The Indiana Pacers are coming off of a devastating 2018-19 NBA campaign in which they saw star guard Victor Oladipo go down with a torn quad in January, which resulted in them being swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
But the Pacers have rebounded nicely, adding Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb this offseason to vault themselves back into legitimate contention in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, Indiana’s success solely depends on Oladipo’s recovery, but if Oladipo is able to come back healthy, this team has a chance of making it to the finals, particularly in an East that is as wide open as it’s ever been.
So, here are four burning questions for the Pacers ahead of training camp:
4. Can Malcolm Brogdon Stay Healthy?
Malcolm Brogdon has developed into one of the most efficient scorers in the league, but over the last couple of years, he has been hampered by late-season injuries that have limited him in the playoffs.
That begs the question: is Brogdon injury-prone?
Indiana signed him with the hope that he can become its No. 2 scorer, and while he may certainly have the talent to do just that, we don’t know if this kid is capable of staying healthy.
If Brogdon is unable to make it through the season without any significant injuries, the Pacers are going to be in some trouble, as they have invested a lot into hoping Brogdon is that guy for them.
3. How about T.J. Warren? Can He Stay on the Floor?
For as many injury issues as Brogdon has had, Warren has been even worse.
Over the first five years of his NBA career, Warren has played in 40, 47, 66, 65 and 43 games, respectively.
Obviously, Warren has had plenty of injury issues, which was a major reason why the Phoenix Suns essentially traded him to the Pacers for peanuts.
But the talent is there with Warren. If he can just avoid injuries, he is a terrific scorer, and one that saw major improvement in his three-point shot this past season when he shot 42.8 percent on high volume.
The Pacers need Warren to play at least 70 games, as he is essentially the guy who is replacing Thaddeus Young. Warren doesn’t bring Young’s defense to the table, but he is a much bigger offensive threat, and he is also on a cheap contract.
2. Are the Young Guys Ready to Step Up?
Outside of hoping everyone stays healthy, Indiana’s most glaring weakness is its depth.
The Pacers were a pretty deep team during the 2018-19 campaign, which was why they were able to win 48 games in spite of Oladipo missing half of the season.
But they lost a good amount of that depth this summer, and now, they will be heading into the 2019-20 season with a bunch of unproven youngsters coming off the bench.
Aaron Holiday, T.J. Leaf and rookie Goga Bitadze will all need to play rather large roles off the pine for Indiana this year, and while Holiday and Leaf got some playing time this past season, their minutes will almost certainly increase.
Holiday, who is entering his second season, is probably the most talented of the bunch, and with Darren Collison and Cory Joseph gone, he will surely be expected to handle a lot of the ball-handling duties, especially over the first couple of months with Oladipo likely sidelined.
Whether he or the rest of his young teammates are ready for that type of elevated role remains to be seen.
1. Will Victor Oladipo Come Back Healthy?
Only two other players have had the type of injury that Oladipo suffered this past year: Charles Barkley and Tony Parker. The thing is, both of those players were older when they suffered the injury, so it’s hard to use them as a benchmark for Oladipo.
It’s going to be a tough road for Oladipo. No one is going to refute that. But he is one of the best two-way players in the game when he is right, so if he can work his way back in December or January and find his rhythm, the Pacers are going to be dangerous.
I think people overlook just how well this kid played during his first year in Indiana during the 2017-18 season, when he nearly led the Pacers to an upset win over the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
This is clearly a major setback for the 27-year-old, but if and when he gets healthy, the rest of the East is going to be in big trouble.