The Season From Hell: 2021 Indiana Pacers

Season From Hell You Say…?

Coming into 2022 I was pretty intrigued with the Indiana Pacers, and I lost almost all of my intrigue by Thanksgiving. Coming into the year Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert gave me hope of a dynamic backcourt. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis had After having the hardest first quarter of any NBA franchise, the team started a decent 9-12, which got them through a large part of their difficult schedule, but that would be the high point of the season. Players began to drop like flies. T.J. McConnell missed 55 games to a torn ligament in his wrist. T.J. Warren never played this season, missing all 82 games, while rehabbing a severe stress fracture in his foot. He was officially shut on March 17th which began his preparation for Free Agency in the off-season. Perhaps the biggest losses were Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon, the team’s defensive anchors, who missed a combined 75 games this season. Indiana ranked second in most games missed due to injury with 386 games missed. The plethora of injuries combined with the team’s lack of a defensive identity led them to the worst record for the team since 1984-85. 

games lost to injury graph.png

This chart highlights how bad a lot of the teams have been with a high density of injuries, with Orlando and Indiana representing the two highest.  Some teams were able to overcome injury woes, but history shows that this is unlikely with a .379 winning percentage over the last 10 seasons for teams who have 350+ injury games missed. 

Is There a Brightside?

The post-trade deadline Indiana Pacers were actually more entertaining than the team before the trade deadline, even though the team had a worse overall record (6-20) since before the deadline (19-37). The Pacers were also dead last in defensive efficiency over the last 26 games according to fivethirtyeight.com. It was certainly bleak to say the least, right? Not in my opinion, the future is bright for the Blue and Gold, and with their guaranteed first pick inside the top 10 since 1989, there are a lot of reasons for excitement. Here are some highlights of the “new-look” Indiana Pacers:


“This is the worst trade in NBA history…”

The trade deadline for the Pacers had two of the best moves the front office has ever made, but I want to focus on one of the most franchise altering trades of all-time. 

sabonis trade.png

On the surface, the Pacers have to give up an All-Star in Domantas Sabonis, and their overall wins goes down a peg, but this was clearly a move for the future. Tyrese Haliburton is a 22 year old guard, who, with the Pacers is averaging 17.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game, all while shooting 51-41-85 from the field. Some people say that Tyrese has the opportunity to be the best player in the 317 since Reggie Miller, and if he stays on this projection, he will be putting up some Oscar Robertson level numbers. Buddy Hield, who was viewed as a negative asset and salary filler for this trade, has been a huge boost for the Pacers offense. He is averaging 18 points, 5.0 Rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game, which is up substantially from his stats in Sacramento. This also helped the Pacers with guard depth, something they were struggling with immensely during most of the season. 

The trade for the Pacers was viewed as a massive win by the NBA media and people familiar with Tyrese, but has made people uncomfortable in Indianapolis, who maybe don’t have a good grasp on the future for Indiana. The Pacers were able to get younger, faster, and cheaper in the long run with this trade.


PACERS GRADE: A+

The Sacramento side of this was an immediate upside swing to try and get some chemistry for De’Aaron Fox with one of the best pick and roll centers in the NBA. I understand why they would give up so much to acquire the two time all star, but this really hampers their future outlook, unless Davion Mitchell is able to develop like the team hopes. Overall I don’t love the deal for Sacramento, and the team continues to dwell as being the laughing stock of the NCAA. 

KINGS GRADE: D+/C-

Welcome to the Fold Ricky Rubio?

I have never been a bigger fan of Ricky Rubio than this season. The Pacers went into full tank mode after trading for injured guard Ricky Rubio, and acquiring him for Caris LeVert put an even bigger smile on my face. The Pacers received some interesting assets in exchange for Caris LeVert, but even getting the rights to Ricky Rubio after this season is massive for a team who is great in sign and trade deals. Ricky Rubio will never be a Pacer, but this trade at least gives us the opportunity to keep him if we decide we want to.

ricky rubio trade.png


Houston’s Pick has conveyed to the Pacers as Pick 31 officially. The Cavaliers’ pick since it is lottery protected will convery at its earliest in 2023, since the Cavs missed the playoffs this season.

