5 percent three-point percentage.
You get it.
Harrison Barnes — Golden State Warriors — 2012
Barnes may not live up to his pick-mate, but he’s a solid pick in his own right.
As the Warriors third option to Curry and Klay Thompson, Barnes’ early numbers don’t impress. But the Warriors didn’t need him to do much, either — he may have been more a role player than bonafide “hit” for Golden State, but Barnes filled his role to the best of his ability and was a strong contributor on a championship roster.
And, with a move away from California, Barnes’ production took a major leap. In the four seasons post-Golden State, Barnes has averaged 17.4 points, on a 44.8 percent field goal percentage and a solid 37.4 percent from three, to go along with five rebounds per game.
Barnes averaged 14.2 shots per game, compared to the meager 8.5 he managed in his four seasons with the Warriors, and, while he may not carry an offense alone, he’d be a strong option on almost any squad.
If that’s not a hit, then I don’t know what is.
Jamal Murray — Denver Nuggets — 2016
The 2016 NBA Draft was often described as a “two-player” draft. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram were the superstars — beyond that, who cared?
Murray, as Jaylen Brown (No. 3) and Buddy Hield (No. 6) have, has seemingly proven everyone wrong just four seasons into his career.
After a promising rookie season, Murray took his game to a new level and hasn’t looked back. His scoring has improved year after year, while his percentages are strong and his penchant for success in the clutch would seem to be undeniable.
Alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray has pushed Denver into the Western Conference’s elite: Before the shutdown, Murray’s fourth season, the electric guard had averaged 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game with the Nuggets once again in position to claim one of the Western Conference’s top seeds.
As Denver’s success persists, Murray’s star should only shine brighter. He’s already flashed, but don’t be shocked if Murray, even in a packed Western Conference, plays his name into the All-Star conversation in the near future.
Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings — 2013
It’s safe to say that any top-10 pick that’s had the career McLemore has should be categorized as a miss. He may not be a bust yet — he’s certainly redeemable, to a point, anyway — but McLemore just hasn’t lived up to his billing at this point in his career.
In seven seasons, McLemore has averaged nine points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. A career 42.1 percent shooter, he’s struggled with his shot and, more importantly, his confidence.
After four seasons in Sacramento, McLemore managed just one season with the Memphis Grizzlies, a year in which he bounced between the NBA and G League, before he was traded back to Sacramento and, later, waived.
Here’s something a bit more positive, however: Before the season had cut short, McLemore had seemingly found his footing with the Houston Rockets.
With Gerald Green and Eric Gordon injured, McLemore earned some playtime. And, alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the game seemed to have been simplified for him: in 63 games, McLemore played some of his best basketball as he averaged 9.8 points, shot 39.5 percent on 6.2 three-point attempts per game and played some strong defense.
As the seventh selection, it’s not the star he was made out to be. But it’s promising nonetheless. And, while McLemore isn’t there yet, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him play his way into the role player category in the near future.
Emmanuel Mudiay — Denver Nuggets — 2015
Mudiay, rather than joining the NCAA ranks, chose to play in China after graduating high school. His success there — 17.7 points, six rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals — saw his hype explode in the lead up to the 2015 NBA Draft.
But, in hindsight, it really shouldn’t have.
There was a lot to like about Mudiay as a prospect. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he certainly has the size and the athletic profile necessary to succeed in the NBA. But, unfortunately for the Nuggets, that’s about as good as it got.
From the jump, Mudiay struggled. And, while there were some games he would flash, those were few and far between. While his 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game looked strong, the 36.4 field goal percentage and suspect defense that accompanied them did not.
Handed the starting job as a rookie, Mudiay would cede the role to Jameer Nelson in his second season. Later, on Denver’s guard-rich roster, he eventually lost the backup job, too. In his third year, the Nuggets traded Mudiay to the New York Knicks, where he was once again given the starter role and averaged 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 82 games spread across two seasons. Now, in a reserve role with the Utah Jazz, he’s managed 7.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
His game has certainly improved since his time in Denver. Most notably, his field goal percentage had jumped to 47.1 percent before the league’s shutdown, albeit on only six shots per game. Still, Mudiay hasn’t lived up to his draft slot and, at this point, it’s hard to imagine he ever will.
The Middle of the Road
Julius Randle — Los Angeles Lakers — 2014
Early on, Randle looked destined to serve as a role player. But, in recent seasons, he’s shown to be capable of far more.
Of course, as with most lottery prospects, there was the occasional flash. But, with the Lakers, Randle didn’t “wow” anybody on a consistent basis. The 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds he averaged in his first four seasons didn’t exactly scream superstar, either.
Then, Randle made his way to the New Orleans Pelicans, and everything just seemed to click.
It’s just a two-season sample, but Randle has played near (if not at) an All-Star level in his post-Lakers career. In his lone season with the Pelicans, Randle blew up as he averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and shot 52.4 percent from the field. He was one of only seven that season to average at least 21 points and 8 rebounds while playing in at least 60 games.
The other six? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, Karl Anthony-Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook.
