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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 8 Picks

Matt John checks out a decade’s worth of No. 8 overall picks in the NBA Draft.

Matt John

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If you’ve been tuning in, Basketball Insiders has been looking into how each lottery pick has fared in the league since 2009. We’ve categorized each player as a hit, miss, in between or a role player. We started at the top with the first overall pick and we’ve been making our way down since. At the top of the draft, the criteria for what makes a pick a hit was tougher. Being picked at the top or near the top means you’re supposed to be the face of a new era of basketball for your franchise. Now that we’re going lower and lower in the draft, the bar starts to lower. In short, the lower the pick, the lower the expectation.

That brings us to who we’re looking at today — the eighth overall pick. Midway through the lottery, the eighth overall pick is expected to be good, but the likelihood nor the ceiling is nearly as high as those taken earlier. And that couldn’t be more apparent when taking a gander at how the eighth overall picks have fared since 2009.

In short, it’s far from impressive.

This particular group of players had some who were out of the league at one point but have since either found their place in the league or look they are about to. There are others who were on an upward trajectory then came crashing down. The eighth overall picks really are something to behold when you put them all together. Let’s take a look.

The Hits

Terrence Ross – Toronto Raptors – 2012

If the standards were higher, Ross probably wouldn’t be considered a hit as much of an in-between type — more proof of how mediocre this group has been. Anyway, Ross came into the league as an explosive athlete, which made for some very entertaining highlight reels. But, as fun as it was to watch him jump out of the building, it seemed at first as if that’s all he was good for. And being described as “fun” is not always the same as being described as “good.”

But, while he was the former with Toronto, Ross could be described as both since being traded to Orlando.

A fair amount of guys fold when they have more opportunities with the ball in their hand. But Ross hasn’t been one of them. Over the last two years, he’s put up career numbers with the Magic, averaging nearly 15 points per game. While he’s not one of the league’s premier go-to scorers, Ross has shown that he can alter the game by himself when he’s feeling it.

The shame of it all is that Orlando puts the middle in “middle-of-the-pack”. So, while his contributions have been strong, they’re not going into a particularly special product right now. If he were on a better team, his numbers probably wouldn’t be as good, but he’s done enough to prove that he could change a team’s chances.

It’s good to see Ross find his niche in the NBA. Reading it again, however, his claim to fame as a hit from this group is that he’s evolved into one of the league’s better sixth men. Good for him. Bad for pretty much everyone else this list.

Collin Sexton – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2018

No matter how well this group had turned out, Sexton would be labeled a hit no matter what. He hasn’t taken the league by storm since coming in, but he has done his part since arriving in Cleveland. This season alone, Sexton is averaging nearly 21 points on 47/38/86 splits. Factoring in the turmoil the Cavs went through this season, it’s hard not to be impressed by his progress.

It also makes you wonder how the issues going on behind the scenes affected Sexton’s production on the court. Did the internal tension between the players and John Beilein hinder Sexton from being better or are his stats just another example of good-stats/bad-team numbers? The more we see from the Cavaliers post-Beilein, the better picture we’ll get.

Sexton came into the NBA with a good amount of excitement centered around both his speed and his scoring abilities. He’s proven that he can definitely score at an NBA level. It’s the rest of his game that needs some fine-tuning. His assist-to-turnover ratio is horrid, while his defense, much improved in his first two seasons, is still going to need significant work.

Those issues aside, Sexton’s biggest task ahead is simply winning games. Cleveland had seen some good stretches this season, even more post-Beilein, but they need to see it on more of a consistent basis. And that starts with Sexton.

And hey, all things considered, at least something good came from the Kyrie trade.

The Misses

Jordan Hill – New York Knicks – 2009

Was Hill a miss or more of a role player? He had an eight-year career in the NBA, which is solid. But, as the eighth overall pick though, he never played good enough to justify the selection. It doesn’t help that he was taken one spot ahead of DeMar DeRozan, either.

Hill put up solid numbers for a couple of seasons here and there, his best coming with the Los Angeles Lakers between 2012 and 2015. But, at arguably the lowest point in the history of the franchise, does that production really count for anything? Or were his numbers simply inflated because somebody (read: anybody) had to go out there and play.

