Coming into college, Romeo Langford was a five-star recruit and the second-ranked shooting guard in the country. At New Albany High School in his hometown, the Indiana native decided to play all four years there instead of choosing the prep school route.
Langford’s natural ability to score the ball and make plays for others garnered plenty of national attention and elevated him to the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game, where the world was introduced to his talents on a grander stage. The impressive, young swingman went on to be recognized as his home state’s Mr. Basketball in his senior season before committing to the area’s most popular school, Indiana University.
Hoosier Nation was absolutely thrilled to have Langford join their family. Not only was he a local, but he was also a star in the making that could likely propel Indiana to the top of the Big Ten as a freshman. Unfortunately for both parties, though, the season didn’t turn out to be what they had hoped for.
Langford had to battle through multiple injuries from the beginning of the year, including a lingering torn ligament on his shooting hand that clearly affected and hindered his capability to knock down shots. While he could have gone down an easier path by sitting out, Langford decided to play through the pain and show his teammates that he wasn’t going to school just for a one-way ticket to the NBA.
Alas, Indiana needed him to be healthier. After starting the season 12-2, the team went on to win just one of its next 13 games. There were losing streaks of seven and five during the stretch from early January to late February. And despite closing the season by winning four in a row, a first-round conference tournament loss sent the Hoosiers to the National Invitation Tournament. It would be Langford’s final game wearing the candy stripes.
The next stop for Langford is the NBA. Most mock drafts seem to have him ranged between the lower end of the lottery and the middle of the first round.
“I guess you could say I’m under the radar now,” Langford said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “So now I gotta just earn my respect back, and I feel like when I have my respect back and I’m fighting for these positions, fighting to be a higher pick. I feel like that shows that I am passionate about the game and I enjoy it.
“It really doesn’t surprise me based off what they saw. That’s what they’re going off of. But I feel like it doesn’t really matter what number you get picked. It matters what team and the fit and where you produce once you get there.”
According to a staffer at Indiana, the best may be yet to come for the standout 19-year-old guard.
With the NBA Draft only 16 nights away, Basketball Insiders is giving you an Insider’s Look at Romeo Langford through the eyes of this staffer, who spent a great amount of time with him during the season in Bloomington.
The second that Langford arrived on campus, it was clear he was special.
In the first month of practice, the confident freshman didn’t take long to cement his presence in the program. Indiana’s coaching staff uses a point system in their drills. At the end of the sessions, the leader in points gets bragging rights and is allowed to give his input on a few things regarding practice methods.
According to the staffer, who wishes to remain anonymous, as soon as Langford learned about the competition, he went right at the team’s veteran leader—6-foot-8, 232-pound forward Juwan Morgan.
“He was competing at the highest level against a senior – who’d been there for four years, who’s bigger and stronger,” the staffer told Basketball Insiders. “It didn’t take long for [Romeo] to start winning the practice points. You could tell right away just given his body, his athleticism, his length, his speed, everything that is his package. He’s just different, that’s why he’s gonna be a lottery pick.”
Despite the ailing thumb, Langford was never shy to attack the basket. Using his 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame, he drove past guys and finished with grace with both hands, making it look like he wasn’t even trying. The size and length are big reasons why, and he’s able to control it well.
The staffer recalls two memorable games that stuck out to him during the season.
“At Penn State in the first half,” the staffer said. “He scored like eight straight on some silly shots – stepback in the corner over Mike Watkins, stepback to the top of the key. That was definitely one. He had a moment probably every game. He’d rip baseline when the baseline wasn’t even open and he’d tight-rope it and finish at the rim. You’d just wonder, ‘How’d he do that?’
“Another moment was in the Maryland game [where he dropped 28 points]. In the second half, he was cookin’. There was flashes every game with a stepback or a one-dribble from the NBA line to get to the rim. Whatever it was, he just makes it look so easy.”
There is no question about Langford’s work ethic. The staffer asserts he’s very coachable, is a great teammate, isn’t confrontational and certainly isn’t “soft” as some perceive him to be. Rather, Langford experienced the hardships of a tough season with the Hoosiers and grinding through the injuries was one of the first times he had dealt with adversity. Yet, Langford managed and made the best out of it.
“He averaged 16.5 points in arguably the best league in America,” the staffer said. “Whoever was guarding him, their number one objective was to stop Romeo Langford and he still averaged 16.5. So when people say if he ever backed away from a challenge, his numbers kinda spoke for themselves.”
Langford also tied for the top usage percentage (26.1) among freshman in the Big Ten with Ignas Brazdeikis and boasted the 11th-best in the conference overall. Looking at ball screen and pick-and-roll statistics on Synergy, he and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston were two of the top players in the country.
Mind you, this was all with the weight of the state and university on his hampered shoulders.
“Obviously in the state of Indiana, there’s a ton of pressure on him, and I thought he handled that like a true pro, whether it was signing autographs, taking pictures, whatever it may be,” the staffer said. “He never gave the cold shoulder to any kids or anything like that and I kinda think that speaks volumes about how he was brought up and raised and all that type of stuff.”