PACERS GRADE: A- 

CAVS GRADE: C

The Best Off-season in 34 years?

My dad was just about to enter his senior year in high school the last time the Pacers were this bad. My dad is now 50, and has gotten to watch the most consistent stream of mediocrity end (33 years in a row of winning at least 30 games as pointed out by me on twitter.)

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Much to the chagrin of many people on the Pacers’ side of twitter, it is a sad fact that our consistency which has been preached by our owner is over. That being said, this has the opportunity to be one of the most exciting drafts for the Pacers since they took Paul George in 2010. With a guaranteed single digit draft pick, the 15th pick in the draft, and the 31st pick, the team basically has 3 first round picks to help bolster this young and talented roster. The team also has had some success in finding some very key young players to help grow their team. Here are a few transactions I would look for the Pacers to try and make

1. Sign-and-Trade Ricky Rubio: 

Ricky Rubio as a point guard in this league, probably has 3 to 4 more decent years left in him. I fully expect Kevin Pritchard to look at a trade for either a different player or draft pick for Rubio. Contractual control is very important to these teams, and the Pacers have a lot of it. Getting a heavily protected first, or a young flier on a player is very on-brand for the Pacers and would make a ton of sense for a team who struggles getting key players in free agency. 

Prediction: Rubio to Cleveland on a 3 yr/$55.6 million contract for Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler and a pair of second round picks from the Golden State Warriors (2023 and 2024)

2. Re-Sign our Forgotten Hero

T.J. Warren is one of the first players I can remember who has made it clear he loves to hoop in Indiana. I think he has a lot left in his tank, and since Small Forward is a large position of need for the Pacers, it would be foolish to not entertain the idea of bringing him back on a short-term “prove it” deal. This would give the team a year to test the waters with Warren again, and give T.J. the opportunity to prove he wasn’t just a flash in the pan during the 2020 NBA Bubble. 

Prediction: Pacers re-sign T.J. Warren with a 2 yr/$24.1 million contract, with a Team option in the second year worth $13.5 million. 

3. Re-Sign our “Guitar Hero”

There is nobody who can juice up an arena better than Lance Stephenson in Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The 6’4”, 31-year old guard from University of Cincinnati has found a second home in Indy. This season he has averaged 9 points and 4 assists per game off the bench, but his leadership and energy cannot be measured in stats. If there was a lifetime contract option, the Pacers would be foolish not to bring him back, but since there isn’t I would be willing to give Lance the opportunity to make his return to Indy on a multi-year deal.

Prediction: Pacers re-sign Lance Stephenson with a 3 yr/$10 million contract, with only partial guarantees in years 2 and 3. 

4. Trade Malcolm Brogdon

Malcolm Brogdon is one of the top 12 players at his position when healthy, but I think both him and Indiana need a change of pace. He doesn’t match the fast-paced, foot-race style the team currently plays with, and would stick out pretty badly in the current evolution of the team. I anticipate a plethora of offers for the 29 year old, but I anticipate the best team for him to go to would be the New York Knicks. Get a young player, some salary filler and a protected pick and I think that both teams could end up happy with a deal. 

Prediction: Pacers trade Malcolm Brogdon and Pick 58 in the 2022 NBA draft for Evan Fournier, Cam Reddish, and a top-10 protected 2023 Dallas Mavericks first round pick.

5. Extend Myles Turner

I, personally, would not do this, and would actually be looking to move the 26 year old center, but the defensive presence Turner brought to the team cannot go unnoticed. I think he has reached a pretty medium ceiling and the team has some opportunities to get younger and more athletic at this position by letting Turner go, but if he is willing to stay at a decent price, he is probably worth keeping around for at least a couple years. If it doesn’t work out, he becomes an enticing piece to a team looking for a defensive anchor at center in 2023. 

