October 21, 2019, 2:58 am
The Pacers enter this season as a team looking to establish its contender status for the foreseeable future. In an Eastern Conference that’s as open as it’s been in over a decade, Indiana is out to prove that they can run with the legitimate heavyweights.
The team’s core of Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner remains the same, but much of the supporting cast has changed in the last few months.
Sophomore point guard Aaron Holiday, fresh off a season in which he averaged 12.9 minutes across 50 games, will assume backup duties. It will mean consequential minutes on a team that’s eyeing deep playoff runs in the coming years and make for a mighty test – not just for Holiday, but for the Pacers’ development philosophy as well.
Two seasons ago, Indiana looked ready to embark on a long rebuild after trading Paul George to the Thunder for two intriguing young players who had shown flashes of promise, but ultimately still had questions to answer. The Pacers would be younger, but still lacked the first-year, high-lottery sort of talent that steps right into a major role.
Oladipo’s breakout was enough to lurch the team forward into the playoff field and the organization remained steadfast in its cautious handling of its youngest players. Since Turner was selected in 2015, the Pacers’ rookies have spent most of their first years soaking up the action from the best seats in the house.
Given the list of recent draftees, it’s not exactly surprising that the team felt it prudent to give them more seasoning rather than toss them right into the fire. Partly a result of circumstance, with the Pacers looking strong even after Oladipo tore a quad tendon last season, and partly a result of organizational practice, Holiday followed a similar plan despite a loftier pedigree.
Entering the draft, Holiday’s stock was up for debate. Some prognosticators viewed him as a long-term answer at point guard that could be drafted in the early teens while others had him going in the second round and carving out a role as a quality backup.
No matter the projection, Holiday was universally lauded for his ability to penetrate on offense and his willingness to battle any opponent on the defensive end. His shooting and scoring abilities also won rave reviews, and despite the prospect of Holiday becoming a major contributor, the Pacers stuck with their typical plan. Holiday, like the team’s other recent rookies, would spend a lot of time observing in his first campaign.
While his selection was cause for some long-term excitement, Holiday was stuck behind a pair of quality guards on a strong team in Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. While he impressed in his opportunities, there were limited chances for Holiday to carve out a larger role – likely by design. Still, even given the team’s depth, it felt like a bit much, especially for a player with Holiday’s expected upside.
In his rookie class, Holiday ranked 21st in minutes per game among first-round picks. When you eliminate players that missed significant time due to injury, only Jacob Evans, Robert Williams, Mo Wagner, Anfernee Simons and Grayson Allen played less than Holiday – and two of those guys were drafted with the expectation of a quasi-redshirt season.
Expand that to include the 2017 and 2016 draft classes, and only the following first-round players saw less time than Holiday in their rookie years:
2017: Tyler Lydon, Caleb Swanigan, Justin Patton (only four games but multiple foot surgeries), D.J. Wilson, Terrance Ferguson, T.J. Leaf, Derrick White
2016: Wade Baldwin, Jakob Poeltl, Thon Maker, Malachi Richardson, Damian Jones, Dejounte Murray, Henry Ellenson, Guerschon Yabusele, Furkan Korkmaz, Ante Zizic, Brice Johnson
Among that group, there aren’t many players with serious shots at big roles in the near future, and less than a handful of players who look to be established as serious contributors. In short, the good players were typically given at least the chance to make an impact right away.
It should be repeated that the Pacers simply haven’t drafted any rookies that have been so good as to demand playing time since Turner in 2015. With all due respect to Georges Niang, Joe Young, T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu and Alize Johnson, none entered the league as a threat to crack the rotation in year one. Theoretically, Holiday was in a different class – he’s expected to be the backup point guard while the rest of that group is either already out of the league or set to work in deep reserve duty, after all.
