Who are the Indiana Pacers? Right now, it’s hard to tell if the team has enough talent to compete or if they will be a frequent flier among the trade deadline rumor mill. The Pacers are simply just stuck in the middle, which we call basketball hell. Being in purgatory is one of the last places you want to be because you are not good enough to compete out of the first round of the playoffs, but not bad enough to get a lottery pick to help accelerate the rebuild.
The Pacers finished with the No. 9 seed last year with a 34-38 record. The team was fortunate enough that a play-in tournament existed; otherwise, they would have had their season cut short sooner. Granted, the Pacers didn’t have all of their pieces healthy last year. If the core can stay on the floor, maybe there is more to this team than we realized.
Point Guard - Malcolm Brogdon
In the scoring department, Brogdon had a career year by averaging 21.2 points per game. Brogdon was among the best overall rebounding guards with 5.2 per game, while his 5.9 assists were the second-highest of his career. Since finishing in the 50-40-90 club two years ago, Brogdon has brought stability to the position for the Pacers. There isn’t much more you could ask when it comes to what Brogdon provides.
A common theme that you will notice with the Pacers lineup is the trade value. If the Pacers decide to move Brogdon, they could get multiple first-round picks given the production and salary owed to him. Brogdon is owed just $21 million this year and $22 million next year. For a 20-point, six-assists player at the point, that is a fairly decent salary to go with the skills that could help a contender get over the top.
Shooting Guard - Caris LeVert
When the Pacers traded Victor Oladipo as part of the three-team James Harden trade, LeVert was considered the top overall prospect. LeVert averaged 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 12 games with the Brooklyn Nets before being traded. It turns out that the trade might have saved LeVert’s life when the physical to complete the trade found a mass on his left kidney.
Now, LeVert is 100% and was able to display some of his skills last season in 35 games with the Pacers. LeVert averaged 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. Having a backcourt that averages nearly 40 points alone has to be an exciting possibility.
Small Forward - TJ Warren
When the Pacers moved to the bubble, Warren showed scoring dominance. He scored a career-high 53 points on 20-of-29 shooting, including 9-of-12 from three-point land in the first game back from the hiatus. It was the third-highest amount of points scored in Pacers franchise history. Across eight bubble games, Warren averaged 31.0 points per game to pad his overall season average of 19.8 points per game.
Last year was not a great year for Warren as he played just four games. On December 31, 2020, it was announced that Warren needed surgery to repair a small left navicular stress fracture. Assuming that Warren is healthy, he would provide yet another potential 20-point per game scorer on the floor.
Power Forward - Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis is potentially the most underrated All-Star in the league. When you think of player rankings, would you have him in your top-25? The numbers support that Sabonis is one of the best overall power forwards in the game. Sabonis ranked tied for fifth with 48 double-doubles, as well as fifth in triple-doubles with nine. That reelected his career season of 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game.
While Sabonis owns a great stat line, his legacy has been somewhat murky. Sabonis has many parallels to DeMarcus Cousins right now. While the attitudes are vastly different, Sabonis has been a product of great stat lines, two All-Star appearances, but no real playoff or team success. Until that changes, Sabonis is just a really good player on a bad team.
Center - Myles Turner
Had Myles Turner not been hurt, he would have led the league in blocks. In 47 games, Turner averaged 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks. Turner established himself as an elite rim protector last year. Like the common theme says, had he remained healthy, who knows what else he could have done.
Even though Rudy Gobert was Defensive Player of the Year, Turner might have finished in the top-3 if he played all year. All-Defensive Second Team would have been likely. Let it be known that Turner is the best shot-blocker in the league until someone takes that title away.
T.J. McConnell, Keifer Sykes, Jeremy Lamb, Chris Duarte, Duane Washington Jr., Terry Taylor, DeJon Jarreau, Nate Hinton, Edmond Sumner, Justin Holiday, Kelan Martin, Oshae Brissett, Torrey Craig, Goga Bitadze, Isaiah Jackson
T.J. McConnell is back after finishing runner-up in steals last season. His 1.9 steals per game were second to Jimmy Butler’s 2.1. McConnell is one of the better backup point guards in the league but needs to gain more confidence in shooting the ball. McConnell capitalized on over 55% of his shots but took right around four shots per game.
Jeremy Lamb is a very interesting reserve on the team. In 36 games, Lamb averaged 10.1 points and shot over 40% from the field and three-point range. Lamb has range but has not played over 70 games in a season the last two years due to multiple injuries. Justin Holiday averaged similar stats last year, so the team has depth if Lambe can’t stay on the court.
Torrey Craig was the only player signed that will provide some bit of worth for the Pacers this year. Craig was a streaky outside shooter that will get some chances early as a veteran. The rest of the bench though is where it gets unknown.
Some of the prospects like Terry Taylor, Duane Washington Jr., and first-round pick Isaiah Jackson will need to develop into something this year. Jackson will have the most pressure because the team doesn’t believe in Goga Bitadze enough to move forward with confidence as Turner’s backup.
Play-In Or Lottery Team
The Pacers were not a playoff team last year and their only upgrades to their team were Torrey Craig and a new head coach in Rick Carlisle. While Carlisle is a championship coach dating back to his time with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, the question is more or less, what have you done for me lately? The Pacers did away with Nate McMillian years back because the Pacers couldn’t get out of the first round. Isn’t that exactly what Carlisle did the last two years in Dallas with a team that could be viewed as better than this current roster?
The Pacers are a product of taking a gamble on their quality of health. LeVert, Warren, and Turner experienced injuries that kept them out for about half the season or more. The team believes that this lineup is a playoff contender when all the working parts are on the floor at once. Carlisle does enter a situation with four potential 20-point scorers and a three-tool All-Star at power forward. Carlisle would not have accepted this job had he not believed this was a contender.
If the Pacers can’t win games right away or stumble around .500 for the season, the heat to trade some of these players will heat up. Every single player in the starting lineup is good enough to land some draft capital. With that said, Carlisle, at 61 years old, would not have accepted this job if a full rebuild was on the timeline. While the rumors can begin now surrounding Brogon, Warren, or Turner, it would be surprising to see players moved.
When looking at the standings, the 76ers, Nets, and Bucks are on another level. The Hawks should compete for a top spot as well. The Knicks, Heat, and Bulls have improved. That leaves one more spot open with the Wizards, Hornets, and Pacers in the mix. The play-in tournament features the No. 7 to No. 10 seed. Their future appears set to make a return unless some sort of surprise happens.