Pacers

Grading Every Pacers’ 2019-2020 Season So Far

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65 games in, the Indiana Pacers sit at 39-26. Despite nagging backcourt injuries, Indiana remains near the top of the east. After a long play stoppage, it may be difficult to remember specifics of how the season was going, so we’ll catch you up. With NBA games resuming on July 30th, let’s grade how each Pacer has fared so far this season.

Malcolm Brogdon: B

16.3 PPG, 4.7 REB, 7.1 AST, 90 FT%

Injuries and poor shooting limited Brogdon’s success this season. He played in slightly less than three out of every four games, and his 51/43/93 shooting splits from last season (FG/3P/FT percentages, respectively) seem like an anomaly, compared to this season’s 44/31/90. To his credit, Brogdon of last season wasn’t counted on to lead a team on a nightly basis. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton took most of that duty. Also, only eight NBA players ever have achieved 50/40/90 shooting splits, so following that up is asking a lot. This year, Brogdon has been option 1 or 1A when he’s played, putting pressure to his scoring ability.

Despite poor shooting, Brogdon has effectively run the offense. He more than doubled his assists per game from last year. Brogdon can and will take over in clutch situations- including a game-winning layup over three-time DPOY Dwight Howard, lifting the Pacers over the streaking Lakers. Defensively, he’s looked a step slow. However, when pace slows down in the playoffs, his 6’11 wingspan and 229-pound frame will be more valuable. Despite poor shooting and defensive woes, Brogdon runs a team well, but he needs to stay healthy.

Victor Oladipo: C-

13.8 PPG, 3.2 REB, 3.0 AST, 39.1 FG%

Pacer fans were forced to wait until January 29 to see their franchise leader return to the court from rehabbing a torn quad. Until that point, Oladipo’s air time was limited to passionately encouraging his teammates from the bench. Upon return, Oladipo looked athletic but a step slow (for him). He STRUGGLED to find his shooting rhythm. Dipo shot 39% from the field and 30% from 3– all while shooting a team-high five three-pointers per game. After returning from injury, getting game experience is crucial. But five three’s per game at a 30% clip is questionable.

His defense is still elite. In 13 games, Dipo officially drew nine charges, good for second-best in the NBA on a per-game basis. Oladipo’s shooting could barely have been worse, but his charisma, leadership, and clutch ability are still where they were before the injury, and he’s shown he can still defend at a first-team all-defensive level.

TJ Warren: A-

18.7 PPG, 4.0 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.1 STL

As a newcomer to Indiana, fans didn’t know what to expect from Warren. Through three quarters of the regular season, it’s clear that Warren is a professional scorer that plays hard on defense– sometimes maybe too hard. It’s rare for a team’s leading scorer to score within the flow of the game, but that’s TJ Warren. Also rare is for a team’s leading scorer to achieve 53/38/81 shooting splits, but that’s TJ. His midrange floater is nasty, and from 18 feet in he’s automatic. Since he plays within the flow, Warren struggles against solid defensive teams, especially when Brogdon and Oladipo are hurt, and defenses key in on TJ.

One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Warren’s defense. He is willing to defend anyone, anywhere, with full effort. Sometimes that effort takes him out of position and picks up fouls. Other times, his activity results in production. Warren averages more deflections per game than likely-DPOY Anthony Davis and former DPOY Draymond Green. Warren’s defense famously frustrated Heat G/F Jimmy Butler into some threatening post-game comments. By no means is Warren elite on defense, but on any given possession he puts in the effort needed to lock down an opponent. Throughout the season, Warren stayed healthy, brought efficient scoring, and defended at surprisingly high level.

Domantas Sabonis: A

18.5 PPG, 12.4 REB, 5.0 AST, 0.8 STL

Heading into the season, Pacer fans had high hopes for Domas, but his success shattered expectations. Nabbing an All-Star nod, Sabonis averages 18.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, and 5 APG- all career-highs. Sabonis leads the Pacers in win shares and has absolutely baptized opponents with vicious rim-running dunks. From all accounts he seems like a personable guy and a loving teammate. For most of the season, Indiana’s offense ran through Domas- resulting in a better record than the “contending” 76ers. Not only has Sabonis shown improvement, he’s a centerpiece for the franchise.

