The Pacers X Factor For 2021-22 NBA Season, And It’s Not Domantas Sabonis
The Indiana Pacers will be looking to enter the playoff picture this coming season after missing the postseason for the first time in six years in the 2020-21 campaign. It is clear that injuries, inside problems, and a coaching change affected the team last season. But with a clean slate coming into the new season, they could be a serious contender in the volatile East.
This season, the roster is looking very good, with some players that can contribute in a major way. The leader is Lithuanian center Domantas Sabonis, who earned his second All-Star nod last year. The former Oklahoma City Thunder has taken big steps towards truly being a leader of a franchise and his play on the court has greatly improved since his Thunder days. Other than him, the Pacers also have former Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert, who has successfully recovered from a kidney issue that kept him sidelined for much of last season. There’s also center Myles Turner, who can still contribute to this squad.
LeVert and Turner are the two players who need to take more responsibility to ease the load for Sabonis. Both of them have had their issues, in different veins, but they are capable NBA players who can be the second and third options on this roster. While the rest of the roster is also very good, with the likes of forward TJ Warren and guard Malcolm Brogdon, how LeVert and Turner perform will be crucial in determining how deep can the Pacers go in the upcoming season.
LeVert is an interesting player. Even before the unfortunate kidney issues, he had last year, he impressed as a bench scorer for the Nets. His trade, even though it did bring All-Star James Harden to Brooklyn, raised some eyebrows, as he was a fan favorite at Barclays Center. His game is very tricky to explain since he is not exactly the most efficient scorer and his shooting form looks a bit off, but he has the ability to catch fire and absolutely fill the basket on any given night.
In limited capacity last season, he showed the Pacer crowd why he is a worthy addition to the squad. In 32.9 minutes per game, he averaged 20.7 points on 44.3/31.8/82.2 shooting splits. It was decent for a volume shooter. He does need to make sure he increases the efficiency of his shots, as he will assume a bigger role in the offense, but as he has shown major improvement in every season so far. There is no doubt LeVert will put in the work.
Obviously, it’s important for LeVert to stay healthy. He has played over 70 games in a season just once in his career so far in the NBA. He’s never played in more than 57 games in four of his first five seasons in the pros. If he can stay healthy, the Pacers can expect great things.
On the other hand, Myles Turner is a very frustrating player for the Pacers faithful. The 6-11 center seems like he is stagnating and his numbers support that. In the last couple of seasons, after carrying the burden of high expectations, the former Texas Longhorns star did not take the next step, remaining simply a solid contributor for the team. The frustrating part is that he has absolutely all tools to be an All-Star, similar to his frontcourt partner, Domantas Sabonis.
He has great defensive awareness and is pretty mobile for his position. The Pacers are completely comfortable when Turner switches on guards or wings, as he can generally follow them well across the perimeter. In the paint, he is an absolute monster, as he led the league in blocks per game on two occasions. Offensively, he can score from anywhere, as he has great range and a solid touch around the basket.
If the Pacers are looking to make a more serious run in the postseason, Turner must take a leap forward and truly show his potential. His defensive contributions are at the level the Pacers need, but he needs to be the solid third offensive option that is lacking from the team. The average of 12.1 points is simply not good enough and if coach Rick Carlisle can work with Turner on his role in the offense, Indiana will be a serious player in the Playoffs.
All in all, the storied franchise should definitely improve on last season. Now, hopefully for the franchise, their squad should be healthy and ready to show the world that last season was an exception. Truth be told, with this roster, Indiana should be making the Playoffs without any problems, especially if the mentioned players can take the steps forward they need to take. As it was outlined above, it will not be on Sabonis to carry them there alone, since he is not of that quality. It will take a combined effort of the whole franchise to achieve major success in the upcoming season.
One thing is for sure – the Pacers will be working their tail off in order to become a force again in the East.