Prediction: Pacers extend Myles Turner with a 3yr/$64.5 Million extension, with a Team Option in the third year of the deal. 

6. The Confusing Contract of Jalen Smith

What a crazy deal with Jalen Smith. He is just 22 years old and his team didn’t pick up his option for his 3rd year. The Pacers are going to struggle retaining Smith who has been excellent for the team averaging 13.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game. The Pacers can only offer Smith a max of $4.7 million which is really low compared to what he is most likely worth. I could see a young team throwing him a bag, and that makes me sad, because he would have been awesome down the road.

Prediction: Detroit Pistons Signs Jalen Smith 3 yr/$34.1 million

7. Trade Goga Bitadze

Goga as a person, is great. He has also shown awesome flashes as a spread-5 in the NBA. His shot looks amazing, and while he has struggled getting NBA minutes because of our logjam at center, this season, he put up career numbers. He truly looked like the NBA player the Pacers envisioned when they took him in 2019. In 50 games he averaged 7.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. The numbers aren’t eye popping, but they really highlight a massive improvement, especially considering him shooting 52.5% from the field and only played about 14 minutes per game. His value isn’t crazy high, but I think teams who need cheap depth bigs would be very interested in Goga for the future. 

Prediction: Pacers trade Goga Bitadze to the Houston Rockets for a Future Second round pick and Garrison Matthews

8. Focus on Improving Through the Draft

I’m not in the front office, I have no clue what the team wants to do for next year, but this year is the golden opportunity to vastly improve through the draft. With a potential top-5 pick, picks 31, and 60 in the second round there are a lot of opportunities for the team to improve through the draft. Here are a few players I like at each draft position, and why I think they fit the Pacers’ timeline and playstyle:

Pacers’ First Pick: Pick #1-9

Pacers First Pick: Jabari Smith Jr. (Proj. 1-3 ovr), PF, Auburn

In my opinion Jabari Smith is the most complete player in this draft. At his best he is unstoppable at the 4 especially with his quickness and length. He struggles a little with off-ball defense, but has the best potential to be a top 10 player in the NBA out of this draft. He will be a day-one difference maker, and he should be early favorite for rookie of the year wherever he ends up. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’10
220
19
16.9
7.4
2.0
Better Rashard Lewis


Pacers First Pick: Jaden Ivey (Proj. 2-6 ovr), PG/SG, Purdue

Pacers fans have been salivating at the thought of getting Jaden Ivey with their first pick. From Purdue, the speedy and athletic sophomore has been described as “the most overrated collegiate player, most underrated NBA player in NBA draft history.” His aggression and ability to get downhill for pain touches make him a powerful partner for Tyrese Haliburton. He has some shooting touch, but it is super inconsistent, but should develop well at the next level.

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’4
195
20
17.3
4.9
3.1
Anthony Edwards

Pacers First Pick: Ben Mathurin (Proj. 5-9 ovr), SG/SF Arizona 

Possibly the worst case scenario is falling to pick 7 in the draft, but because of the flattened lottery odds, is the most likely case for the struggling Pacers. If they do manage to fall that low, I would look for the Pacers to call out Bennedict Mathurin with their pick. He is another NBA ready prospect who should be able to start from day one and compete with some of the better two way wings in the league. He’s a very complete player, but won’t have insane upside, which is what the Pacers really need in this pick. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’6
210
19
17.7
5.6
2.5
Stephen Jackson

Second Pick: Pick #31

Pacers Second Pick: David Roddy (Proj. 29-37 ovr), SF/PF CSU 

Roddy, a former football player, is absolutely fascinating to me as a prospect. He is shorter for a power forward, but big enough to power down most 3’s and 4’s in today's game. He may struggle with the speed of smaller players at the next level, but he is absolutely fascinating as a prospect and seems like a player who will dominate in the G-League and provide great minutes off the bench in Indy. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’6
255
21
19.2
7.5
2.9
Low End Jusuf Nurkic

