June 6, 2018, 1:09 pm
Paul George is gone. The summer free agency was disappointing. The way Paul George handled the entire trade situation from a professional standpoint was disappointing. The eventual Paul George trade was disappointing. The season was supposed to be disappointing. It wasn’t. There was fight, there was grit, there was effort, there was surprising improvement (and a lack thereof from a certain someone who will be spared temporarily for dramatic effect), and there is now optimism. Paul George is still gone. And right now, the Pacers don’t care.
In the hoopla surrounding Paul George, we also tend to forget that in addition to losing their superstar, the Pacers lost an all-star point guard in Jeff Teague and waived Monta Ellis, who had admittedly been falling off rapidly but was still at least a scoring option. Not only that, but the Pacers have been in the process of churning their front office and appointed Chad Buchanan as their GM at the opening of the free agency period. His first major move was pulling the expected trigger on a Paul George move. Except it wasn’t to the Lakers where he wanted (and still probably wants) to go or even the Cavs who openly wanted him after missing out on Jimmy Butler. It was to a dark-horse team in the Thunder who sent back what seemed on the surface to be an incredibly meager return.
All they got for their superstar was a disappointing Victor Oladipo and a project in Domantas Sabonis? Not even a first-round draft pick? Not even a SECOND-round draft pick? Not even free soda for the players? Obviously, the looming free agency and the risk of a one-year rental played a role in that and the optics of the way Paul George burned the bridge with the organization that built him made it a tougher sell. Still, fans and analysts were still understandably confused and disappointed. Now, they’re not. Sabonis has become a guy. Oladipo has become THE guy. Everyone forgot Darren Collison used to be a guy. Everyone forgot that Thad Young has always been a guy. Myles Turner missed the guy memo. Maybe if he became a guy LeBron would be golfing right now on the phone with Magic Johnson.
The season didn’t start optimally for the Pacers and they were sitting at 19-18 on New Year’s Day. Myles Turner was supposed to become their star and he had already missed time with a concussion. Early in the new year, Turner got another concussion and that seemed like the end of a potential playoff push. Still, the legend of Victor Oladipo grew. It’s been one of the best bounce-back campaigns of recent memory and he seems to be poised to lead from the front with some financial security that the Thunder couldn’t get out from under fast enough.
Considering the Pacers were projected by many to be a lottery team at season tipoff, pushing the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round in a series they really should have won must be considered a general success. If they had gotten past the Cavs and given the struggles Toronto had dealing with the LeBrons, we could have been subject to an Eastern Conference final between these Pacers and a crippled Celtics squad playing for the right… to be swept by the Warriors. Regardless, 48-34 is a season to write home about for this scrappy Pacers team that should be looking to run it back and make serious noise in 2018-19 and play for the right… you guessed it, to be swept by the Warriors.
It’s easy to forget that Nate McMillan is coaching the Pacers. He’s cool. He’s solid. The job gets done, more or less. This year, it was heavily on the “more” side off that coin. In coaching, it’s not always about the X’s and O’s. Yes, some players fit some coaching schemes and personnel is important. The players need to fit the system. But more importantly, the players need to believe in the system. And the coach needs to believe in the players. There were some growing pains with McMillan in the last season where he was criticized for not getting enough out of the team while Paul George was in town. That script has flipped as McMillan got more than enough out of the team with Paul George very much not in town.
It’s clear that McMillan is an old-fashioned leader. He’s stubborn with his rotations, he’s stubborn with his style and he doesn’t seem to care that he was the least sexy coaching hire of all time. It appears he has a handle on this team and has a big influence on this team’s progress. The argument that coaching doesn’t play as big of a role as we might think holds water with uber-talented rosters like Golden State. It definitely comes up short in the case where a team not only exceeds the expectation that they were a tanking lottery club but finds themselves competing for home-court advantage down the stretch with a roster that very obviously lacked elite talent entering the year. It’s a good look for McMillan who has been losing some shine as an NBA head coaching option.