The only good teams he played a somewhat prominent role were with the Lakers and the Indiana Pacers, and they didn’t really play him that much when the stakes were higher. It was tough to label him as a miss, but he just didn’t really leave much of a legacy on the NBA.

Nik Stauskas – Sacramento Kings – 2014

We already dove into why Stauskas busted in Sacramento. So, without trying to repeat what’s already been said, let’s start with this: the Kings taking Stauskas made absolutely no sense back in 2014, while the pick has looked even worse in hindsight. Not only had Sacramento taken a sharpshooter the draft prior in Ben McLemore, but, looking back, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson or Bogdan Bogdanovic (whose rights they already owned), would have been better choices at shooting guard.

Getting back to Stauskas, it’s safe to say that he basically became Jimmer Fredette 2.0 in Sacramento, if not worse. A sharpshooter that proved to not really have the sharpest NBA shot. Unlike Jimmer, Stauskas was only with the Kings for one season, and he never really got his game going even when the opportunity to prove himself came with other teams.

Much like Jimmer, you have to wonder if maybe Stauskus’ career turns out differently if it didn’t start with the Kings period.

Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons – 2015

Johnson is another example of why entrusting a young prospect with raw potential is never a foolproof plan. No one had any qualms with Detroit taking Johnson when they did in 2015. He even looked like his career had a fair amount of promise following an okay rookie campaign. That predicated from his excellent defense, which was on full display when he matched up against LeBron in the playoffs that same year.

“If he could just learn to shoot” was always what followed any discussion around Johnson — and he had the potential to play an elite 3-and-D role. Sadly, his rookie year was as good as it got for him. The complete lack of any progress in his offense saw Johnson’s numbers stagnate. Soon enough, it had him shipped out of Detroit entirely.

Johnson now resides at the end of the Toronto Raptors’ bench. And, while getting another go-round in the NBA next season isn’t completely out of the question for him, the odds wouldn’t appear to be in his favor for sticking it out longterm.

Frank Ntilikina – New York Knicks – 2017

Frank Ntilikina is to Knicks fans what Dante Exum was to Jazz fans. Those who believe in him believe that he has the potential to be special but he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to prove himself. Those who don’t believe in him think that the lackluster numbers he’s put up speak for themselves.

The similarities between the two are quite stunning, actually. Both are good defenders whose question marks specifically come from the offensive side of the ball. Both occasionally flash on that side of the ball, but their inconsistency has prevented their teams from trusting them completely.

The difference between them — aside from Exum’s demonstrably higher expectations — is that Exum played for a franchise that knows what it’s doing and has always had a good direction. The Knicks, suffice it to say, do not know what they’re doing. Of course, there is nowhere to go but up; if their next head coach can chart a new course and elevate the team’s play Ntilikina just might turn it around.

The Middle of the Road

Brandon Knight – Detroit Pistons – 2011

Knight’s career, to some degree, is a tragedy that doesn’t get talked about enough. When his name was brought up in his early days as a pro, he was usually the butt of the joke because of how often he was involved in several rather unfortunate plays. Not too long after that, injuries took him off the court for what seemed like an eternity. He’s since gotten past that, but now he is barely still in the NBA. All of that has overshadowed the fact that, at one point, Knight’s potential career looked promising.

Before Giannis Antetokounmpo became the MVP we see today, it could be argued that Knight was the Milwaukee Bucks’ best player. Not only that, but he was the best player on a playoff team, a team that regressed after they traded him to Phoenix for Michael Carter-Williams and used the money saved to sign Greg Monroe.

Since then he’s been a ghost. He was brought onto a dysfunctional Phoenix Suns organization, suffered a slew of injuries, and has been a journeyman over the last year and a half, going from the Houston Rockets to Cleveland and back to Detroit. At every stop, he made minimal impact. It just doesn’t sound possible for a man’s career to fall this far at 28-years-old.

Had he stayed healthy, Knight could have been the best pick in this group. Of course, there’s still time for him to reclaim the title. Since returning to Detroit, he’s started to look like his former self, so that’s something. Unfortunately, it’s Detroit.

Marquese Chriss – Phoenix Suns – 2016

For a while there, it looked like Chriss was the worst-case scenario for a boom-or-bust prospect. His potential impressed enough scouts at the combine that he could have been picked third overall in 2016. Unfortunately, that potential never came to fruition — he bounced from Phoenix to Houston and Cleveland, playing so poorly that he appeared to be quick flameout.