Development isn’t one-size-fits-all, and not every player will benefit from simply being on the court. The Pacers aren’t the sort of anarchistic environment that allows bad habits to set deep roots in free-flowing, garbage-time minutes, but there was just slightly too much at stake to give Holiday substantial playing time and ask for quality play from the jump.
Still, Oladipo’s injury, plus Collison and Joseph’s impending free agency, gave the Pacers a perfect opportunity to pull the chute and see just how NBA-ready Holiday was down the stretch. Indiana was comfortably in a playoff spot and wasn’t reasonably expected to win more than a single round without their star. They chose to stick with the plan, forgoing serious reps for a presumed core piece in the process.
That’s not to say that Holiday is ‘too good’ for that treatment. It was thought that he was above that route, certainly, but the Pacers clearly felt that Holiday would benefit from a less-intense rookie season.
Now, with expectations high following a year where Indiana looked borderline excellent when Oladipo was healthy, Holiday will be asked to step up to the plate and deliver, with no cushion in the standings for the team to fall back on in case it doesn’t go smoothly. Although Indiana added a pair of quality playmakers in Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell, the sophomore will be counted on to contribute in a meaningful role.
The Pacers are past their short window of patience. The urgency has been ratcheted up, as evidenced by the team’s aggressive decisions in free agency and the likelihood that first-round pick Goga Bitadze starts the year in the rotation. Indiana got good far faster than anticipated and it’s time for the team’s depth to rise to the occasion, even if they haven’t been tested rigorously yet.
If Holiday, and the complementary pieces in general, struggle to work out the kinks, then Oladipo’s eventual return will come as a major relief. If the Pacers’ gambit pays off and Holiday’s behind-the-scenes development turns into on-court production, that same return could serve as rocket fuel.
Either way, in Holiday, we’re about to see the fruits of Indiana’s development plan.
July 3, 2020, 10:10 pmAnthony DavisPF-C, Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis has high expectations for the Lakers when they resume play later in July in Orlando, citing the long layoff as a favorable development for his squad.
As if the Lakers weren't already squarely in the hunt for an NBA championship. When speaking to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Davis said that he believes their "chances are higher just because we’re all rested and we’re all ready to go.” Depth seems to be the most glaring issue potentially facing the Lakers as they prepare to make the trip to Disney World, as defensive stalwart Avery Bradley recently opted out of the remainder of the season. Bradley was subsequently replaced by well-traveled veteran guard J.R. Smith (who has a long history of playoff runs alongside LeBron James with the Cavs), but the team is still unsure of veteran center Dwight Howard's status the rest of the way. Other than Howard, the Lakers' roster is seemingly set for Orlando. Davis sounds like he's ready to rock, however.
July 3, 2020, 8:28 pmDeng AdelPF, Brooklyn Nets
Deng Adel, who played 19 games for the Cavs last season as a two-way player, is being pursued by the Illawara Hawks of Australia's NBL, which, notably was the team 18-year-old LaMelo Ball played for last season (and has attempted to purchase).
Adel had two short stints before last season with the Rockets and Nets in the Summer League and the preseason, respectively. He was originally a standout at Louisville but went undrafted in 2018 before hitching on with the Cavs on a two-way pact. This season he had been playing for the Long Island Nets, the Nets' G League affiliate, prior to the pause and ultimately the end of the G League season. Adel had registered averages of 11.1 points, 4.2 boards and 2.6 assists to that point. Also of note, Adel spent the lion's share of his childhood in Australia after his family moved from South Sudan around the time he was eight.
July 3, 2020, 4:35 pmDarius MillerSF, New Orleans Pelicans
Darius Miller is unsure if he will be able to play in Orlando, as he continues to recover from a torn a ruptured right Achillies.
Due to the lockdown, Miller has been unable to participate in any live-action, or else he would have played in 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 by now. At this point, it would be surprising for the Pelicans to risk his health by pushing for him to participate in the eight-game regular season.
Source: Will Guillory on Twitter
July 3, 2020, 4:26 pmJJ RedickSG, New Orleans Pelicans
J.J. Redick has intentionally lost 10 pounds since the quarantine began.