ADP: 66/58 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 8/8 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 10/11 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
2017-2018: 34 MPG, 23.1 PTS, 2.1 3PT, 5.2 REB, 4.3 AST, 2.3 STL, 0.7 BLK, 3.0 TO, 0.477 FG%, 0.798 FT%
Oladipo’s final season in Orlando had placed him as the 34th overall player in 9-category formats (Note: this is quite good.). When he was traded to Oklahoma City, this was supposed to improve. Less responsibility, increased efficiency, more wide-open looks. Nothing worked well. Everything was bad. A disastrous season in Oklahoma City next to Russell Westbrook with sky-high expectations after a second-round draft slot in fantasy ended with Oladipo finishing as the 86th overall player in 9-category formats (Note: this is quite bad.). Along came Paulie and the Thunder quickly got out of that investment (albeit a cheap investment with Serge Ibaka’s fading corpse) in flipping Oladipo as the centerpiece of the deal with the Pacers.
What we witnessed from Victor Oladipo in 2017 was a full-blown career revitalization and the coming-of-age of a budding NBA superstar. Oladipo scored more points, rebounded more, distributed the ball better and took control of the offense while increasing his shooting volume and percentage. It looks like the fantasy community was just a year early and after returning first-round value, Dipo should be locked in as an early-round option in 2018.
ADP: 113/109 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 56/46 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 60/46 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 69
2017-2018: 29.2 MPG, 12.3 PTS, 1.3 3PT, 2.5 REB, 5.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.2 BLK, 1.2 TO, 0.495 FG%, 0.888 FT%
Overshadowed by Victor Oladipo’s breakout and Myles Turner’s breakdown, Darren Collison split the middle and became another massive value off of this Pacers team. The major success was rooted in amazing percentages accompanied by an impressive 4.28 assist-to-turnover ratio (Best in the league!), both excellent for a point guard. Collison has secretly been a solid NBA player for a long time and this might be the step to getting recognition he deserves as an above-average fantasy asset.
He did miss some time because of a left knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in February but remained effective upon his return. There was a brief stint where Collison was locked in an even timeshare with Cory Joseph but his unique points of production allowed him to keep up his fine fantasy work.
Coming into the year there wasn’t much hubbub by the Pacers and by extension the fantasy community about Collison stepping into a starting role on the club. After this 2017 which was only marred by a left knee injury that required surgery and forced him out for three weeks, we should absolutely by hubbing the bub for 2018. The 46.8% 3-point percentage (an NBA season-high AND a Pacers franchise record) likely doesn’t repeat but Collison has a chance to approach the 50-40-90 club this upcoming year and keep the turnovers low, giving him a reliable fantasy floor and a unique skillset from the point guard position.
ADP: 28/27 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 77/67 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 69/56 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
2017-2018: 28.2 MPG, 12.7 PTS, 0.8 3PT, 6.4 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.8 BLK, 1.5 TO, 0.478 FG%, 0.776 FT%
For every good thing that Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo did, Myles Turner matched them with regression. The expectation for Turner to grow into a fantasy superstar after being a top-30 option in 2016. He scored less points, he was worse on the glass, he swiped less balls, he blocked less shots, he shot worse from the floor, he shot worse from the line and turned the ball over more. And he missed 17 games, mostly with concussion issues. Not only did Turner regress, but his compatriot center Domantas Sabonis showed real progress in his development and turned into a great foil for what Turner SHOULD become. Turner has to become more aggressive as a rebounder and play stronger. It’s inexcusable for someone at his height to not pull down eight rebounds per game.
This upcoming season is huge for Turner as he goes into the last year of his rookie deal. If he gets stronger, faster and more refined in the post, he could be in line for a massive raise (in Indiana? It’s not clear yet.). The fantasy appeal is obvious. Blocks are the rarest statistical category and Turner has that elite skill. The potential to be a first-round option is right there if he can harness his talent into a well-rounded player in the vein of a prime Pau Gasol with some range, he’ll be everyone’s favorite darling in the fantasy community again.
ADP: 115/121 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 51/43 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 81/69 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
2017-2018: 32.1 MPG, 11.7 PTS, 0.7 3PT, 6.3 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.6 STL, 0.4 BLK, 1.3 TO, 0.487 FG%, 0.597 FT%
Then there’s Thad Young. For every good thing that Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo and every bad thing that Myles Turner did, Thad just did the same thing. This is it. He’s blue-collar, punches the clock every night, is the most boring player in fantasy and then goes home. Perennially undervalued by the box score and by fantasy, Young slides effortlessly into any role on any team. Even more impressively, he’s held steady as a value even though his usage has decreased throughout the last few seasons.
It seems like Thad has been in the league forever but he’s just 30 and heading into a player-option year in 2018-19. It seems very likely he will stick around for this impressive underhyped Pacers squad as a pivot to their game plan and reevaluate next offseason. That seems to indicate that he should return value very similar to this season and will fill a role as an underrated rotisserie option due to his day-to-day consistency. Don’t sleep on him again.
