The Indiana Pacers began last season as one of the few teams in the league to keep their same starting lineup intact from the 2017-18 season. That certainly won't be the case again next season.
The Pacers entered the offseason with the expectation they were going to lose some of their veteran players who were set to become unrestricted free agents. They ended up seeing starters Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young depart to new teams, starter Darren Collison retire and bench pieces Cory Joseph, Kyle O'Quinn and Tyreke Evans all depart.
The Pacers' offseason was interesting because they acquired T.J. Warren and the 32nd overall pick from the Phoenix Suns for basically cap space. Then they did what few expected as they selected a center in the first round of the draft as they did with Goga Bitadze.
One of the most prevalent rumors heading into free agency was the Pacers' interest in Ricky Rubio. However, they ended up capitalizing on an opportunity to acquire Malcolm Brogdon in a sign-and-trade instead. With the plan being to start Domantas Sabonis alongside Myles Turner in the frontcourt, there wasn't a need to sign someone to replace Young.
The focus shifted to adding depth and that's what they did with signing Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday and T.J. McConnell.
There are a few questions facing this Pacers team during the upcoming season and one of greatest importance is regarding the health of All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. There have been mentions of a possible December or January return for him, but there isn't a set timetable yet. It will be challenging for the Pacers to be among the league's elite if Oladipo is unable to return to the lineup and make an All-Star-caliber impact. It is at least worth mentioning that the team has stated that his rehab process has been going well.
If the Pacers hope to stay afloat without Oladipo, they will certainly need career-scorers like Warren and Lamb to pick up more scoring responsibility. The concern is that neither player passes often so their half-court offense could become rather predictable. Brogdon can certainly test chipping in more in the playmaking department while Oladipo is sidelined as well. He was primarily a '3-and-D' guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, so it may take an adjustment period to be consistent in such a role.
There is uncertainty regarding the fit on both ends of the floor with Turner and Sabonis playing together. The duo has not logged many practice reps together and changing that could certainly help their cohesion. However, there are still fundamental traits that could be problematic no matter how much they practice together.
The defensive concerns that come with playing Sabonis at the power forward spot are quite simple. He does not excel at defending in space and matching up against power forwards in the modern game due to limitations in lateral quickness. While he has been working on improving in this area throughout the offseason, he will still will likely consistently require assistance from Turner in help defense.
It seems that the fit for the Turner and Sabonis pairing on the offensive end of the floor will rely mostly on coach Nate McMillan. There were issues with interior floor spacing that were related to coaching and it played a critical role in the team struggling offensively when the two big men played together.
They will need to establish team rules for their half-court offense that set the two up for success. It starts with McMillan allowing Turner to shoot a higher volume of 3-pointers. Last season, he averaged only 2.6 attempts per game despite shooting 38.8% on the season. It would be beneficial for him to be shooting much closer to seven perimeter jumpers per game instead.
A greater perimeter shooting volume can be achieved for Turner by spotting up more from deep when he's playing off the ball instead of being tasked with crowding the paint. He only attempted a total of 16 shots from the corner last season and shooting more from that spot, in particular, needs to happen. Putting up more shots from the corner would help space the floor for Sabonis when he’s posting up or setting screens in high pick-and-roll situations.
There is another layer that could be unleashed in Turner’s skill-set by letting him let it fly more from deep. He has shown real signs of being an effective threat at driving the lane from the perimeter, especially after using a shot fake. He would be able to utilize this ability on a more consistent basis if he’s spotting up or popping to the 3-point line and his matchup has to close out on him.
One of the factors that will be important to monitor for the Pacers’ half-court offense is Turner’s ability to punish teams that switch screens. There were situations last season when he came up short against those matchups in the post and the team would also overlook making the entry pass to him. Being able to hit jumpers from mid-range and from deep, finish on rolls to the basket, and exploit mismatches in the post off switches would make a fully versatile threat.
The next factor to monitor about this Pacers team will be how they manage the minutes of their big men. The organization believes that Turner, Sabonis, and Bitadze can all share the floor together in pairs regardless of the combination. It is expected that Turner will also play more minutes at power forward than he has in recent seasons.
There are plenty of factors to monitor about the Pacers given the makeup of their roster. The significant lack of roster continuity and array of unknowns surrounding this team leaves a wide range of realistic projections regarding their regular-season win total.