Pacers

Which New Pacers Will Make an Impact This Season?

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After a disappointing end to a quality season, a new year awaits the Indiana Pacers– and a new year brings new faces. One new face, head coach Nate Bjorkgren, addressed that he wants play more players. On account of COVID and the shortened offseason, quite a few players will conceivably miss time due to illness, close contact or injury. Pacer fans can reasonably expect to see more players on the court this season than in recent memory.

Even amidst the Victor Oladipo drama at the end of last season and into the offseason, Pacer players voiced a desire to run it back. Management listened, though not before testing trade waters for Oladipo and Myles Turner. At least to start the season, Indiana will be in the rare position of returning every rotation player. Reports and videos from training camp indicate are the team is practicing with pace, having fun, and getting better.

During an abridged offseason, Pacers management:

  • Re-signed wing Justin Holiday – 3 years, $18.8 million
  • Re-signed G TJ McConnell – 2 years, $7 million
  • Re-signed F/C JaKarr Sampson – 1 year, $1.8 million
  • Drafted wing Cassius Stanley – 54th overall pick (2nd round), signed Cassius to a two-way deal
  • Signed wing Kelan Martin – 2 years, partially guaranteed
  • Re-signed G Brian Bowen II – 2-way deal
  • Re-signed G Naz Mitrou-Long – Exhibition 10 deal (training camp guaranteed)
  • Acquired G Jalen Lecque from Oklahoma City, traded away F TJ Leaf and a 2nd-round pick
  • Signed wing Rayshaun Hammonds – Exhibition 10 deal (training camp guaranteed)
  • Signed C Amida Brimah – Exhibition 10 deal (training camp guaranteed)

Of the new Pacers, two will likely play meaningful minutes this NBA season: Cassius Stanley and Kelan Martin.

Cassius Stanley – 6’6, 193 lbs, 21 years old

Did the Pacers land a lottery pick at 54th overall? Duke’s well-respected Coach K thinks so. President Kevin Pritchard told media “I spent a lot of time talking to Coach K (about) the person that he is. He called him one of the best kids he’s ever coached and he told me that he thought if he came back for another year that he would have been for sure a lottery pick.” Coach K may well be looking out for his player, but he has also coached quite a few lottery picks. If nothing else, Cassius Stanley certainly has the athleticism and frame of a lottery pick.

At Duke, Stanley broke Zion WIlliamson‘s vertical leap record, posting a near 50-inch vertical (46.5″ technically). While his vertical is his headliner, Stanley’s quickness and speed are somehow nearly as impressive. Such raw athleticism puts him in a position to thrive in transition, off-ball cutting and rebounding right away.

Most of Stanley’s scoring at Duke was in transition, baseline cuts and catch-and-shoot threes. Playing almost exclusively off-ball, Stanley scored 12 points per game and shot a stellar 36% from deep. To score consistently in the league, he will need to develop a more effective and comfortable arsenal off the dribble in the halfcourt. Stanley will also need a more consistent 3-pointer, as he only attempted 3 per game at Duke.

In college, he played strong on-ball defense but periodically lapsed off-ball. With his build, Stanley should be able to effectively switch between wing positions– critical in today’s small-ball game.  With his quickness, he possesses the ability to stay in front of and with shifty ballhandlers.

Realistically, Cassius will spend much of his 2020-21 game time in the G League with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Coach Bjorkgren may use Stanley as a situational sub or injury replacement for a few NBA games. For the most part, though, Stanley should be tasked with adding strength and long-range shot repetition to his NBA-standout body. Below is a video of Stanley going head to head with Lakers wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This video offers a glimpse of just how NBA-ready Stanley is.

Cassius seems to welcome his opportunity in Indianapolis with open arms. In fact, he penned a well-received letter “To the city of Indianapolis, and to Pacers fans everywhere”, in which he makes clear his love of the game and respect for those who paved the way for him. Seems he’ll get on just fine in the Pacers organization.