ADP: 125/146 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 83/76 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 123/111 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
2017-2018: 30.8 MPG, 14.2 PTS, 1.9 3PT, 3.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.1 BLK, 1.3 TO, 0.474 FG%, 0.868 FT%
In a season full of surprises for the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic joined Thad Young as a workmanlike wing who just did his job every night. The profile has been straightforward for the last few seasons: a good 3-point specialist who scores a few points, doesn’t kill owners shooting from the floor, makes his free throws and takes care of the ball. He is another player who benefits from totality of his work. Making two 3-pointers and scoring 14 points at 47% shooting adds up nicely for season-long formats. The day-to-day is boring but it’s someone who will be missed if he’s not around.
Think of Bogdanovic as a situational compiler. He has a role that is very helpful to specific roster compositions but is rarely a big detriment to a team. Bogdanovic is going into a contract year at a slightly pricey $10.5 million and figures to be in a similar role for 2018.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 124/148 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 144/166 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
2017-2018: 24.4 MPG, 11.6 PTS, 0.1 3PT, 7.7 REB, 2 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.4 BLK, 1.9 TO, 0.514 FG%, 0.75 FT%
Oladipo was the star of the Paul George trade but Domantas Sabonis has really blossomed as a solid player in his own right. He’s a bruising big man who doesn’t offer much defensively but can hold his own and bully players offensively. He maintains good efficiency on the offensive side and has the ability to stretch the floor and knock down the 3-point shot. By all intents and purposes, Sabonis outplayed Turner from an analytical standpoint this year. If there isn’t a positive trend in Turner’s play early in 2018, the Pacers would be hard-pressed to not at least consider giving Sabonis the lion’s share of the work.
He was excellent filling in for Turner in the early going this year and missed a little time of his own thanks to ankle, shoulder and calf injuries, but the Pacers have to be thrilled with the progress he showed in year two. It’s a wonder what guys can do if you don’t stick them on the perimeter to wait for kickouts that don’t ever come.
As a fantasy option, Sabonis is restricted by his lack of contributions defensively. Ideally a center would find a way to put up either more defensive numbers or more 3-pointers. If he can develop either of those parts of his game, we could be looking at Sabonis as a sneaky top-100 player with a skill-set not so dissimilar to Thaddeus Young.
ADP: NA/142 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 152/146 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 209/207 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
2017-2018: 26.9 MPG, 7.9 PTS, 0.8 3PT, 3.2 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.2 BLK, 1.1 TO, 0.423 FG%, 0.736 FT%
Cory Joseph was one of just two Pacers (the other being Lance Stephenson) who appeared in every game for the club this season. Here’s an example of a better real-life player than fantasy player. Every team needs a backup point guard who can shepherd the second unit adequately and keep the team in games. CoJo did that and then some, making sure the transition from the main starters to the bench was smooth and the entire unit stayed organized, especially on the defensive side.
Hang on, I’ve just been told that none of these things matter for fantasy and nobody cares about how well Joseph played the babysitter role for the backups. Well, statistically, Joseph is just a guy. He’s a player that probably doesn’t need to be drafted in standard leagues but will inevitably end up on some rosters periodically due to injuries across the league. Keep him on the watch list.
ADP: 140/143 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 173/199 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 236/216 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
2017-2018: 22.5 MPG, 9.2 PTS, 0.8 3PT, 5.1 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.1 BLK, 1.6 TO, 0.427 FG%, 0.661 FT%
Lance is back and lighting up primetime in Indianapolis. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. He’s been garbage everywhere else in his NBA career, but for some reason, Indiana has been kind to him. With the Pacers, Lance has gotten trust. His quirks have been accepted. He can let his inner Lance shine and has the physical tools to be an impact player on both ends of the floor. But this isn’t a motivational self-help blurb. Let’s be realistic. The fact is, Lance is an inefficient scorer that can pop off for a big night but for the most part is limited to acceptable low-end popcorn numbers. He gets lost defensively as often as he gets found offensively. His head isn’t all there. He’s fire or he’s ice. Sometimes he’s both. Sometimes he’s neither. He doesn’t tell us when he gets to the arena every night.
The Pacers have a club option for Stephenson this summer and it seems likely that he will be returning in a similar sixth man role. That really means he will continue to be completely frustrating and inconsistent and will probably be on a different roster every other Friday.
