OPINION: For Pacers Starters, Pieces May Not Fit Until Oladipo Returns

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This past offseason, the Indiana Pacers drastically changed the way their team was structured from last season. Now that the new season is here, we are going to look at the starting lineup and see how they could possibly mesh. 

 

Starters

Projected Starting Five (Oladipo Out)

G Malcolm Brogdon

G Jeremy Lamb

F TJ Warren

F Domantas Sabonis

C Myles Turner

 

There are a lot of positional ways this team could go, particularly if they wanted to go small. Warren can play the three or the four, Lamb can play the two or the three, Brogdon (in theory) can play the one or the two. Additionally, this team has firepower that the Pacers have lacked for a good while. Warren is great at putting the ball in the basket, as he has averaged 19 points a game for the Suns the past two years.

However, Warren is where my concerns start for the Pacers. He really just cannot play defense, and might be the worst defensive player the Pacers have had since the end of Reggie Miller’s career. It’s that bad. Defensive statistics can be flawed, but per NBA.com, Warren had no negative differential on what his opponents shot from anywhere on the floor. Just to compare, Myles Turner made his opponents shoot worse in just about every situation. Not to mention Warren’s apparent inability to make plays for others (here is a 40 point game he had against Washington where he only passed the ball to get it back), and his lack of rebounding ability, Warren is what we in the biz like to call a one dimensional player. This can be a compliment, albeit a backhanded one, but when you can put the ball in the basket like TJ Warren can, the good has to be taken with the bad. It’s just a lot of bad.

Another area of concern I have is: just how good is Jeremy Lamb? He put up 15 points a game in Charlotte last season, but somebody had to. There is a phenomenon in the NBA, where one player usually cannot take 30 shots a game, so the shots just have to go to other people on the team. For the Pacers the last couple seasons, those shots typically went to Bojan Bodganovic or Sabonis off the bench. Kemba Walker could not shoot every shot in Charlotte, so 12 a game were apportioned to Lamb, where he managed to get 15 points a game out of them. If the Pacers are able to get Lamb wide open threes, then he should he be good, as he drained 40% of wide open threes last year. However, if he dribbles or holds the ball for an extended period of time, then he will struggle. I believe if the Pacers ask him to be a playmaker next season, it could spell trouble for Indiana. 

Malcolm Brogdon had a career year for Milwaukee last season. He managed to join the 50/40/90 club, where you shoot 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the 3-point line. However, this is no offense to Brogdon, but the offense was very catered to his strengths last season. He played with the MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and played his role about as well as you can play a role, and you could argue he was Milwaukee’s second best player during the playoffs. However, he is going to be asked to play point guard this year for the Pacers.

I do not believe it is an understatement that until Victor Oladipo returns, the Pacers chances for a good playoff seed hinge on Brogdon’s ability to make plays for others. Say what you will about Darren Collison (and believe me, I have said a lot), but there was something to be said for being a 10-year point guard who knows how to run a ship, especially the way your coach wants it to be run. I just do not have faith in Brodgon’s ability to make diverse plays out of the pick and roll. If you watched Milwaukee last season, Brogdon either would shoot a wide open three, or use a ball fake to get a lefty layup. 

I have already written about Myles Turner, but I think he should probably be fine in the long run. My question is how Sabonis fares at the power forward position, and how the tandem of Turner and Sabonis perform on offense. Offensively, the pairing should work in theory- however, as I noted in my Turner article, Turner’s favorite spots are in the mid-range, while 98% of Sabonis’ shots come from inside the 3-point arc, and his average shot distance is 6.2 feet from the basket. 

On defense, however, this grand experiment might collapse. Sabonis is a center by trade, and to have Turner guarding wings is borderline malpractice. Just ask yourself, is it a good idea to have the league leader in blocks guarding the perimeter rather than the paint? 

[fvplayer id="15"]

 

The beginning of this video is a good explainer of why this pairing might be doomed on the defensive end. I do not think it will last very long, but we will wait and see.

So to recap, we have Warren, a defensive sieve who does not know how to pass; Lamb, a wing who we doesn’t actually know how good he is; Brogdon, an unproven playmaker coming from a situation tailormade to his strengths; and Turner and Sabonis, two centers trying to play in a league where the concept has all but died. I think until Oladipo gets back, the team is going to struggle big time. Nate McMillan is a good coach, but if Oladipo gets back after the All-Star break, do not be surprised if Indiana finishes in the bottom half of the playoff bracket.


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