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Evaluating the East: Indiana Pacers

The 2018 offseason has brought some changes to the Eastern Conference. LeBron James moved out west, Kawhi Leonard joined the Raptors, and although it isn’t a change per se, the Celtics will get two All-Stars back in their lineup this upcoming season.

Meanwhile, the Sixers revamped their bench and re-signed some important pieces, but other teams in the East will be looking to improve and move up in the standings.

Here at Sixers Front Office, we are in the middle of an Evaluating the East series that dives into the teams that are projected to be in the playoff picture this season. Each column will touch on the team’s key additions and losses, their outlook for 2018-19, and their threat level to the Sixers based on the colors of the US threat level system. The key is below…

In this installment, we’ll take a look at the improving Indiana Pacers.

2017-2018 Record: 48-34, 5th in the Eastern Conference. Eliminated in seven games in the first round against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Notable Offseason Additions:

Tyreke Evans: After having one of his best seasons in recent years, Evans signed a one-year, $12 million contract with the Pacers. In his lone season in Memphis, Evans put up a nice line of 19.4 ponts, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.2 three-pointers per game (at nearly 40 percent) for the tanking Grizzlies. Now, Evans did most of that with Mike Conley out of the lineup, but he’s a pretty good player. He’s settled into being a nice bench piece after being a starter for most of his career. He’ll slot into the 6th man role for the Pacers, a role vacated by Lance Stephenson. Evans is a much better all-around player than Stephenson, giving the Pacers another offensive option to play with and without their star, Victor Oladipo. When teams try to get the ball out of Oladipo’s hands, they now have Evans to make them pay for it. I expect he’ll play around 25 minutes on average, with that number going up in important games.

Doug McDermott: After the Mavericks rescinded his qualifying offer, McDermott quickly inked a three-year, $22 million contract with Indiana, a deal that raised some eyebrows. Most teams shied away from giving out anything other than one-year deals, so the Pacers giving a three-year deal, at over $7 million per season, was quite a shock. McDermott is a good shooter, hitting 42 percent from beyond in his career, but he doesn’t do much more. That’s an expensive deal for a bench shooter. I wouldn’t expect him to play more than 15-18 minutes for the Pacers next season.

Aaron Holiday: The Pacers were armed with the 23rd overall pick in the summer’s draft, which they used on UCLA guard and brother of former Sixers Jrue and Justin, Aaron Holiday. Holiday is coming off of an outstanding junior season, which saw him average 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game. Holiday also shot over 40 percent from deep. He’s sort of a Tyreke Evans clone, albeit a little smaller. He’ll start the season buried on the depth chart behind Darren Collison and Cory Joseph but could see time as a spark of the bench.

Kyle O’Quinn: The Pacers chose to waive Al Jefferson and let Trevor Booker walk, which meant they needed a new backup center. Enter Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn left the Knicks to sign a one-year deal with the Pacers. I was hoping the Sixers would make a play for him as their backup to Embiid but the Pacers did instead. O’Quinn isn’t a big minutes guy but he’s a good backup center. He’ll play tough defense, rebound, and won’t get bullied by anyone. He’s the kind of guy they need to go up against a team with a bruising big man, like the Sixers.

Other notes:

  • Thaddeus Young exercised his $13.7 million player option, keeping him with the Pacers for at least another season.
  • Like Thad, Cory Joseph also exercised his player option, which has him on the books for almost $8m next season.
  • After a good first season in Indy, the Pacers fully guaranteed Bojan Bogdanovic’s contract for the upcoming season.
  • At 50th overall, the Pacers drafted Alize Johnson. He won’t make much of an impact.
  • Indiana signed Elijah Stewart and CJ Wilcox to two-way contracts.

Notable Offseason Losses:

Lance Stephenson: In an odd turn of events, Stephenson decided to team up with his mortal enemy, LeBron James, in Los Angeles. With that, the Pacers lost their 6th man and crazy person. Lance was always better in big games and under the bright lights than he was overall. They might miss his presence and don’t-back-down attitude but his play should be easily replicated and surpassed by Tyreke Evans. Lance and LeBron in LA will be fun to see, though.

Al Jefferson and Trevor Booker: Neither guy made a huge impact but they were dependable rotation bigs. Neither played much in the playoffs.

2018/2019 Outlook:

The Pacers had a much better season after the departure of Paul George than anyone expected, thanks mostly to the emergence of Victor Oladipo. He exploded onto the scene in Indy, averaging a career-high of 23.1 points per game. Oladipo was sort of disappointing in his career up until last season, leaving many people underwhelmed at the return for Paul George. He changed people’s minds on that very early into the season though. The other part of that deal, who most thought was a throw in, was Domantas Sabonis. The young big man doubled his points and rebounds in only a few more minutes a night. He’s even able to play in some two-big lineups with their other young big man, Myles Turner.

For me, the ceiling of this Pacers team is directly tied to the development of Turner. Similar to Oladipo last offseason, Turner has worked incredibly hard on overhauling his body by focusing on his diet and trying a new workout regimen. At times last year, Turner felt tired and was unable to play for longer stretches because of fatigue. He, and the team, hopes that his offseason work will change that. So far, he looks chiseled and in great overall shape. Of course, your body and health only take you so far. Turner is a good defensive big man who can shoot a bit from deep. The Pacers are hoping that he can round out his game and become a 20/10 threat, as well as a potential All-Star.

Without the emergence of a second star, which is most likely to be Turner, the Pacers can only be so good. They are firmly in the tier behind the Sixers, grouped with the Bucks and Wizards. If Turner takes the next step, they could be a threat in the Eastern Conference. If he doesn’t, they’ll be lagging a bit behind.

PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Aaron Holiday

SG: Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans

SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Doug McDermott

PF: Thad Young, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Leaf, Alize Johnson

C: Myles Turner, Kyle O’Quinn, Ike Anigbogu

Threat Level:

I put the Pacers at a threat level of yellow, which is elevated. I wouldn’t forecast the Pacers finishing ahead of the Sixers but I do think it’s possible. If Myles Turner takes the next step and Tyreke Evans proves to be a great addition off the bench, the Pacers could be a force in the East. However, the Sixers should still finish ahead of them, even if that scenario was to play out. The Pacers will be one of a few teams fighting for the 4th seed and will be a lot of fun to watch.

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