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NBA PM: A Season Of Career-Years

James Blancarte takes a look at the career-years of players that aren’t leading candidates for the regular season awards.

James Blancarte

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As the regular season winds down, the debate over regular season awards heats up. These discussions draw together members of the media, casual and hardcore NBA fans and even the players themselves. In some years, certain players will be viewed as the consensus choice for a specific award and there won’t be much discussion or debate. This season, there is no clear favorite for several awards, including Most Valuable Player, potentially Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year.

This year, several players are having a career-year based on statistics and overall impact. While many candidates for the major awards are earning praise and attention as part of the collective debate, there are many more players having career years that are not getting enough attention. Here, we will look beyond the lead candidates for these awards to recognize a few other players who are having impressive seasons, which may go unrecognized when the regular season awards are handed out.

Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz

In a number of ways, this has been a spectacular year for the Utah Jazz. The team has not made it to the postseason since 2011-12 and is now settled into a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. If not for a recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Jazz would still be in possession of the fourth seed and home court advantage. Home court or not, Utah is thrilled to return to the postseason despite being plagued by injuries all season. Starting power forward Derrick Favors and starting point guard George Hill have missed significant time this season (31 and 33 games respectively) due to various injuries.

In their periodic absence, forward Gordon Hayward has stepped up and is having a career-year. Hayward was rewarded earlier this season by being named as a first-time All-Star. Hayward has maintained his excellent play since All-Star Weekend and has been a key contributor for Utah.

In 72 games, per Basketball-Reference, Hayward is averaging career highs in points (22), rebounds (5.4), free throw percentage (84.4) and is posting overall strong shooting numbers, including a career-high true shooting percentage (57.8). Hayward has been able to reach many of these career highs (and more) by being the featured player on offense with a career-high usage rate (27.7 percent) and a career-low turnover percentage (9.4). Simply put, Utah’s offense revolves around Hayward more so than in past seasons, which plays a major role in Utah’s excellent play this season.

In addition, Hayward is setting new personal bests in advanced statistics such as value over replacement player (VORP), box plus-minus (BPM), win shares (WS) and player efficiency rating (PER). Of course, these advanced statistics can’t be solely relied on to show how effective Hayward has been this season, but they in effect confirm what is apparent to anyone who has watched Hayward play this season.

One area where Hayward has thrived is in the pick-and-roll (P&R). As the P&R ballhandler, amongst qualifying players, Hayward is scoring .98 points per possession (11th in the league), which places him ahead of P&R maestros like Clippers point guard Chris Paul and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving. In addition, Hayward has maintained a 49.1 effective shooting percentage in P&R play (top 25 in the league).

Hayward is having a career-year for Utah at the right time. The roster has grown and developed together for a few seasons, several players are in or just hitting their respective prime years and the team now has some veterans to stabilize the team in high-pressure situations. Hayward has been great all season for Utah and now has a chance to show off his play in the postseason against the Clippers.

John Wall – Washington Wizards

John Wall and guard Bradley Beal (discussed below) are at the forefront of the Washington Wizards’ success this season. The team is in position to potentially make a run in the playoffs as they are the fourth seed and are set to play at home against the erratic Atlanta Hawks in the first-round.

Wall, currently in his seventh NBA season, is having a career-year and has been at the center of Washington’s success this season. Wall is averaging a career-high in points (23.1), steals (2.1), assists (10.7), free throws and free throws attempted, field goal percentage and PER (23.2).

In addition, Wall’s usage percentage (30.6) and his assist percentage (46.9) are career-highs while his turnover percentage (16.2) is the second-lowest of his career. Essentially, Washington’s offense runs through him more now than in past seasons and he accounts for nearly half of all assists to his teammates while he is on the floor (while limiting his turnovers). Quite an accomplishment.

Digging deeper, Wall is experiencing career-highs in VORP, BPM and WS. Simply put, Wall has been better than ever this season.

Wall credits head coach Scott Brooks with helping him improve this season.

“[Brooks is] like, ‘With your speed you settle for too many jump shots – you can get past people, you need to attack a little bit more,’” Wall explained.

This season, Wall has thrived by attacking the rim and passing on mid-range jump shots. With speed, athleticism and great body control, Wall is utilizing his best assets while passing on less efficient shots, which is paying off in a big way for Washington.

Wall has always been one of the fastest players in the league and is now exploiting that more often and more effectively than in past seasons. Amongst qualified players, Wall is ranked ninth in transition frequency (22.4 percent) while maintaining a 60.3 effective field goal percentage. Wall is a one-man fastbreak and is consistently generating easy scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.

Wall isn’t a candidate for any major award this season, but he deserves recognition for having a career-year and more importantly leading Washington to the playoffs.

Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards

Like Wall, Bradley Beal is having a career-year and has been crucial to Washington’s success. Coming into this season, Beal had yet to sufficiently answer two crucial questions that have plagued him for years. After averaging 62 games a year due to injuries, could he stay healthy? Earlier this season, Beal acknowledged that issue had bothered him.

“You want to be that guy that shows up each and every night, regardless of what ailments you may have,” Beal stated.

Also, after rumors of discord between the pair, could Beal and Wall co-exist successfully? In his fifth year, Beal has been able to answer the above questions with a resounding yes.

Wall set the record straight earlier this season and recently addressed the on-court relationship with Beal.

“I normally have the ball. I’m going to get my shot whenever I want to. But my job is to get him going. That’s where we are a better team,” Wall said.

In a career-high 76 games this season, Beal is averaging a career-high in scoring (23), assists (3.5), free throw shooting (82.2 percent), effective (56.4) and true shooting (60.2) percentage, three-point shooting, as well as minutes per game (34.9). Like Wall, Beal’s usage percentage (26.4) is at a career-high, as well as his assist percentage (16.1), PER (19.9) and he is maintaining a near career-low turnover percentage (9.7).

Simply put, Beal is playing more games, more minutes per game and has still been more efficient. In addition, he has career-highs in VORP, BPM and WS (8.2, doubling his previous high of 4). Basic and advanced statistics indicate this is his finest campaign yet.

One of the biggest improvements for Beal has come from his shot selection. Wizards fans will recall that Beal would often pass up open three-point shots inexplicably. Not anymore. This season, 41.9 percent of Beal’s shots are coming from three-point range (by far a career-high) and his three-point percentage (40.6) is essentially tied with his prior best marks. Cut out the low-percentage mid-range floaters and replace them with high-percentage three-pointers and this is what can happen for a player like Beal.

Like Wall, Beal does a lot of his damage on the fast break. However, unlike Wall, Beal doesn’t thrive on volume but is instead much more efficient in fewer opportunities. With a lower transition frequency (17.5 percent, compared to 22.1 percent for Wall), Beal scores 1.33 points per possession in transition, good for fifth in the league amongst qualifying players, and shoots a higher effective field goal percentage (68.7 to Wall’s 60.3). With both guards attacking in transition, Washington features a dangerous transition game that can be difficult for any opponent to deal with.

This has been a breakout season for Beal. Injuries haven’t been an issue and he has tailored his game in such a way that makes him even more effective for Washington than he has been in previous seasons.

Isaiah Thomas – Boston Celtics

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is the unquestioned leader and best overall player for Boston. Until a few months ago, his name had even been in the discussion of potential MVP candidates. Although arguably no longer the case, we should recognize how tremendous Thomas has been this season.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, who is seemingly always stockpiling assets, has long sought to acquire a superstar to lead Boston. Although the search goes on, Thomas has emerged as a homegrown superstar for the Celtics this season.

Thomas has achieved a dramatic increase in scoring (a career-high 29.2, up from 22.2 last season). He is also posting career-highs in free throw shooting (90.9 percent), effective (54.8) and true shooting percentages (62.7) and a near career-high in assists. Thomas is sporting an incredibly high 34 percent usage rate while maintaining nearly a career-high in assist percentage (32.5) and a career low in turnover percentage (10.6). Finally, Thomas has hit career benchmarks in VORP, BPM and WS.

Thomas has been very good individually and is a principal reason that the Celtics hold second-place in the Eastern Conference. Thomas has been able to achieve many of the above results by playing as efficiently as possible by attacking the rim and hitting three-point shots.

What has also set Thomas apart has been his incredible play in fourth quarters. Earlier this season, his clutch scoring earned him the Game of Thrones inspired nickname, “The King in the Fourth.”  As of April 10, Thomas is averaging 9.8 points in fourth quarters, second only to Oklahoma City Thunder guard and MVP candidate Russell Westbrook.

Thomas has been able to hit this level of success despite his diminutive size (5-foot-9) and despite opposing defenses focusing their attention on him (without much success).

Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls are teetering on the edge of playoff success or doom. After a loss on April 9 to the New Jersey Nets, the Bulls are tied for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Bulls’ management has been criticized for failing to properly surround Jimmy Butler with players that compliment his skill set. Specifically, the Bulls added ball-dominant veteran guards Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, as well as recently trading away three-point threat Doug McDermott. With little spacing and erratic play from several players throughout the season, Chicago has failed to maximize Butler’s considerable talent.

Despite the mismanagement, Butler is averaging a career-high in points (24), assists (5.5), rebounds (6.2), free throw shooting (including a career-high 86.4 percent) while maintaining a near career-high shooting percentage from the field and a career-high true shooting percentage (56.6). Butler has done this with career highs in usage percentage (26.6), assist percentage (25.1) and his third lowest turnover percentage (9.4). Additionally, Butler is posting career-best marks in VORP, BPM, WS and PER.

Butler is dominating the ball while scoring efficiently, making plays for others and keeping his turnovers down. In a season where he has been surrounded by overlapping talent, been involved in locker room drama and been the subject of significant trade rumors, Butler has managed to carry his team and post career-high marks in several statistical categories.

C.J. McCollum – Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum forms the second half of another brilliant backcourt pairing. Like Wall and Beal, Damian Lillard and McCollum are the collective engine that makes their respective team run. Behind Lillard, and the career-year of McCollum, the Trail Blazers recently clinched the final playoff spot in the West and are set for a rematch against the Golden State Warriors as the eighth seed. The spotlight tends to shine brightest on Lillard, who has posted several great seasons. With this in mind, let’s focus on McCollum’s career-year.

McCollum’s most successful campaign is marked by career-highs in points (23), blocks, rebounds, free throw shooting, both effective (54.4) and true shooting (58.5) percentage, three-point shooting (42 percent), as well as minutes per game (35). Like the players above, McCollum is posting a career-high in usage (27.5 percent) while achieving his lowest turnover percentage to date (9.9). He is both scoring and serving as a secondary ball-handler, which is a nice luxury for Portland. Finally, his PER (19.9), VORP, BPM and WS ratings are all at career-highs.

Overlooked in this career-year is how effective McCollum’s scoring has been in the fourth quarter. In fourth quarters, McCollum is shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range and has a 54 percent effective field goal rate, both of which outpaces Lillard comparatively. Again, Lillard is the face of the Trail Blazers, but McCollum is arguably just as important to the team’s overall success – especially this season.

*****

Honorable Mentions include Lillard, Miami HEAT center Hassan Whiteside, Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.

Players purposely omitted since they are leading candidates for the major regular season awards include: James Harden, Westbrook, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green.

 

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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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