Diving deep on what’s gone wrong for the Indiana Pacers

Nate Bjorkgren
Nate Bjorkgren and the Indiana Pacers are at a crossroads. Photo from Raptors Rapture.

Let’s take a look at the Pacers stats, roster construction, and where they go from here…

The Indiana Pacers have lost their way a bit this season. They are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference and have a 19-23 record.

Often overlooked nationally, the Pacers have been a perennial playoff team for the last five seasons – albeit swept out in the last two. Under former coach Nate McMillan (now with the Atlanta Hawks) the Pacers flirted with 50 wins for the past three years. They were a good team. They were a solid team. Problem was they were never a contending team.

Nate Bjorkgren has taken the reigns as head coach, having left his role as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors under Nick Nurse. The opening five games would have settled Bjorkgren well having won four with a positive plus/minus of 9.8. Four months later and Indiana have yet to achieve a .500 or better record for a month.

The loss of T.J. Warren due to injury on his left foot was huge for the Pacers. After witnessing his exploits in the NBA bubble last year, Warren was expected to continue the good form that resulted in a career high in points (19.8) field goal percentage (53%). Injury however meant an audible was called and the Pacers had to continue without one of its best scorers.

Pacers stats: Rebounding and fourth quarter issues

The stats make out puzzling results for the Pacers. Despite consistently starting with two big men on the floor in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers rank 29th in rebounding. Giving up second chance points has also been a problem for the Pacers as they rank 23rd in defensive rebounding.

What happened in the 124-115 loss to the Brooklyn Nets last week was nothing short of shambolic. Aside from yet another game where the Pacers fourth quarter problems were on full display, a Brooklyn team that had only one player over the height of 6”7, outrebounded the Pacers by 16. To add insult to injury, the Nets had a career high in offensive rebounding.

Indiana’s harshest critics will say the team is soft. Both physically and mentally. Their inability to crash the boards as well as consistently failing to hold onto fourth quarter leads is a major concern. They have held second half leads in 15 of the 22 losses. Despite Myles Turner having a career year and leading the league in blocks (3.4) his lack of rebounding continues to labour him. Since entering the NBA, Turner has never averaged more than 8 rebounds a game, with his highest being 7.3 in his second year.


Roster improvements

With the NBA trade deadline on 25th March fast approaching, general manager Kevin Pritchard must decide whether the Pacers need a roster shake up. After trading Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert on 16th January, the Pacers showed their intent of long-term security.

They were met with an unexpected scare when LeVert suffered a serious health concern. A small mass on his left kidney was found during his physicals and meant he would be out indefinitely.

The Pacers however, should be more than pleased with the trade. LeVert has two years remaining on his deal at $34 million, whereas Oladipo was playing on an expiring contract and has already signalled his intention on signing a max contract next season. In terms of production, the two guards are near symmetrical. Since the start of last season, the two have averaged 18.3PPG as well as giving you 4 assists per game.

Expiring contracts

The Aaron Holiday situation needs clarity. He has been ever-present this season featuring in 40 out of 42 games this season. Holiday’s omission from Sunday’s win over the Miami Heat was telling. He enters restricted free agency this summer and the jury remains out on his future as a Pacer.

Holiday’s production has nosedived across the board (points, assists, field goal percentage, plus/minus). Given his low trade value, Pritchard will struggle to find a suitor and instead kick the tyres along the road to free agency. Contract uncertainty also involves Doug McDermott and T.J. McConnell as both are expiring in the summer. McDermott is shooting 37% from three for the season and given the contracts shooters have received in recent years (Bertans 5 years $80 million), McDermott will no doubt look to receive a significant pay day.

McConnell should be the player Indiana prioritises among expiring contracted players. The former Sixer is the spark plug off the bench, a steal machine and should be a contender for NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. His performance earlier this month against the Cavs was history making as McConnell recorded 9 steals in the first half alone.

Signs of positivity

Sunday’s win vs an in-form Miami Heat side should give Bjorkgren and his men some much needed confidence.

Not only did the Pacers beat the Miami twice in succession, they also won 7 of 8 quarters played. Their play was fluid and free flowing, almost unrecognisable from the team swept by Miami in last year’s playoffs. Sabonis (who was unavailable during the playoffs) drew double teams on Sunday, leaving for LeVert and Brogdon time and space to deliver when called upon.

The Indiana Pacers look destined for a play-in game and possibly a playoff showdown against one of either Bucks, Nets or Sixers.

Although it may look daunting, the Pacers cohesiveness might be their calling card against the elite as they look to be a competitive playoff team once again.

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About Kelechi Ulu 20 Articles
It was during the 2018 Conference Finals my interest in the NBA began. Watching the Rockets and Warriors duel it out was something akin to a movie scene. It was then when I knew I was hooked onto the NBA... Since then I love reading all things NBA and listening to a plethora of basketball podcasts. It’s all for the love of the game

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