Pacers Second Pick: Jaime Jaquez (Proj. 21-36 ovr), SG/SF UCLA 

Jaquez is going to be a great player at the next level. He has the potential to be a really good midrange scorer, and has the size to defend well at the next level as well. His footspeed is average at best and he only shot 32% from 3. It may take a few years to polish into a player at the next level, but he will certainly be entertaining in Summer and G-league events. If he can polish out his free throw and three point shooting, he will be a lower end Chris Duarte, but for now, I think Monta Ellis is a good comp. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’7
225
21
13.9
5.7
2.3
Monta Ellis

Pacers Second Pick: Blake Wesley (Proj. 26-54 ovr), SG Notre Dame

The flashes that Wesley showed as a freshman at Notre Dame should fascinate any seasoned NBA fan. He has the potential to be a 6th man player at the next level, and he should definitely be picked between 20 and 40. He has some serious boom or bust potential in the first round and steal potential in the second, but his shooting splits, and his aggressiveness make me think he will translate into a great player in the NBA. If he can get a year or two in the G-League, I think he will be able to develop into a true 6th man on a good NBA team. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’5
185
19
14.4
3.7
2.4
Better Eric Snow

Third Pick: Pick #58

Pacers Third Pick: Caleb Love (Proj. 49-UND), PG UNC 

With the way he played in the tournament, there is probably a 0% chance that Caleb Love is going to be available for the Pacers this late in the draft, but if he is, this is the type of player the team should be jumping out at. He translates so well to the next level, and has a unique opportunity to produce at the point guard position. At pick 58,  very few players are going to succeed on an NBA team this late, but he shows all the tangible qualities and intangibles to do so. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’4
195
20
15.9
3.4
3.5
Less Consistent Buddy Hield

Pacers Third Pick: Ron Harper Jr. (Proj. 51-UND), SF Rutgers 

The player who made some of the biggest shots this season was none other than Ron Harper Jr. He ended Purdue’s run at Number 1, sank IU with a last second 3, and dragged a bad Rutgers team to the NCAA tournament kicking and screaming. His leadership reminds me of a young Malcolm Brogdon and his elite clutch shooting makes me wonder how great he will be in the next level. I think he is well worth the risk as a 22 year old rookie, and should definitely be in the conversation for any team picking in the second round. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’6
245
22
15.8
5.9
1.9
Low End Malcolm Brogdon

Pacers Third Pick: Julian Champagnie (Proj. 46-UND), SF SJU

Julian may just end up being a good stats, bad team guy and project as a bust at the next level, but I think he has the opportunity to be one of the bright spots of the second round. He can score with the best, and was the number one option on Saint Johns for several seasons. I look for him to be a perennial G-League offensive player of the year. I wish he had better defensive prowess, but he matches the age and size that Carlisle will be looking for at the 3 in the modern system. 

HT
WT
AGE
PTS
REB
AST
PLAYER COMP.
6’8
215
21
19.8
6.6
2.0
Glenn Robinson

What should I be watching for?

With the cavaliers eliminated, the last thing the Pacers have a vested interest in, is the success of some other teams in the playoffs who may want to trade for players on the roster. Myles Turner has been linked to Charlotte for years, so their Pelicans pick could get worse if the Pelicans keep winning. The teams interested in Malcolm Brogdon all will have later first round picks and will need the team to take back a bad salary so they remain under the salary tax threshold. In addition, the lottery drops on May 17, and the team has a 42% chance at a top 4 pick in this draft. 

The NBA draft happens on June 23, and all contracts for the respective players, as well as player option decisions will be made a week on June 30th.  “Christmas in July” aka NBA free agency starts on July 6th. This is the first period of the off-season where the team can leverage their almost $29 million in cap space. Those deals can finalize through summer league, in august, all the way until September 2nd when training camp rosters have to be finalized for teams. 

So, while we will have to wait another 5 and a half months for the Pacers to play basketball again, there is still a ton that fans should be excited for!






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