Last season, Domas often struggled defensively, especially on the perimeter. This year coach Nate McMillan tried a two-big lineup of him and C Myles Turner. As a PF, Sabonis is now asked to guard opponents on or near the three-point arc, and he holds his own! His defensive footwork is markedly improved from last year, and he’s a tough task to move in the post. At 25% from 3, he has some shooting work to do, but Domas established himself as an inside force with great passing ability.

Myles Turner: B+

11.8 PPG, 6.5 REB, 1.1 AST, 2.2 BLK

While numbers are down from last year, Turner’s role must be addressed. His 2019-2020 season may be best described with one word: sacrifice. Though his offensive numbers are down, Myles seemed much more comfortable during recent games. Getting used to playing with another center had to be tough. After years with the team as the primary big, Coach McMillan made the move this season to use a starting lineup with two centers. The offense ran through Sabonis, and spacing issues initially made it tough for Myles and Domas to effectively share the floor. Turner selflessly deferred to Sabonis, never fussing about it.

Sacrifice Aside

Myles showed offensive improvement on the low block and continued his elite rim protection. Before this year, Turner almost strictly scored in pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, or catch-and-shoot situations. This year has shown Turner both attacking mismatches off the dribble and putting in work on big men in the post. He’s comfortable enough, and is effective enough, to attack at the low block– things Pacer fans have been hoping for. Mixing a low-post game with a stellar shooting ability is a nightmare for opponents, but shooting consistency can be an issue.

Defensively, Myles produces elite numbers, averaging nearly a steal and over two blocks per game. One underrated aspect of Myles’ game is his ability to keep blocked shots inbounds. His rim protection is a lost art in the league. Sending a shot into the stands may seem extra disrespectful, and certainly that style of play has been glorified by hoop mixtapes. But keeping a block in play is the winning play. 11-time NBA champ Bill Russell preached it. While a blocked shot out of bounds basically serves as a deflection, a blocked shot in bounds has a much greater potential to act as a steal and start a fast break.

Jeremy Lamb: B

12.5 PPG, 4.3 REB, 2.1 AST, 1.2 STL

Before a season-ending knee injury, Lamb was a productive scorer for the Pacers. Lamb likes to score with the ball in his hands, but also does a solid job of spreading the floor and using screens to pick his spots. Having a good one-on-one scorer like Lamb is of great value, especially late in the shot clock and when the offense is stagnant. Lamb added a spark that generated a handful of extra wins for Indiana. Defensively, Lamb is great at playing the passing lane with his long arms and quick reflexes. At 1.2 per game, Lamb leads the Pacers in steals. However, the eye test shows opponents often easily blowing by Lamb, and he appears to suffer lapses in judgment on that end of the floor. Hopefully his recovery goes smoothly.

Doug McDermott: A-

10.4 PPG, 2.5 REB, 1.1 AST, 44.5 3P%

McDermott is a sniper. And a workhorse. At 1.9 threes made per game, Doug is tied for the team lead. Interestingly, every single one of his threes this season has been assisted on. Even when McDermott isn’t shooting, he’s flying around screens, spreading the floor, and putting pressure on the defense. Doug leads the team at 45% from deep and is a genuine threat to put the ball in the basket every time he gets a good look at the basket. Lateral foot speed isn’t one of McDermott’s strengths but he plays angles well. At 6’8, Doug offers great length that often offsets his lack of quickness.

