What’s with these preseason rankings?
First off, welcome to the blog! I’ll be covering the Indiana Pacers and live tweeting games with the occasional Colts piece here and there.
For my first act, I will be filing a formal complaint: the Pacers are criminally underrated in expert preseason rankings. Now, I know the last thing you want to hear from a new and fresh face is complaining.
Most of you haven’t even decided if you like this blog yet.
Alas, I feel as though I’ll be forgiven for this given the lack of respect the Blue and Gold are getting from the national media. Of course, they are consistently slept on, but this particular season reminds me more of the post-Paul George trade disrespect.
Six NBA analysts on CBS Sports gave their season predictions and none of them had the Pacers above the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Two of them had them missing the playoffs completely.
Let’s debunk a few common misconceptions about this team.
The Pacers didn’t do enough to keep up with improving rosters
This is the most common, and most understandable, reason the Pacers stock has tanked over the last few months. Many Pacers fans, including myself, were disappointed in the lack of roster changes by the team since the end of last season.
It seemed as though the rest of the East stayed busy and worked towards the goal of knocking off the Bucks as the front-runners. Taking stock in many of these moves, I believe this has been blown way out of proportion.
The Pacers were the fourth seed in the East despite an onslaught of injuries, including Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis each missing 11 games, Malcolm Brogdon missing 19, Victor Oladipo missing the majority of the season, and Jeremy Lamb missing the entire bubble.
Granted, every team deals with injuries, but this team has never been healthy all at once. They still were able to stumble into the top half of playoff teams in the conference.
The other side to consider are the teams who improved. The Nets are the obvious one with the return of Kevin Durant. They should battle with the Bucks for the top seed.
Another team that I consistently see above the Pacers is the Atlanta Hawks. They added Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, among others to solidify a young, talented core. They will make some noise in the East, but not enough to fully erase that 20–47 effort from last season. I just don’t see it.
Other teams that the Pacers are consistently competitive with in the standings (Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Miami) did not make any ground-breaking moves and, in Boston’s case, arguably got worse.
The top two teams will runaway with this conference and it’ll be a fight for 3–7. The Pacers are very much in that tier and to say otherwise proves that many national reporters simply do not watch them.
A new coach and system will not work immediately.
The Pacers shocked many in the NBA when they fired head coach Nate McMillan just days after handing him an extension. McMillan was a polarizing figure among Pacers fans with some pointing out his lack of offensive evolution, while others defended his handle of the locker room.
The fact of the matter is his teams never made it out of the first round. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards. Pacers ownership agreed and McMillan was sent packing.
The Pacers decided a new, fresh voice was needed and after what felt like an eternity, they hired Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren.
Since day one, he has stressed the importance of modernizing this team into a Pace and Space offense. The Pacers ranked 20th in the association in possessions per game at 101.3, a far cry away from the leaders in Milwaukee at 107.2 (ESPN).
The Pacers also ranked 23rd in points per game at 109.4 and dead last in the league in three point attempts per game at 28 (ESPN).
In what has been a very small sample size, the Pacers this preseason have spread the floor out more and have made an intentional effort to shoot more threes. Over the three preseason games, they shot an average of 42 from beyond the arc. They also averaged four more shots per game than last year’s offense (Basketball Reference).
Another side effect of faster basketball is an increase in foul shots. The Pacers also ranked dead last in the league last year in free throws at about 19 per game (ESPN). This increased to 23 per game during the preseason.
If they can replicate their shooting percentages from last year with this distribution of shots, their points per game jumps up to 116.7, good enough to be top five in the league last season.
Will it take some time to adjust? Of course. Is this roster built for this type of offense? Perfectly. Every starter outside of Sabonis can reliably shoot the three with volume. The bench will be bolstered by the Holiday brothers, who both shot over 39 percent from deep last year, Doug McDermott, who was fourth in the league in three point percentage of guys who took four or more per game, and Jeremy Lamb.
Make no mistake, this team is fast and this team can SHOOT. This is only the beginning.
Oladipo wants out and will cause problems
I was with a large group of Pacers fans that was quite annoyed with the Oladipo drama this short offseason. Without commenting too much, there are really three ways this could go this season:
- He plays about the same as last year and the Pacers can sign him for cheaper. The team is now run through TJ Warren, Sabonis, and Brogdon
- He elevates his game back to near All-Star level and the Pacers continue to rise.
- He is traded.
If I had to guess right now, I would think the first option is the most likely. As of right now, I’m not seeing any evidence of what happened this offseason to be affecting the locker room. In fact, I’ve seen the opposite.
This post from Malcolm Brogdon appears to show the two are doing just fine. During the second preseason game, the camera caught Sabonis and him laughing on the bench multiple times.
Is it possible he’s playing his cards right now and getting along to help his stock? Yes. Is it also possible that many Pacers fans overreacted to the rumors, including myself? Also, yes.
Regardless, he’s still on the team and he is the starting shooting guard. Let’s enjoy what we have while we still have it.
The Pacers are no stranger to being overlooked in the national rhetoric. Will they compete for the top spot in the conference this year? Not likely. Are they far better than an eighth seed or missing the playoffs completely? Bet on it.