With only a few teams still standing, many may avert their eyes to the upcoming free agency class. For teams with low draft picks and early postseason exits, free agency stands as their best opportunity to improve. But with cap space across the league stretching thin, most franchises can’t even afford to chase big money options like Aaron Gordon or Marcus Smart. Contenders and middle-of-the-road front offices will scour the class for under the radar options in the coming months, looking for difference makers at a manageable cost. And while some of them won’t come as cheaply as they might have in previous years, these six players should be in high demand when free agency opens on July 1.
Shane Larkin, Boston Celtics — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 54 games, 4.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 38.4 percent shooting
Last Contract: 1 year, 1.5 million
Fans in Boston have fallen in love with Shane Larkin’s gritty, unafraid demeanor and fearlessness of the big moment — and it’s not hard to see why. Although Larkin’s individual statistics suffered as a reserve, he’s clearly proven that he belongs in the NBA for the foreseeable future. After spending the 2016-17 season in Spain, Larkin’s addition to the Celtics’ roster initially came as a surprise, but he ended up being far more than positional insurance.
With much of the rotation floating in and out of healthiness, Larkin had plenty of chances to assert himself as a bench spark plug. Amazingly, Larkin scored 10 or more points in 10 games and the Celtics won all but one of those. Capped off by a near triple-double — 12 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers — in the season finale, Larkin has endeared himself to the Massachusetts faithful. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess if Larkin will return to Boston this offseason, but his two-year improvement could net him a longer deal in a bigger role.
Larkin had to leave Game 4 last night in Philadelphia with a left-shoulder separation — but the Celtics will hold their breath, he’s been important for them all season long.
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 78 games, 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 three-pointers and 41.9 percent from three
Last Contract: 2 years, 2 million
The Brooklyn Nets’ latest success story has been popular at Basketball Insiders this season and that’s because the once-forgotten sharpshooter is well on his way to finally cashing in. Under head coach Kenny Atkinson, Harris has flourished in the Nets’ three-point heavy offense, as well as evolving into one of Brooklyn’s steadier defenders. While he doesn’t hold the potential promise that Caris LeVert or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson might, Harris played an important role in keeping the Nets from bottoming out once again.
A young, inconsistent roster made a habit of squandering Harris’ best individual nights in 2017-18, but the reserve often made his presence known. When Harris scored above his season average, the Nets were 16-24 — an unexpected game-changer for a franchise without control of their own first-round pick. His best performance of the season came against the Cleveland Cavaliers — the team that drafted him in 2014 — and Harris lit them up for 30 points and seven rebounds on 6-for-7 from three-point range. What team couldn’t use a cheap, high-percentage rotation player like that?
Recently, both the Nets and Harris made it clear that a mutual return is in the cards, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic. But at just 26 years old, the former Virginia standout could attract the attention of some serious contenders. Either way, after he was dumped by the Cavaliers halfway through his second season, it looked like Harris’ NBA career would be short-lived. Instead, he’s about to sign the longest, most money-laden contract of his life — not bad for a former No. 33 overall pick, right?
Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17: 70 games, 12.8 points, 2.7 assists, 2 three-pointers and 42.5 percent from three
Last Contract: 2 years, 6 million
The rebuilding Dallas Mavericks have plenty of intriguing free agent decisions to make this summer — Nerlens Noel and Yogi Ferrell included — but perhaps none more so than Seth Curry. After playing just four total games between three franchises from 2013-15, Curry parlayed a late-season run with Sacramento into a guaranteed deal for two seasons in Dallas. With the Mavericks, Curry found himself staring down the ultimate green light and, on most nights, he didn’t disappoint. Last season, Curry started 42 contests and made two three-pointers per game at a 42.5 percent clip, anointing himself as a microwavable shooter to keep an eye on.
Unfortunately, a stress reaction of the left tibia kept Curry out in 2017-18 until he underwent season-ending surgery in February. Should the younger Curry be injury-free this summer, he’ll be an underrated flier for a team looking to bolster their bench. Three-point marksmanship is clearly the calling card of this stellar NBA bloodline, but Curry will be out to prove his one season with Dallas wasn’t a fluke. Curry’s hot-in-a-hurry skill set will make him one of the most underpriced free agents this offseason — who’s ready to take the jump?
Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 52 games, 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 three-pointers
Last Contract: 1 year, 3.3 million
It was an absolute career resurgence for Tyreke Evans in 2017-18 and he’ll be a hot ticket item again come July. In fact, Evans was heavily chased at February’s trade deadline but remained in Memphis after the Grizzlies wouldn’t budge from their first-round pick asking price. As of now, the Grizzlies can only offer the 28-year-old the mid-level exception but plenty of franchises — good, bad, young, old — could utilize a veteran ball-handler like Evans. His two previous seasons were marred by injury issues, so Evans bet hard on himself with the one-year deal.
It’s been a long road for Evans, who won Rookie of the Year way back in 2009-10, but he’s made a strong case to stick around even longer. Over his nine-year career, Evans has averaged double-digits in the scoring department in every season and five or more assists in six of them. Additionally, this was Evans’ best season from three-point range by far, just proving that some things do indeed get better with age. At this stage in his career, Evans will bring reliable playmaking without the gaudy price tag of other options.
On the other hand, should Evans choose to finally chase some rings, he’ll likely have the pick of the litter once free agency opens.
Wayne Ellington, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.9 three-pointers and 39.2 percent from three
Last Contract: 2 years, 12.2 million
Speaking of late-career surges, veteran journeyman Wayne Ellington likely just had his best season yet. Since 2009, Ellington has played for seven franchises but has found Miami the perfect fit over the last two years. Holding down a career 38.1 percent average from deep, Ellington has made a living beyond the three-point arc and absolutely feasted from there with the HEAT. Previously, Ellington’s season-high for made three-pointers was 1.4 per game, a contribution he made for the 21-61 Los Angeles Lakers back in 2014-15.
This season, Ellington knocked down 2.9 three-pointers per game, a mark that was eighth-best across the entire league. The names ahead of him were Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Paul George, Kyle Lowry and Eric Gordon, the latter of which signed a four-year deal worth $53 million back in 2016. While Ellington won’t command nearly as much this summer, it still bodes well for the sharpshooter moving forward. Miami is dangerously close to paying the luxury tax, which would make a return to South Beach unlikely without another move preceding it. Ellington already led one playoff-bound team in three-point shooting — could he find success with another?
Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 75 games, 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.2 three-pointers
Last Contract: 3 years, 11.7 million (rookie deal)
This season has been eventful for Mario Hezonja, an up-and-down campaign that officially kicked off when the Orlando Magic declined their team option back in October. Much has been made about Hezonja’s work ethic and attitude, but some strong late-season performances will make the Croatian an interesting option in free agency. When he’s on, Hezonja can appear like one of the most promising youngsters in the entire league — but his biggest issue has always been finding that consistency each and every night.
In December, Hezonja dropped his most impressive game to date, the 6-foot-8 semi-positionless talent notched 28 points on 8-for-12 from three-point range to go along with six rebounds and three steals. Or there was his monstrous 24-point, six-rebound, four-steal and three-block effort against the Chicago Bulls a few months later — the kid can clearly play. The point is this: Through three NBA seasons, there have been more cons than pros for Hezonja, but those type of performances certainly acknowledge that the 23-year-old has the ability to make something of his frustrating start.
At times, Hezonja filled a handful of roles for an injury-decimated Magic squad — handling the rock on one night before grabbing minutes down in the post in another. He’s already an effective slasher and a flexible defender, so improving his three-point percentage (33.7) will be key in his next opportunity. His inconsistencies likely mean that no franchise will knock down the door at midnight to sign Hezonja long-term — but under the right head coach, Super Mario could absolutely bloom. Polarizing, sure, but as an under the radar signing, Hezonja certainly fits the bill.
While most will have their sights set on DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and the growing lot of restricted free agents, there’s still plenty of worthy signings elsewhere. From Shane Larkin to Mario Hezonja, deals could be found around every corner — but which front office will find the diamonds in the rough?
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.