The Indiana Pacers are coming off of a 2018-19 NBA campaign in which they won 48 games and were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs, but everyone knows that wasn’t the real Pacers.
Indiana lost its best player, Victor Oladipo, to a season-ending quad tear in late January, which ended any hope the Pacers had of making a run in the postseason, something that was very possible.
Now, Oladipo is on the mend, and if all goes well, he should be back on the floor sometime in December or January, which should give him enough time to get back into shape and help Indiana make a push in the East.
The Pacers were very busy this offseason, trading for T.J. Warren and signing Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb in free agency. Yes, they lost key pieces such as Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic, but a legitimate argument can be made that Indy actually upgraded.
Of course, the Pacers’ entire 2019-20 season hinges on the recovery of Oladipo.
If he can get back to 100 percent, Indiana is going to represent a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. This is a team that can absolutely get to the finals, especially in a wide open East that just saw Kawhi Leonard head out West.
That’s not to say the Pacers don’t have holes.
Depth in particular could be a big problem for this team, as Indy will have to rely on awful lot on youngsters like Aaron Holiday, T.J. Leaf and possibly even rookie big man Goga Bitadze to step up off the bench.
But that almost pales in comparison to the potential of this club.
Let’s say Oladipo gets back on the floor and he’s good to go. The Pacers will then have versatile defenders in Oladipo, Lamb and Myles Turner, long, rangy guys who can guard multiple positions.
Warren may not be the greatest defensive player in the world, but he at least has the size and the athleticism to hold his own, and Holiday has the potential to be a defensive demon. Let’s not forget that Indiana also added one of Holiday’s older brothers, Justin, in free agency, and Justin is a decent defender in his own right.
Brogdon is not known for his defense, but he is a ridiculously efficient scorer who should help comprise a lethal backcourt tandem with Oladipo once Oladipo comes back.
We also can’t forget Domantas Sabonis, who, while he may not be a great defender, is a hyper-efficient and incredibly smart offensive player who has basically turned into a walking double-double.
Again, there is so much potential here. I won’t go as far to say the sky is the limit, because the Pacers still don’t have the top-end talent of teams like the Clippers and the Lakers, but in the East? Indiana can go as far as Oladipo’s health takes it.
Think about this: this club won 48 games with Oladipo missing about half of last season. If Oladipo was healthy, there is a strong possibility the Pacers could have won in the neighborhood of 55 games, which would have put them third in the conference.
To be clear, the past is the past, and we really don’t know if Oladipo will ever reach that level again. Only two other NBA players have been known to have his quad tear injury: Charles Barkley and Tony Parker, and both of those guys were at the ends of their respective careers when they got hurt.
So, Oladipo is in uncharted territory here.
But the best-case scenario for the Pacers is really, really good.
All of that being said, Oladipo likely missing the first couple of months will put a cap on this team’s potential win total, and we also have to give him a grace period to get into game shape when he does return.
For that reason, I can’t say Indiana is going to be a 55-win team, even though I think the Pacers would certainly finish around that mark had it not been for Oladipo’s injury.
But again, this team won 48 games this past year, so you have to figure that it is going to win at least that much in 2019-20.
However, there has not been a lot of discussion about Indiana.
Maybe it’s the small market. Maybe it’s the lack of overall star power. Maybe it’s the fact that people are overlooking what the Pacers did for much of this past season, not to mention how good they were two years ago.
Whatever it is, Indiana is being very underrated right now, and that’s probably a good thing for the Pacers. The last thing they need with Oladipo trying to make his way back from a devastating injury is the pressure of high expectations.
But if and when Oladipo gets back on the court and reminds everyone of how good he is, the world is also going to realize just how good the Pacers are.