Pacers Report Card through November

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The Pacers can easily be mistaken for an infirmary at this point, as most of their players have missed games because of various injuries. However, this has not stopped the Pacers train from chugging along, as they’re currently sitting with an 8-6 record and with a point differential of 4.3 points every game so far. Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, and Domantas Sabonis have stepped up big time since the beginning of this season, and with Nate McMillan’s track record as a coach, the Pacers have stepped up as well. The strength of schedule has helped, as they have played (according to ESPN) the 30th toughest schedule. But in any case, what they have done thus far has still been wildly impressive. Onto the grades:

 

Downright Impressive: 

Malcolm Brogdon, A+

Domantas Sabonis, A

TJ Warren, B+

 

These three have been the driving force behind how well the Pacers have played this far. You could say any of them are having a big leap, but in reality they really are making a leap in the first 14 games, and with the way Nate’s scheme is, it is hard to see them slowing down. 

Brogdon has been a complete revelation thus far, averaging a career high in shot attempts (15 per game), points (19.9 per), and almost doubling his previous career high in assists at 8.2 a game. Brogdon has done a great job of controlling the tempo for the Pacers this season, and is the driving force for the Pacers even being in the playoff conversation. He has been attacking the rim at will, and even though his 3-point percentage has fallen off this season (30.8%), he has made up for it by being more aggressive in the mid-range and more aggressive in general.

Sabonis himself has taken a considerable leap as well. Averaging 18.6 points per game along with 13.8 (!) boards a game, he has given the Myles Turner-less Pacers a great inside presence, and is shooting 64% three feet or closer to the rim, according to Basketball Reference. He also is just bullying players like Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen, as he has utterly dominated the Nets every time. In fact, Sabonis has only had two games where he had less than 10 rebounds. He has stepped up to the challenge, and it has been wonderful to watch. Additionally, Sabonis has been setting great screens, as he is second in the league in screen assists according to NBA.com

Warren has proven me wrong in every respect when it comes to the defensive end of the ball. His scoring output has not changed much, as he is averaging 17.5 points a game, he is all over the place on the less flashy side of the ball. According to NBA.com, Warren is in the top ten in the NBA in deflections with 43, and according to Cleaning the Glass, the Pacers are 8.6 points per 100 possessions when TJ Warren is on the court. On offense, McMillan is doing a great job getting Warren involved, trying to get him more in his mid-range comfort zone as opposed to standing on the outside trying to shoot a big amount of threes this season. Warren would have been a steal even if he was not playing as well as he is, but the way he is playing only increases his value to the Pacers by the day. 

 

Nate McMillan and the Coaching Staff: A

 

Nate McMillan is a top six coach in the NBA. Given what he has gotten out of his teams after varying amount of injuries the team has had this year (two starters, Turner and Jeremy Lamb, have combined to play 11 games) he has done a good job of getting contributions from players more than likely to be relegated to the end of the bench once everyone gets healthy. According to Cleaning the Glass, the opening night starting lineup have only played 35 possessions together thus far this season, but when they have played together they have outscored opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions (small sample size alert!). Once the team gets healthier, the players at the end of the bench should be better, leading to a deeper bench. Props to McMillan and his staff getting the most out of his team.

 

Good, Given the Circumstances:

Aaron and Justin Holiday: B

 

The brothers’ Holiday have been giving the Pacers great minutes all season. Aaron has stepped into the starting lineup since Lamb’s injury and given the team a punch in the arm, including the most recent game against in which he put up 24 points and 13 assists. Justin has been a key contributor as well, holding down the wing defense and while he is not shooting a great percentage from three, he shoots enough for his shot to be respected. These two are going to be contributors to the lineup well after everyone comes back.

 

Goga Bitazde, B-

 

Bitazde is doing about you would expect from a rookie center who is adjusting to the speed of the NBA game after playing in Europe. Bitazde seems to be in foul trouble every other game, causing TJ Leaf to play inordinate amount of minutes at center, but he is also averaging 1.8 blocks per game this season as well. He shows a good touch from the outside, shooting 36% from 3-point land. He is definitely not a lost cause, and I believe the future might be bright for Bitazde yet.

 

Average:

Doug McDermott, C

TJ McConnell, C

TJ Leaf, C-

 

Featuring the two lesser TJs on this roster, they both have played adequately. McConnell, who gives David Eckstein a run for his money in terms of being scrappy, is a good third point guard who gives you good defense and can run the pick and roll, which is what I want from my third point guard, so I do not fault the Pacers for going with him. 

McDermott has shown great chemistry with Sabonis on the offensive side of the ball, running good dribble handoffs and getting good screens from Sabonis, garnering a good amount of Sabonis’ screen assists. He is taking four 3-pointers a game, a career high, and has been shooting 43% from behind that stripe. He is doing his job, and that has been good enough for Indiana.

Leaf, whom the Pacers selected with the 18th pick in the 2017 draft, has been thrust into spot duty. He has been a decent backup four, even though he has not been shooting from the outside like he was believed to be able to do. If he can give 20 decent minutes at four (he CANNOT play the center) then he could carve himself a decent role in this league. 

 

Would like to see more: 

Jakarr Sampson, N/A

Alize Johnson, N/A

 

The two pure energy players on this roster, I would like to see more minutes for these guys. Sampson appears prone to foul trouble, while I might try and see if Johnson could take backup four minutes from Leaf. But for now, I still do not know what to make of these guys just yet. 

Injuries: F

 

Myles Turner recently returned from a sprained ankle, and him missing is a key component of this season. The main takeaway of Victor Oladipo missing all this time was trying to iron out the chemistry between Sabonis and Turner, but that has not been actualized just yet. Another key piece missing due to injury has been Jeremy Lamb, who was also trying to place his imprint firmly as a starter and has not played since November 5. When Oladipo gets back, Lamb might be a prime candidate to go to the bench. Additionally, Edmond Sumner has been dealing with a broken hand, and has not played since October 30th. When Lamb, Sumner, and Oladipo all come back, it will be a dogfight for minutes at the two and the three, especially factoring in Warren probably retaining his starting spot and McDermott and Justin Holiday needing wing minutes as well. 96 minutes for 6 guys is not an enviable task, but I know McMillan and Co. can figure it out.


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