The Surprising Pacers Await Their Leader’s Return

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The Indiana Pacers have been a surprise success story this year after losing all-star guard Victor Oladipo the previous January with a torn quad tendon.  That led to an early exit in last season’s playoff and most assumed the Pacers would struggle at the beginning of this year in his absence.  But instead the Pacers have been one of the surprise success stories this year with another All-Star emerging in Domantas Sabonis.   

Sabonis was drafted by the Thunder but sent to the Pacers as part of the Paul George deal.  His scoring and rebounding have increased every season leading to an All-Star Game appearance this year with averages of 18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds.  He has also nearly doubled his assists number from 2.9 to 5.0 per game.   

TJ Warren and Malcolm Brogdon were added in the off-season.  Warren’s scoring average is still around the 19 points per game he was putting up on some bad Suns teams the last couple of years but now he’s doing it in meaningful situations with Indiana.  Brogdon was averaging 16 points and 7 assists before he tore a left hip muscle in early March just before the season was suspended.  The suspension was a huge benefit for him and the Pacers as he’s now ready to go.   

Oladipo did manage to return for 13 games before the season stopped and he has waffled in his thoughts about returning for the re-start but now it appears he will be back in the mix for the Pacers.   

Even more surprising about the team’s success this season is they are doing it while being last in the league in three-pointers and free throws – the exact opposite of what modern analytics advocate.  That’s why the return of Oladipo is so important, he gives them a boost in both of these categories.  Clearly the Pacers have had success without doing these things well but being last in any offensive category is rarely, if ever, a part of a championship team’s resume. 

They’re not bad defensively anchored by Myles Turner and his 2.2 blocks per game.  And between he and Sabonis, they grab a lot of missed shots which is important because this team does not want to get into a shootout with anyone. 

Their first game is really important as they go head to head with the team they’re currently tied with, the Philadelphia 76ers.  The rest of their schedule is challenging highlighted by two games against the Heat.  If they win both, they probably stay in the 5th spot and match up against the Heat in the first round.  If they lose both, it’s likely they avoid facing a team they struggle against in the first round. 

Pacers fans would love to see a healthy Oladipo lead this team to the playoffs like they were hoping to see last year.  If he comes back strong, along with Sabonis, Warren and Brogdon, they could pull off a first round upset but I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to get further than that.  They are locked into this roster for the next couple of seasons with the big question looming as to what kind of extension they look to give Oladipo after next season.