Langford is extremely close to his family. He came up through the church, knows the difference between right and wrong and is as respectful as they come. We’re talking about “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” type of manners. Yes, there are some nights where he stays up late or plays Fortnite for a little too long, but he doesn’t smoke or drink, isn’t rude, didn’t miss class or rebel against anybody.
As far as his circle goes, it’s pretty tight. Due to the bond he has with his mother (Sabrina), father (Tim) and sisters (Tiffany and Tisha), Langford is well-protected. His personal trainers, Jonathan Jeanty and Kenneth Dion Lee, are good friends of the family and have been around Romeo since he was in elementary school. Tim seems to be “running his show” when it comes to making decisions and determining who is a positive influence on his son.
Romeo is inspired by everyone in his family and wants to make them proud.
“I feel like they have a big part in me being the man I am today,” Langford said. “And one of the reasons I am playing this sport [is] just so I can be able to provide and help my family in the long run. They’ve helped me a lot. Just being there for me. If I have any questions, I can go to them and talk.”
Family is where Langford gets his personality from too. He’s a quiet individual and it’s not easy to hear him when he speaks in a crowded room. He isn’t much of a talker in the first place. Even so, he is easy to get along with and very likable.
“At first, he’ll probably come off as shy and softspoken, but once he gets comfortable around you and trusts that his best interest is in your hands, [he’ll open up],” the staffer said.
“He has a lot of people kinda pulling him, so he’s able to identify who’s there for him and who’s trying to use him. He has a really good sense of that. So once he kinda gets past that initial shy stage, he’s a really, really good kid about the right things.”
On the court, Langford’s skill set is extremely versatile, making him the perfect fit for a constantly evolving league in the association.
“I just feel like my game translates real well for the NBA, where the NBA’s going right now and I’m just built for it,” Langford said.
“His athleticism and his size and his frame allow him to do a lot. I think right away, he’s gonna be able to be a two-way player,” the staffer said. “Obviously, he still has a lot to learn defensive side, but just given his measurables and his frame and his lateral ability and his quickness, his jumping ability – he, right away, will be able to guard the two and the three in the league at his size and his athleticism. So I think that’ll translate seamlessly.”
As specified by the staffer, Langford is at his best with the ball in his hands. He can operate in the two-man game as the handler, set solid ball screens and is adept at making sharp outlet passes in transition.
“He has good IQ,” the staffer continued. “He kinda knows what he’s looking for, whether to throw back off a ball screen, if they put two on the ball or if nobody hedges or shows, he can get in the lane, he’s got really good touch on the floater.”
In furthering his assessment, the staffer believes Langford has to improve his catch-and-shoot threes. The Indiana product is much better and visibly comfortable off the bounce on pull-up jumpers and stepbacks, and he personally agrees with both notions.
Langford plans to stay in the gym to continuously work on his shot. He knows that the thumb injury affected the way the numbers turned out. After all, if you can’t firmly grip and handle the basketball, how can you properly shoot it?
At the same time, he doesn’t use that as an excuse and understands his mechanics could still use some work.
“My form needs a couple things tweaked here and there,” Langford said. “But I can still shoot the ball. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that…”
The staffer appreciates Langford’s candor and backs his claim.
“I do legit think that his thumb was an issue for him,” the staffer said. “Now, I also think that throughout the course of the year, he got better, he became a better shooter through our program, through the repetition, through everything that we were working with him on. He got better as the year progressed. It wasn’t necessarily his strong suit coming in because he’s just so talented.
“In the end, the jumper now – it’s almost like he didn’t really have to [have one] because he just gets by people and finishes at the rim. I think that was misconstrued a little bit. I think he’s gonna get better and better as a shooter. as his pro career kinda develops and he gets in the right system and he’s able to rep it out and his thumb gets healthy.”
Langford and the staffer both contend that it was a shame he couldn’t go through the full NBA Draft Combine process.
The staffer would’ve predicted him to finish in the top five in at least in every category. Langford would’ve bet on himself to place at the very top of the 2019 crop of prospects.
“Without a doubt, yes, sir,” Langford said.”I feel like I would’ve performed pretty well out there. At least I wish I could’ve [done] some of the testing.”
One particular question often comes up to the soon-to-be rookie: Do you really love the game of basketball?
Langford maintains this is a common misconception due to how he reacts to big plays and his calm, cool and collected manner on the hardwood.
“The main thing I want guys to realize is how much passion I have for the game, how much love I have for the game and how that dog mentality—actually having it, though it may not seem like it the way I carry myself,” Langford says.
“Just ‘cause I don’t show too much emotion out on the court on the outside doesn’t mean I don’t really love the game, which I actually do love. . . I’m not gonna change myself. Damian Lillard doesn’t really show too much emotion. He has a stone face most of the time, but people don’t question his passion and stuff for the game, so it really doesn’t bother me.”
Having observed him up close and personal, the staffer says Langford’s demeanor doesn’t define his palpable presence when he’s playing.
“He’s never gonna be like an overly emotional, rah-rah type guy,” the staffer said. “What you see is what you get with his personality. I would call it even-keeled whether we were up 20 or down 20, 10-game losing streak, five-game losing streak – just consistent with his everyday approach.”
When asked to compare himself to somebody, Langford didn’t want to say. Though, he was willing to say his playing style is similar to that of Bradley Beal. He envisions a similar type of career for himself and is confident he could play a role like the veteran Washington Wizards All-Star guard.
So what needs to happen in order for Langford to reach his fullest potential?
“It’s all about just development. That’s what it is these days,” the staffer said. “Obviously spending time with the coaches and understanding what they’re asking of him and him being on the same page, doing what they ask. And it’s gonna come down to just hard work. It takes time to mature at the end of the day. He’s 19 years old and what you don’t know is what you don’t know. So he’s still got a lot to learn.
“But whoever gets him, if they develop him and spend time with him and get him into the gym and work on his shot mechanics and all that type of stuff, there’s a lot that he can do. He’s a smart player that has IQ, which sometimes you just get these uber-talented dudes that are ball dominant, know how to play, know what they’re looking for. Romeo just has a really good feel for what’s going on, who’s open, all that type of stuff. He is a sharp kid.”
Of course, situation and fit also play a crucial part in all of this at the pro level. Will he play off the bench? Will he start? Is there a vision the organization has for him? These are the factors that have great importance and make a difference.
“If he goes to a really, really bad team that needs him to play early, I think he’ll develop and mature and get better quicker than say if he goes to a playoff team that has a secure starting five, starting seven and he’s working his way in,” the staffer said.
“I think it’s very dependent on where he goes, who’s coaching him, what their needs are, what their vision is for him. It’s hard to predict if he’s gonna [make] an immediate impact like in college – be one of the best players, which he was not only in the Big Ten but in the country – obviously the NBA is very different when it comes to that.”
Regardless of who drafts Langford on June 20, the staffer sees a team being pleased with who he is as a person, his habits and his consistency.
“He’ll represent the program the right way,” the staffer said. “So I definitely think they’re gonna get a very talented guy that hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential. Just because, again, shooting the ball is everything in the NBA and I think he’s just gonna continue to get better and better. His body’s gonna continue to mature and get stronger.
“So I think he is very well-deserving of being projected in the top 14 or whatever it may be. . . I mean, he was a highlight show. He’s not like a power dunker or anything like that. It’s hard to say. He’s not gonna be like Miles Bridges and ripping off the rim, but he’s gonna make some shots in the NBA and do some things in the NBA that some people are gonna say, ‘Wow’ – but they’re gonna be like: ‘Woah, that looks really easy.'”
If the NBA allowed players to turn pro straight out of high school, Langford probably could’ve done so. If the option was there, he would’ve considered it.
But Langford doesn’t think he would’ve been ready and likely would’ve ended up where he did anyway. Plus, in one year with the Hoosiers, he changed and became more of a two-way player in preparation for the next level.
“I mean, I enjoyed myself in college and I felt like I learned a lot,” Langford said.” But that was a good stepping stone to go to the NBA.
“I just feel like my body matured. Obviously, I’ll be able to go against some guys that’s older than me. Instead of going straight to the NBA against guys that already have a name for themselves or are already grown men. But that time in college helped me mature as a young man, physically and mentally.”
That aforementioned season of setbacks at Indiana is a perfect example of a learning experience he wouldn’t have gotten had it not been for choosing the collegiate path.
“Had that little slump of shooting. Sometimes during the season or a game, things wouldn’t go my way. We didn’t win that much,” Langford said. “Hardest part was to keep working hard, see the light at the end of the tunnel and the reason why you wake up every day and work out in the morning. . .
“In high school, the majority of the time everything’s going your way. So now, once you keep going up a level of playing basketball—whether that’s college or NBA—you’re gonna go through the times where something’s not gonna go your way.
“That’s just the time for you to show just how resilient you are. Keep pushing. Don’t give up. Everything’s gonna be good in the long run if you just keep working hard.”
There are always going to be question marks with young players making the leap to the highest level in basketball.
Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s learning curve differs. There’s just something that sticks out about that mild-mannered, polite young man from New Albany, though.
Maybe we should use his own words to paint the picture.
Romeo Langford is built for this.
NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track
D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.
Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.
Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.
The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.
COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.
The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.
Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).
Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?
Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.
Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.
Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.
On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.
Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).
But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.
At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.
And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.
To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.
So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.
NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?
Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.
Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.
It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.
Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.
Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2021
We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.
The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.
If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.
In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.
TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be
Report: Mike D’Antoni ‘leader in the clubhouse’ to become the next Pacers head coach https://t.co/42Ik5nPTyU
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 6, 2021
Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.
Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.
For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.
There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.
That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.
Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.
Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.