Since the Golden State Warriors brought him in, however, optimism surrounding Chriss has been revived.

The Warriors brought in Chriss as a no-harm, no-foul experiment, one that could’ve gone in any direction. For Chriss, it has been a rebirth. Before the league’s hiatus, he’d put up arguably the best numbers of his career, averaging 9.3 points, 1.9 assists and 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s also been incredibly efficient from the field, shooting 54.5 percent.

If you at his play at more of a game-by-game basis, there’s even more progress from Chriss. Since Jan. 20, he’s come along quite nicely, having averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the field.

What’s led to the uptick in production? It could be a number of different factors. Perhaps the move from power forward to center full-time, where Chriss rarely played in his earlier years, has something to do with it. And, for both Chriss and the Warriors, the best could be yet to come; Chriss has yet to play with Klay Thompson yet, while sharing minimal time with Stephen Curry. Next season, we might begin to see what Chriss truly is made of.

Jaxson Hayes – New Orleans Pelicans – 2019

Speaking of ultra-athletes, New Orleans definitely got two in the 2019 draft. We all know how good one of them is going to be, or, if we’re being fair, how good he already is. Then there’s Hayes.

There’s a lot to like about Hayes physically. He is long, athletic and can jump out of the gym. There may not be a player in the league who has made dunking look as effortless as Hayes has, though his own teammate Zion Williamson certainly could make a case.

Speaking of Williamson, prior to his return from injury, Hayes played a much more prominent role with the Pelicans. Since, however, Hayes has, for the most part, been riding the pine behind Williamson and Derrick Favors. As time goes on, we should see more and more of what Hayes is capable of. But the Pelicans, justifiably so, are playing the more talented rookie and the more dependable veteran.

That’s not a shot at Hayes. He’s young and oozes potential. Anyone with eyes can see that. There’s only one question. Can he and Zion mesh in the long-term if neither develop into floor spacers? If they don’t, New Orleans will have to make some changes, but that’s thinking way down the line.

The Role Players

Al-Farouq Aminu – Los Angeles Clippers – 2010

Aminu was another one of those players that had some trouble finding himself in the league. It didn’t help that in that time, Paul George, who was taken after him in their draft, had blossomed into one of the league’s best wings.

We know Aminu’s never going to justify that decision by the Los Angeles Clippers. But, eventually, he was able to prove his worth as a defensive specialist. His breakthrough with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014 led to a nice payday the following summer with the Portland Trail Blazers.

His defense, along with a freshly developed three-pointer, played a part in stabilizing the Blazers after they had lost everyone that made them a pseudo-contender the previous two seasons. And, considering the crazy contracts Portland handed out the next summer, Aminu was definitely worth his price.

Aminu fits with the modern NBA. What he does helps his team. Let’s just hope that next season, Aminu can continue to do so after a knee injury cut his most recent season short.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Detroit Pistons – 2013

Want to know something strange? Look at Caldwell-Pope’s numbers over the course of his career. They were better when he was in Detroit, and his scoring numbers were better his first two years with the Lakers than this year. Yet, everything would seem to indicate that the 2019-20 season was when he figured it all out.

Lakers’ fans didn’t take to Caldwell-Pope because of his salary and his questionable shot selection — his continued employment with the team was viewed as a sunk cost because of their affiliation with Rich Paul via LeBron James. Of course, if that’s what it cost to bring in James in the first place, it’s worth it, but that’s neither here nor there.

And, even if it once was the reason they kept him despite the price tag, it would no longer seem to be so. Efficiency wise, the 2019-20 season was the best of Caldwell-Pope’s career. The 47/39/78 splits, combined with the much-improved shot selection, have allowed him to play a role with the team. On the other end, he’s certainly been a factor for the Lakers and the league’s top defense.

As James and Anthony Davis gear up for a postseason run, they’re going to need every other hand on deck. And, so far, Caldwell-Pope has done his part.

The eighth overall picks have underwhelmed as a whole since 2009 —  they haven’t done themselves any favors, either. Most of the players either didn’t start out well, haven’t done well or have been strictly average. You wouldn’t expect that from a lottery selection, but that’s where we are.

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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.

Bobby Krivitsky

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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.

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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.

Drew Maresca

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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.

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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.

Matt John

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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.

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

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.

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