Aaron Holiday: B

9.4 PPG, 2.3 REB, 3.3 AST, 39.4 3P%

Aaron has been a critical part of the Pacers’ success so far this season. With guards Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo often injured, Holiday was thrust into many games as the primary ball handler, and more than held his own. As a (Holiday) defender, Aaron uses his quickness and speed to his advantage, making it tough for opposing ball handlers to get where they need to go. Holiday is a steady sharpshooter, knocking down 39.4% of his threes. He shoots quickly and fluidly, enabling him to get shots off the dribble more easily. At 86.1% from the foul line, Holiday is a weapon in many late-game situations. As a scorer, his game needs some consistency, but young Holiday is already a solid player with potential yet.

Justin Holiday: A

8.4 PPG, 3.2 REB, 1.2 STL, 42.4 3P%

The taller of the Holiday-brother duo in Indianapolis, Justin has been an absolute diamond in the rough this season. As a relatively unknown newcomer, most fans didn’t know what to expect, but Holiday is an outstanding individual defender and a knockdown shooter. Holiday is third on the team in win shares, second in three-point percentage (42.4%), and first on the team in steals per 48 minutes (1.9). He held matchups to one of the lowest individual field goal percentages in the league this season. The numbers don’t lie, he passes the eye test, and he seems like a great guy. Glad he’s a Pacer.

TJ McConnell: A

6.5 PPG, 2.6 REB, 5.0 AST, 51.7 FG%

TJ can hoop. Across the entire NBA, TJ trails only LeBron James and Ricky Rubio in assists per 48 minutes. He’s 13th in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, and is a genuine spark off the bench. The guy picks up opponents full court and uses his speed to badger them into frustration. TJ’s midrange is deadly and he uses it to his advantage, shooting 51.7% from the floor. Size and jumping ability are not traits with which McConnell was blessed. On the low block, TJ struggles defending larger players, but he uses his speed to make sure he’s not caught in that position much.

Goga Bitadze: B-

3.1 PPG, 2.0 REB, 0.4 AST, 0.7 BLK

Goga!!! The rookie (#88) has passed the eye test. This guy moves fluidly and has a smooth jumper already. His soft touch and pure shot are good enough for the fifth-highest field goal percentage on the team. However, three-point shooting was another story. Though his numbers are in limited minutes in a rookie campaign, Bitadze shot an ultra tough 16.7% from distance. That has to improve, and likely will as he adjusts to the NBA game. Defensively, if out of foul trouble, Bitadze has shown promising force. He even averages more blocks per 48 minutes than elite shot blocker, teammate Myles Turner! His verticality on shot challenges may remind Pacer fans of Roy Hibbert, but Goga has more lateral ability and much more natural skill than the former Pacer. There is excitement within the Pacer fanbase to see more of Goga as he progresses, perhaps eventually into a dominant player.

JaKarr Sampson: B

4.2 PPG, 2.3 REB, 0.3 AST, 59.3 FG%

Jakarr brings the energy and attacks the basket for some ferocious dunks. In reserve minutes, Sampson leads the team in field goal percentage, and is fourth on the Pacers in blocks per 48 minutes. Jakarr has shot 15.4% from three, a number that just can’t happen if he wants defenders to respect him from distance. For a reserve, Sampson is very solid.

Edmond Sumner: C

4.6 PPG, 1.5 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.6 STL

Sumner’s absolutely hounds opponents on defense. At a bouncy 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan, Sumner’s size as a guard is useful, and his defensive instincts produce results. 1.6 steals per 48 minutes is good for second-best on the Pacers, and 0.9 blocks per 48 minutes is good for sixth-best. Sumner’s athleticism is a weapon in transition, but his halfcourt scoring skills and three-point shooting certainly need work. Before injuring his hand, Sumner was starting. After rehabbing the injury, Sumner found himself fighting to get back into Nate McMillan’s rotation. If he can avoid injuries, Sumner is a surefire defensive weapon with great potential.

Team Grade: A-

39-26 ain’t bad, especially considering games were played without Oladipo for most of the season and Brogdon for a good chunk. With Oladipo and Brogdon healthy — and with more time to gel as a unit — this team is a legitimate contender to make a deep playoff push.

About Will Deane

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