Randle’s surge had continued into the 2019-20 regular season with the New York Knicks. Before the NBA’s hiatus, the forward managed an impressive 19.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and did so in arguably the most dysfunctional environment in the NBA, an achievement in and of itself.
After only two seasons of high-level play, it’s hard to justify Randle as a surefire “hit.” That said, he’s close, and that could change very quickly if he can continue to build on the progress he’s made in the last two seasons.
Lauri Markkanen — Chicago Bulls — 2017
Markkanen’s career trajectory would appear to be at a crossroads. And it’s not looking good.
The forward out of Arizona shined as a rookie, serving as Chicago fans’ light in the post-Jimmy Butler darkness. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds across 68 games. As a sophomore, Markkanen raised the bar despite the fact that he was limited due to injury — he averaged 18.7 and nine per game, respectively, in 52 contests.
No doubt, he had the look of a rising star.
But, in his third season, Markkanen has faced some significant regression. His output has either stagnated or worsened across the board — including career low scoring (14.7), rebounding (6.5) field goal (42.5) and three-point percentage (34.4) averages — and, having played 50 games, it’s unlikely he’ll see a marked improvement should the season resume.
Going forward, a change of scenery may do him some good. If not, or if he can’t get right some other way, Markkanen might slide further and further away from that “hit” moniker and toward that of a role player (or worse), an idea that would have been laughed at after such a promising start to his career.
Wendell Carter Jr. — Chicago Bulls — 2018
For Carter Jr., it’s just too early to call.
He’s certainly shown promise. In 84 games across his first two seasons, Carter has looked the part as he’s averaged 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, shot 50.8 percent from the floor while consistently playing hard on the defensive end.
But it’s that number: 84. With so few games played, it’s hard to say one way or the other what Carter’s future could look like. Could this be his best? Unlikely. But is it a possibility? Certainly. We just don’t know.
As he gets more games under his belt, that future should come further into focus. He certainly has the tools to put it together, it’s just a matter of whether or not Carter can effectively make use of them.
Coby White — Chicago Bulls — 2019
Yes, another Bull.
Like Carter, there just isn’t enough to go on to make a solid declaration on White. Yes, the talent would seem to be there — White averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists in 65 games — but the North Carolina product struggled in a number of categories, namely field goal percentage (39.4 percent).
He certainly has the potential to blossom. But the NBA has seen far too many promising rookie seasons followed up by sub-par careers. For White, at this point, it’s just a wait-and-see.
The Role Players
Greg Monroe — Detroit Pistons — 2010
Over the course of his career, Monroe was atrocious on defense. But, and despite the fact that he’s not currently under contract, his offensive game has saved him from “miss” status.
Monroe made an instant impact as a rookie, as he posted 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Over the next four seasons, Monroe averaged a strong 15.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 49.9 percent shooting. It was more of the same in the first of a three-year, $50 million deal he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks: 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds on 52.2 percent from the field.
But, after that? It’s not pretty.
It’d be hard for any team to keep a center that doesn’t block many shots on the floor for extended stretches. Monroe, being such a center (with a career average of .6 blocks per game), saw a dip in minutes, from 29.3 to 22.5 per game. His scoring and rebounding averages, 11.7 and 6.6, respectively, suffered.
In the final year of his deal, Milwaukee traded Monroe to the Phoenix Suns, who later released him.
Despite that ugly turn, Monroe proved a desired commodity as a potential offensive sparkplug off the bench. He finished the 2018-19 season with the Boston Celtics before splitting last season between the Toronto Raptors, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
Bismack Biyombo — Charlotte Bobcats — 2011
Were it not for his defensive acumen, Biyombo would have certainly gone down as a miss.
The 6-foot-8 center, over the course of his career, has brought almost nothing on offense. For his career, the center has managed a, to say the least, underwhelming 5.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The 52.1 percent two-point field goal percentage he’s sported over nine seasons is 67th in the NBA in that span — not great when the majority of your shots come within three feet of the basket.
And yet, in one season with the Toronto Raptors, Biyombo parlayed his biggest strength, his defense, into a four-year, $72 million deal with the Orlando Magic in 2016.
The merit of that deal could certainly be argued, but that’s neither here nor there. In reality, Biyombo earned that deal as a defensive specialist and, despite inconsistent minutes, has continued to play much of the same role since.
The draft, ultimately, is a crapshoot. You can only analyze so much tape, run so many workouts before giving way to blind luck. That said, over the last 10 seasons, the NBA, collectively, has made great use of the seventh selection. Who could be the pick’s next success story?
Again, if you haven’t already, make sure to check out our analysis of the first six picks. And stay tuned for the rest of our draft lookback series.
NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track
D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.
Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.
Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.
The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.
COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.
The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.
Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).
Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?
Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.
Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.
Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.
On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.
Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).
But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.
At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.
And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.
To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.
So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.
NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?
Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.
Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.
It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.
Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.
Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2021
We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.
The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.
If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.
In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.
TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be
Report: Mike D’Antoni ‘leader in the clubhouse’ to become the next Pacers head coach https://t.co/42Ik5nPTyU
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 6, 2021
Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.
Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.
For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.
There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.
That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.
Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.
Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.