ADP: 140/146 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 251/253 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 298/295 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 68
2017-2018: 17 MPG, 6.2 PTS, 0.1 3PT, 4.6 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.3 STL, 0.3 BLK, 0.9 TO, 0.516 FG%, 0.709 FT%
The only major in-season move made by the Pacers was shoring up the frontcourt in an effort to overcome the injury bug biting Myles Turner. Trevor Booker was signed off the street after being waived by the Sixers in early March and really had a mediocre time all-around. After clawing at top-100 value in 2016-17, an expectation for at LEAST late-round production was warranted. Well, Booker offered nothing bankable for fantasy owners and has probably booked his way out of town and awaiting a new role which will dictate whether he can return to his pre-2017 form.
ADP: N/A/136 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 304/292 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 244/275 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 36
2017-2018: 13.4 MPG, 7 PTS, 0.0 3PT, 3.9 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.4 STL, 0.6 BLK, 0.6 TO, 0.533 FG%, 0.833 FT%
Al Jefferson is still in the NBA. Despite being relegated out of his rotation spot with the acquisition of Domantas Sabonis, Jefferson still made it into 36 games and started one with the injuries to Sabonis and Myles Turner. In this current NBA climate, the savvy low-post offensive game is a breath of fresh air. Limited action led to a career-high shooting percentage and free throw percentage. It also led to fantasy irrelevance. It’s just very difficult to maintain production for someone who doesn’t have an elite statistical skill without a larger allotment of minutes (a drastic case of the fall we’ve seen from Zach Randolph over the last few years). Interesting note: Jefferson has spent three years with every previous team he has played for in the NBA (Boston, Minnesota, Utah, and Charlotte). This is his third year with Indiana and his contract is up after the year. Oh, also, don’t draft him in fantasy in 2018. These 150 words could have been avoided.
ADP: 140/ (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 390/383 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 466/455 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 53
2017-2018: 8.6 MPG, 2.9 PTS, 0.3 3PT, 1.5 REB, 0.1 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 0.2 TO, 0.47 FG%, 0.625 FT%
Leaf never grabbed a real role for the Pacers in his rookie season after falling out of favor in the rotation and missing some time due to a calf injury. His game was lacking and development is imperative, especially on the defensive end. Trevor Booker is a free agent so the backup power forward position could be Leaf’s in 2018. If that’s the case, we would still need to see big growth from his game. Otherwise, there could be a lot of 20 minutes, eight points, four rebounds and a whole lot of nothing else. Leaf it alone for now.
The crux of the Pacers’ situation is clear. Indianapolis doesn’t attract talent. No NBA players are sitting on their couch and thinking “You know what would be a great place to play next year? Indianapolis.” It’s the same issue that markets like Milwaukee, Memphis, and Charlotte struggle with. They don’t have a LeBron James to attract players like Cleveland does. They don’t have an exemplary organization and legendary coach like San Antonio does. They don’t even have nice weather like Orlando or Miami. To keep pace in the NBA, the Pacers have to get creative. They need to identify players that want to be there and lock them up.
In the modern game with so much money and so much salary cap flexibility, the window is small and open for very short periods of time for a small market team. A Reggie Miller sticking with a small market team like Indiana would be an aberration in this climate. We saw the prime example of this in Oklahoma City where the power-quad of Westbrook, Durant, Harden and the artist formerly known as Serge Ibaka were in a contending window for just a couple seasons before sacrifices had to be made.
The execution of those moves was clearly flawed as the Thunder chose to trade James Harden on an MVP track and pay Serge Ibaka on a collision course with impressive incompetence but the intentions there were clear. It was going to be expensive and the ownership in Oklahoma City didn’t want to dip into the luxury tax. The unraveling of that team is well-documented at this point and despite contending for a few years afterwards, they’ve been grasping at straws since the departure of Durant and haven’t really been in real title contention. It’s as simple as missing their window in the 2012 Finals and now they need to wait for the next cycle. This serves as the perfect blueprint of what not to do for a team like the Pacers.
From the Pacers’ viewpoint, it’s about setting themselves up to be on the rise as the superteams in the Western conference start to fall. With this core the Pacers are a solid playoff team as they improve together but breaking the upper crust in the NBA is tough. Expect them to go into 2018-19 with a very similar roster and bide their time hoping to create a culture that free agent talent may consider a real option.