Kelan Martin – 6’6, 230 lbs, 25 years old

Kelan is coming home. Most recently playing for the Timberwolves, Kelan returns to Indianapolis– this time as a professional. Four years of college basketball (2014-2018) in Indianapolis saw Martin score over 2000 points– good for second in Butler history. He won at least one NCAA tournament game in each of his four seasons at Butler. To be clear, Martin is from Louisville, but he will always have a basketball home in Indiana.

Martin is a professional scorer. He floats. His game is polished and smooth. Kelan’s athleticism is not jaw-dropping but it is nothing to scoff at either. Martin is athletic, just not Cassius Stanley athletic. His first step, footwork and size are good enough to expose both slower and smaller opposing defenders. He is comfortable finishing with his off hand and has a nice floater too. Defensively, Martin holds his own. In Minnesota, opposing teams scored at a lower rate when Martin was on the floor. His strong, movable 6’6 frame enables him to switch 2-4.

At Butler, Kelan shot 8 threes per game his senior season, netting 36% of them. In 31 games with Minnesota last season, Martin hit just 26% from distance. That number has to increase, and should. Martin shot nearly 40% from 3 in the G League. His stint in Minnesota was just Martin’s first taste of the NBA. It is likely that with more NBA minutes, Kelan’s 3 point percentage will increase, as he’s shown he can shoot it. He just needs more experience to adapt.

While shooting efficiency was not Martin’s forte last season, he still managed to put up some impressive highlights. Frankly, he makes Paul Millsap look horrible.

Expect Kelan get 20 or more minutes in multiple games this season– just not each game. Not yet. Martin first needs to establish himself in a crowded wing rotation likely featuring TJ Warren, Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott, Edmond Sumner and Cassius Stanley. Martin may be well on his way. According to coach Bjorkgren, “The players have come up and mentioned his name. They like what he brings to this team. He’s been shooting the ball very well. He’s been doing everything that I’ve asked him, pressuring the ball, playing multiple positions and guarding multiple position. (He’s) very coachable and he’s a very good person.”

The Other New Guys

Other new additions include Jalen Lecque, Rayshaun Hammonds and Amidah Brimah. They are not likely to see meaningful NBA minutes this season.

Many Pacer fans were elated to see 2017 first-round pick TJ Leaf dealt to Oklahoma City. Indiana also sent a second-round pick in the package. In return, Indy acquired “Baby Westbrook” Jalen Lecque, an explosive guard who skipped college (NC State commit) for G League play.

This trade saves Pacer management about $1.4 million per season. Lecque’s age (20) and athleticism are noteworthy for their value in player development. Indiana may take on Lecque, but waiving and stretching his contract saves even more bread. Lecque is slated to make $1.5 million this season in guaranteed money. If the Pacers waive Lecque, they save $1 million and drop below the tax line. If stretched, his $1.5 million cap hit for this season becomes a $500k per year hit over three seasons.

Regardless of what management chooses, Lecque likely will not find NBA minutes for the Pacers this season. For meaningful NBA minutes, he’ll need to become more efficient. 41/22/60 (FG/3PT/FT) splits are rough. Plus the Pacers have a crowded backcourt. Last season, Indiana rotated three point guards in its eight-man rotation. Some team will take a chance on Jalen due to his youth and athleticism; it just might not be Indiana.

Raushaun Hammonds and Amidah Brimah signed Exhibition 10 deals with Indiana. In these deals, players are guaranteed a training camp spot. Hammonds, a 6’7 wing, most recently played at the University of Georgia alongside first overall pick Anthony Edwards.

Technically, Amidah Brimah, a seven-footer from UCONN, is not a new Pacer. However, he was not on the roster at the end of the season, so he is certainly a fresh face. Last season Indiana signed Brimah to an Exhibit-10 deal before waiving him. Here he is with the Austin Spurs.

About Will Deane

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