The Indiana Pacers : The Underdogs of the East
This offseason was by far the most unpredictable in recent memory. LeBron James worked his magic and got Anthony Davis to the Lakers. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teamed up in Brooklyn with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George doing the same on the Clippers. Jimmy Butler found his new home in South Beach, and Kemba found his in Boston. The Russell Westbrook era in Oklahoma City came to an end, and Chris Paul’s tumultuous tenure in Houston did as well.
With so many superstars players switching teams, it’s easy to the overlook the small market teams that made significant improvements because of the lack of star-power. The Lakers, Clippers, and Nets all became championship contenders, so teams like Indiana garner no attention. Indiana made a myriad of great moves this offseason, but have flown under the radar all offseason. Indiana had 48 wins and 34 losses last season (25 and 11 in games that Victor Oladipo played in), so adding players like Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, Tj Warren, and Goga Bitadze could potentially make that number grow. Victor Oladipo will reportedly be out until approximately December, so the first three months could be rough for Indiana, but when Oladipo comes back, the Pacers could break out.
Indiana was 23 and 23 without Oladipo last season, mainly due to their defense. Oladipo was the only player who could create his own shot, so losing him took a large toll on their offensive production. The Pacers outscored opponents by 6.4 points (per 100 possessions) with Oladipo, and were outscored by 7.3 points without him, per John Schuhmann of NBA.com.
To fully grasp how much Indiana improved this offseason, here’s who they gained and who they lost.
Malcolm Brogdon (via sign and trade with Milwaukee)
Tj Warren (via trade with Phoenix)
Jeremy Lamb (via Free Agency)
Goga Bitadze (via the Draft)
Tj McConnell (via Free Agency)
Darren Collison (retirement)
Tyreke Evans (banned)
Kyle O’Quinn (via Free Agency)
Cory Joseph (via Free Agency)
Thaddeus Young (via Free Agency)
Wesley Mathews (via Free Agency)
Bojan Bogdanovic (via Free Agency)
Malcolm Brogdon is an improvement at the point guard position, and Jeremy Lamb will be able to start at the shooting guard position, and could be one of the best sixth men in the league when Oladipo returns, if they choose to bring him off the bench. Malcolm Brogdon was a part of the 50,40,90 club last season, and is known as one of the most efficient players in the league today. Last season he averaged 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists, with only 1.4 turnovers. He won’t be able to provide the same playmaking that Darren Collison did, but now that he no longer has to share possessions with Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’ll be able to set up his teammates more consistently. Jeremy Lamb was a very good second option last season in Charlotte, averaging 15.3 points, and scored 20+ points 18 times. He scored in double digits 66 times, and had 2+ steals in 26 games, showing that he’s not just a one sided player.
Tj Warren wont be able to provide the same spacing that Bogdanovic did, but his shot creation will be much needed with Oladipo’s absence. He has a career 3 point percentage of 34%, but this past season he shot 43% on 4 attempts per game, which is a good sign. Goga Bitadze will be able to play the backup center position, and will be able to do so effectively. He slowly rose up draft boards throughout the year, and was even projected to be a lottery pick in some mock drafts. He’ll be able to provide interior defense and rebounding off the bench, and has shown that his offensive game, while not exactly a finish product, could be something to watch out for. He averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks last season for Buducnost VOLI. Tj McConnell was one of the hardest working players for Philadelphia during his run with the team, and was even name dropped as being “untouchable”, which is something usually reserved for star players (according to Paul Hudrick of NBCSports).
Adding Lamb, Warren, Brogdon, McConnell, and Bitadze, outweighs losing Bogdanovic, Young, Collison, O’Quinn, Joseph, Mathews, and Evans. They improved their depth, shot creation, and shooting, all of which were areas in which they struggled last season. They still have players like Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, both of whom keep improving each season. Nate McMillan is one of the best coaches in the league, that coupled with the fact that they have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, could lead to good things for Indiana. Indiana will be one of the most surprising teams next season, so don’t be surprised if they end up as one of the tops seeds in the East.