Nate McMillan and the Indiana Pacers have gotten off to a 4-4 start to the 2019-20 NBA season. After a major offseason of change, the team was expected to be a contender in the Eastern Conference this season, especially when Victor Oladipo returns from his ruptured quad that he suffered last year.
The Pacers are a new-look team with quite a bit of change and big-time players leaving and being brought in. Kevin Pritchard orchestrated a great offseason with the additions of Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and T.J. Warren. They also went out and drafted big man Goga Bitadze and signed T.J. McConnell late in free agency to add a hard-nosed veteran leader.
So, without further delay, let’s dive in and find out what to make of the Pacers through eight games this season.
There are quite a few things to like about the Pacers despite their slow start. Malcolm Brogdon has come in and has shown the ability to be the true point guard that Indiana has been desperate to find. He has consistently recorded double-digit assists and is a 20 point per game scorer this year as well so far.
Domantas Sabonis has shown a much improved skill-set as well. After receiving a massive contract extension that was well deserved, Sabonis has been a double-double machine to begin the year, especially after the injury suffered by Myles Turner. Speaking of Turner, he showed an improved offensive ability and the consistent defensive presence prior to his injury.
From other newcomers T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb, the Pacers have found scoring. It has been a bit inconsistent from Warren, but he is starting to get comfortable and has scored 26, 33, and 21 in his last three games. Assuming he can keep scoring at the best of his ability, the Pacers are going to see him raise his per game average to 20 in no time.
Lamb, on the other hand, has brought scoring and shooting to the lineup. He has missed three games so far due to injury, but has averaged 17.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Indiana needed to find a lanky shooting guard who can score at will and Lamb has fit in perfectly.
When Oladipo returns, the Pacers are going to have a lethal lineup. Brogdon will be able to focus on being a true point guard, while also getting more opportunities to spot up and shoot the three. Lamb will slide to the bench and will help shore up the biggest weakness on the team, which happens to be scoring within the second unit.
Bitadze has stepped up in Turner’s absence as well and has shown a lot of potential offensively and as a shot blocker. Doug McDermott has turned into an X-Factor, and the Pacers have seen Aaron Holiday, JaKarr Sampson, and even Edmond Sumner show major improvement.
All of that being said, there are so many positives for the Pacers despite a 4-4 start. McMillan and company knew that this process would take some time with so many new faces, but they are heading in the right direction.
With all of that good, comes quite a bit of bad as well. Indiana has struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor. The Turner-Sabonis pairing looked solid offensively, but the two did not look comfortable together at all on defense.
Warren and Lamb are great offensive additions, but their defensive ability is severely limited. Brogdon is a great offensive threat, but his defense is not elite by any means.
Part of the issue has been the philosophy that defensive coach Dan Burke runs. The Pacers have always tried to drive teams into the paint and live or die by the three-point shot. More often than not, the Pacers have been dying by the perimeter shooting of opposing teams.
Offensively, the Pacers have struggled to maintain a good pace and they have not been consistent from beyond the three-point arc. They have the players to improve those areas, but they need to figure everything out.
McMillan has his work cut out for him with this team, especially until Oladipo returns to the lineup. The Pacers have a lot of talent, but there are also a lot of guys playing roles that they have never played before. As the season moves forward, players should continue getting more comfortable, but this early stretch of games is the easiest of the season and Indiana has not been capitalizing well.
Finally, it’s time for a verdict on this Pacers team. Are they a contender in the weak Eastern Conference?
The answer is not an easy one. Indiana should be able to compete in the playoffs, but they will need a healthy Oladipo. Their current roster is good, but they don’t have a go-to star.
If they can improve on the defensive side of the ball and get Oladipo back offensively, they could be one of the top teams in the East. On the other hand, if Oladipo comes back at anything less than 100 percent, the Pacers are going to struggle to beat anyone in the playoffs. This team without Oladipo might win a first-round series depending on their seeding, but nothing past that.
Expect to see the Pacers continue getting better throughout the course of the rest of the season. They have new faces and chemistry takes time. However, there are quite a few things that Indiana must do in order to prove that they can compete with the best teams in the conference.