The Pacers: Legit Contenders or Master Pretenders?

The Pacers are 25-12 with the second best net rating in the entire league. The year that they’re having so far is absolutely amazing. Why is there no buzz surrounding this team?

Last season, the Pacers shattered expectations and massively outperformed what was expected out of them before the start of the 2017-2018 season. Behind the emergence of Victor Oladipo, a balanced offense and defense, as well as a solid supporting cast, the Nate McMillan led team won 48 games in the regular season and pushed the eventual finals runner ups Cleveland Cavaliers to a grueling 7 game series.

With how successful the 2017-2018 season was, the Pacers franchise decided to essentially run it back, but this time with an upgraded roster. The front office made some solid moves in the draft and during the free agency period, and no move was bigger than the acquisition of the 6’6 swingman Tyreke Evans.

After being the vocal point on offense for an atrocious Grizzlies squad last year (Memphis even shut Evans down because they were tanking and he was simply performing way too well) the Pacers signed Tyreke Evans in hopes that he would be able to bring similar production, but in a different uniform. 32 games into the season and the former rookie of the year winner hasn’t been able to carry over that same magic from the previous season. The signing has been an absolute flop, Tyreke’s numbers are down across the board.

Even though the three pointer is still going in at an acceptable rate (36.8% on 3.5 attempts), the problem is that Tyreke hasn’t been able to hit shots from the other areas. Evans’ percentages are poor in comparison to the previous season as his %’s in the restricted area, the floater range, the mid range and beyond the arc are much lower

In addition to that, the turnovers are piling up more frequently. Evans commits 3.3 mistakes per 36, a significant uptick from the 2.6 during last season. It’s safe to say that the expectations that were set for him haven’t been met so far.

Adjusting to a new role usually takes time and has its trials, and that may be a solid explanation for Evans having a space jam-esque loss of powers, but it’s still bizarre that he’s struggling this much. Indiana acquired the former #4 overall pick to be the leader of their bench and play a major role in the post season. There is still time for Tyreke to find his groove and become the player that the Pacers thought they were getting when they signed him to the 1 year 12 million dollar deal, but the time is ticking. Evans isn’t doing any favors for his team with this kind of a season, neither for his value in the upcoming free agency.

Despite Evans’ struggles, the other acquisitions have been hits rather than misses.

Acquiring Doug McDermott has paid off, even though the contract that was given to him was a bit too generous. The shooting and floor spacing that he provides is something that Indiana desperately needs. Yes, there are some defensive limitations that will undoubtedly be exposed, especially come playoff time when coach McMillan will be forced to sit him, but McDermott has allowed the offense to look much smoother. Kyle O’Quinn may be underutilized, but if there will be an injury, he’ll be one hell of a replacement. O’Quinn’s old school bruiser-y ways would fit right in with this Pacers team. The team’s 2018 first round pick Aaron Holiday has had an up and down season, but that’s what rookie point guards usually go through in their first years in the league. Holiday even managed to show some flashes while Oladipo was out.

Building an identity is important for every team, and the the one that the Pacers have built this season is of a defensive juggernaut. Indiana is top 2 in both defensive rating and the least points allowed per game. That’s a rare combination, but completely justifies of how ridiculously good this team has been on the defensive end.

It seems that Myles Turner has emerged as the defensive monster that so many people thought that he could become. Turner has been making a case for himself of becoming the defensive player of the year this season. Alongside Myles, there are two players that could be on an all defensive team at the end of the season in Victor Oladipo and Thaddeus Young. Indy is elite at creating havoc and causing turnovers (#2 in steals per game) and excel at protecting the rim, opponents shoot 59.1% in the <6 feet area against the Pacers, the third lowest mark in the association. Nate McMillan has always been highly regarded as a great defensive coach, and the job that he and the Pacers coaching staff has done is remarkable. There are essentially no weak links on defense in the starting lineup – even Bojan Bogdanovic has performed pretty well. This is truly a terrifying defense.

important part of any great regular season team is a good second unit, and oh boy, do the Pacers have exactly that. Indiana’s bench has the highest net rating of any second unit in the league this season with +4.5. Led by Domantas Sabonis, who is having a spectacular season, Indy’s second unit has been able to keep the team afloat while the starters rest on the bench. Sometimes, the bench actually plays better than the starting unit.

It’s common sense that a team would suffer with their star player on the sidelines. The Pacers were a perfect example of that last season as they were absolutely obliterated in the seven games in which Victor Oladipo didn’t play in, getting blown out by an average of 14.14 points in such games.

This season, however, it has been a completely different story. Oladipo has already missed 11 games this year, but the team managed to take care of business in his absence. The Pacers went 7-4 in the games that the 2018 most improved player didn’t play in. The team had a net rating of +6.5 during that period, the 5th highest. Indiana created opportunities for themselves to stay in games with their stingy defense and mediocre offense. There are more capable ball handlers (Evans, even with how poorly he has performed and Aaron Holiday, the rookie that played very well in the absence of Victor) on the roster this time around. While the offense wasn’t pretty without Oladipo, it was much better than it was last year without him, and so were the results.

Are the Pacers legitimate contenders in the eastern conference? Probably not, there are a ton of issues that Indiana has which other teams could exploit in a 7 game series.

The love affair that the Pacers had with mid range jumpers last season still remains an issue in the current one, even with that addiction being cut down on. Three point shooting is an another problem, more accurately, the lack of it. The Pacers attempt 25 three’s per game, that ranks #29. When playoff defenses will plan for it, that will really hold Indiana’s offense back.Along with that, the Celtics and Raptors are less than favorable matchups, but someone that the Pacers would undoubtedly have to go through in order to get out of the conference.

Even with all of these flaws, this will be a squad that no one will want to face at any stage of the post season. The Pacers have been really good this season, but there is still a higher level that this team could achieve. The young talent on the roster is great and still promising, Oladipo is still relatively young, Holiday seems intriguing and there is still some untapped potential left in Turner. Furthermore, the Pacers will look to be one of the bigger players in the 2019 offseason. Naptown is starting to wake up, and if everything goes right, this could become a sleeping giant that nobody will want to mess with

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