Redick's goal was to get back to his playing weight during his college days at Duke, and it's not a surprise that one of the most dedicated workers in the league was able to drop weight during the coronavirus pandemic. Redick's shooting will be sorely needed when the Pelicans try to chase down the Grizzlies for a playoff spot, but if he does not come out of the gates making an impact the Pelicans are likely to shift to another hot hand on their deep roster. Redick has only seen 26.4 minutes per game this season, and that is going to limit his impact to strictly 3-pointers (2.9 per game).
Source: Daniel Sallerson on Twitter
July 3, 2020, 4:14 pmTyler HerroPG, Miami Heat
Tyler Herro said the time off allowed his right ankle to fully recover.
Herro returned to action just before the shutdown due to COVID-19. With the ankle back to 100 percent, he will face no restrictions when play picks back up in Orlando. While Herro's scoring prowess caused some increased expectations for his rookie season, he's largely been an afterthought for the Heat. He can clearly shoot the rock (2.1 treys on .391 shooting), but the rest of his game is lacking, and the Heat do not have time to devote to rookie development when the season resumes.
Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter
July 3, 2020, 4:08 pmKent BazemoreSG, Sacramento Kings
Kent Bazemore, who has been a welcomed presence since joining the Kings in January, reiterated that he'd like to stay with the team.
Bazemore had a lot of opportunity before him when the Blazers were faltering due to injuries at the start of the season and he failed to take advantage. However, a change of scenery made a significant difference, as his field goal percentage leaped from .347 with the Blazers, to .426 with the Kings, and his scoring also increased from 7.9 points to 10.3 points per contest. He sounds locked in as the Kings prepare for the Orlando bubble, but a healthy Kings' roster could handicap his opportunity for playing time when things start back up.
Source: James Ham on Twitter
July 3, 2020, 3:57 pmVictor OladipoSG, Indiana Pacers
Shams Charania is reporting that Victor Oladipo will sit out the remainder of the Pacers' season.
Oladipo decided to exercise caution as his quad tendon is still susceptible to a relapse, and the circumstances of the Orlando bubble are anything but predictable. It's a big hit to the Pacers chances when play resumes, but Oladipo should be close to 100 percent next year as he continues his rehab and seeks to further strengthen his quad tendon. This season was a flop as he only appeared in 13 games, but Oladipo should be looking to return fully recovered and seeking early-round value next year. The Pacers will continue leaning on their depth to fill the void, and Malcolm Brogdon will continue to be the lead guard running the show in Indiana.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
July 3, 2020, 3:48 pmJimmy ButlerSG, Miami Heat
After a second member of the Heat tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, the team practice facilities have been closed to all activities, with an exception for testing.
Derrick Jones Jr. had tested positive earlier in the week, and it has not been reported who the latest player to test positive for the coronavirus is. This is a precautionary measure that many teams are undertaking as they prepare to shift operations to the Orlando bubble. The Heat will resume team activities there on July 8.
Source: Ethan J Skolnick on Twitter
July 3, 2020, 2:38 pmGordon HaywardSF, Boston Celtics
Both Gordon Hayward and Vincent Poirier plan to leave the NBA bubble in September, when their respective partners are set to give birth.
Both are expected to be given permission to leave the bubble and will be able to return after a four-day quarantine. If the league's plans play out, September will be right in the thick of the playoffs, so it's unfortunate timing for the team even though it's the right decision for Hayward. It's something to keep in mind if you're planning to play fantasy games through the postseason.
Source: The Athletic
July 2, 2020, 9:02 pmKawhi LeonardSF, Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers closed their practice facility in a precautionary move after a member of their Orlando traveling party tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.
This seems like something that will continue to happen as we prepare to move teams into the Orlando bubble. We'll keep an eye on whether any specific player is infected and how that will impact the restart plans for this team.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter