Moral victories are always fun for teams to have because they go beyond their seasons’ final result. While the season may not have ended the way they would have liked, the team played well despite low expectations and/or strenuous adversity. One team who had themselves a moral victory this season was the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers should be proud of themselves. They not only exceeded the little expectations they had coming into the season, but they just went toe-to-toe with one of the best players of all time in a tight seven-game series. With all the drama surrounding the Paul George situation last summer, followed by the unrelenting flak general manager Kevin Pritchard received for the seemingly little he acquired for George, their performance this season was one of the NBA’s marquee feel-good stories.
Even if they didn’t get the ending they wanted, the Pacers made everyone happily eat their words. To put a cherry on top, the Pacers should have cap flexibility this summer, which, if they use wisely, can potentially add even more firepower to one of the NBA’s most balanced teams. All in all, the Pacers had one of the most notable moral victories the NBA has seen in the past couple of years.
With their moral victory, the Pacers have reason to be optimistic. Some of the NBA’s current best teams started their time as a contender with a moral victory before they became a juggernaut.
Take the Golden State Warriors. Back in 2013, Stephen Curry had his coming-out party, as he led the upstart Warriors to an upset over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets and made a competitive series with the San Antonio Spurs. The Warriors may have only gone to the second-round, but their unexpected run made for one phenomenal moral victory.
Look where they are now. Their style of play has completely changed the NBA for good, they lured a future Hall of Famer in his prime to come play for them, and they’ve won two of the last three championships. Best of all, it doesn’t look like they’ll be going away anytime soon. All of that started with a moral victory a mere five years ago.
Now, the likelihood of the Pacers ever getting to where the Warriors currently are is extremely unlikely. At the same time, nobody back in 2013 thought the Warriors would be what they are now. Considering everything that the Pacers have in their arsenal, it’s fair to say “never say never”. However, just because everything went their way this season does not mean the good times will continue. Moral victories are fun and all, but they can be fool’s gold too.
Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers. Two seasons ago, the Blazers were pretty much in the exact same boat as the Pacers. They lost their franchise big LaMarcus Aldridge among the several vital players they lost in the summer of 2015. Yet, the team still managed to win 44 games, get the fifth seed, and even win a playoff series. They may have been eliminated by the Warriors shortly afterward, but all talk about Portland in 2016 was largely positive.
Look where they are now. The Blazers have yet to win a playoff game since, they’ve been tip-toeing around the luxury tax since they unwisely over-spent more than anyone in the summer of 2016, and they are running low on options. To make things worse, the Blazers are coming off an embarrassing sweep and they are in a tricky situation with Jusuf Nurkic’s upcoming free agency. Suddenly, that moral victory they had a mere two seasons ago doesn’t hold much water now.
The Blazers and the Warriors took different paths after their moral victories, which really makes the aftermath of a moral victory up in the air in the long-term. Sometimes, teams get so many moral victories to the point where they may not want them anymore, like the Boston Celtics.
In 2015, the Celtics got crushed by the Cavaliers in the first round, but that season was a moral victory because they made the playoffs when nobody expected them to. In 2016, the Celtics got eliminated again in the first round, but that season was a moral victory because they made some noise despite being shorthanded on talent. In 2017, the Celtics got embarrassed again by the Cavaliers in the conference finals, but that season was a moral victory because they went as far as they could have realistically hoped for.
This season was supposed to be different. Adding Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving signaled that the Celtics were going all in on a title run. Of course, that went up in smoke five minutes into the season, but the Celtics had their fourth consecutive moral victory because, despite season-ending injuries to both Irving and Hayward, they won 55 games which earned them the second seed. They’re probably not going to win the championship, but the Celtics should take pride in how they did with all their obstacles.
At the same time, the Celtics didn’t want another moral victory this season. This year was aimed at taking the eastern conference crown away from LeBron. Judging by the Cavs’ vulnerability and the Raptors continued struggles against inferior competition in the playoffs, the east was as wide open as could be this season. They may have had a fun season, but it still didn’t turn out the way they would have hoped. Still, the fact that they played this well should make them very hopeful going forward. Even if it wasn’t what they wanted, this season’s moral victory was more evidence that the Celtics should have a great future ahead of them.
Moral victories, in summary, are great to have because they are fun to watch and can lead to something special, but if they don’t lead to anything in the long run, then they are pretty much useless. The Pacers have a wonderful thing going for them right now, but whether they can capitalize on their unexpected run this season depends entirely on where they decide to go from here on out.
If they can build off this next season, then they should be a force to be reckoned with in the NBA for years to come, but if they don’t, then it won’t be long before their inspiring play this season will be forgotten among the NBA masses.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division
Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.
As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.
Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.
- Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)
The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.
Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.
- New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline
This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.
But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion). The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.
- DeAndre Jordan
Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.
The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.
In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.
- Spurs need help at point guard
The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.
The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.
The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.
- Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol
Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.
The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.
Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.
In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.
NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success
In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.
In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.
But does this apply to everyone?
The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.
Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.
To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.
After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.
To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.
Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.
Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.
Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.
Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.
Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.
Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.
Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.
The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.
We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.
Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.
Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division
David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.
We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.
Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.
1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves
There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.
However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.
Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.
2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.
The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.
Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting
The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.
Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.
The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.
4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers
It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.
Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.
He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.
5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets
The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.
He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.
As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.