After trading away star forward Paul George, the Indiana Pacers seemed destined to use last season as a rebuilding season. However, guard Victor Oladipo emerged as not only the leader the Pacers needed but as one of the better players in the Eastern Conference. Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Cory Joseph are just a few of the many players that exceeded expectations and became valuable contributors for the team. The Pacers finished the regular season with a record of 48-34 which was a six-win improvement over the previous season. That was good enough to claim the fifth seed in the East. They lost in the first round of the playoffs in seven games against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Winning three playoff games against the Cavaliers exceeded expectations for the team coming into last season. Here’s a look at the 2018-19 Indiana Pacers Season Preview.
The Pacers seemed to have a lot go right last season, with the biggest development being Victor Oladipo. Oladipo was acquired as part of the Paul George trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was viewed by many as an overpaid player who would not be able to fill George’s shoes. The concern was understandable. Oladipo was scheduled to make over $20 million for at least four more seasons, he never shot higher than 44.2% from the field, and his scoring average actually declined in the previous two seasons. However, Oladipo worked on his game all off-season. He was also given the opportunity to be the number one option, which is an opportunity that he had never had before.
Oladipo quickly became one of the biggest surprises of last season. He averaged 23 points per game while shooting a career-high 47.7% from the field. In addition, Oladipo proved his value as a distributor and defender. He averaged a career-high 4.3 assists per game and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Suddenly, the Pacers had the star player they needed.
Not only did Oladipo improve, but the majority of Indiana’s roster seemingly did as well. Sabonis almost doubled his previous scoring average from 5.9 to 11.6 points per game, despite receiving only 4.4 more minutes per game. His field goal percentage was an impressive 51.4% after his previous seasons 39.9% in Oklahoma City. Sabonis also averaged 4.1 more rebounds per game. Bogdanovic had career highs in field goal percentage (47.4%), three-point percentage (40.2%), and scoring (14.3 PPG). Darren Collison ended up leading the league in three-point percentage at 46.8%, while still taking three shot attempts per game. Despite the impressive statistical jumps, there was more to Indiana’s success than the shots just beginning to fall. The team, led by Coach Nate McMillan, seemed to have a great work ethic that started last summer. The whole roster got in better physical condition and worked hard on their game – Al Jefferson even lost 40 pounds! That is why everyone, from Oladipo to Joe Young, saw better results on the court.
Many expected center Myles Turner to have a breakout season last year. However, Turner averaged fewer points and rebounds in the 2017-18 season than he did in the previous season. His average field goal attempts dropped as well. Turner flashed the potential to become an elite player in this league – he can shoot from three, protect the rim, and has great athleticism, he just needs to be more aggressive. Indiana finished 17th in points per game last season. Frankly, there is not much more the rest of the roster could have done. If Turner takes more shots and expands his offensive game, it will take the team’s offense to new heights. The Pacers have a star in Oladipo, and good role players, but Turner needs to develop into the second star on this Pacer team if they want to make a playoff run.
The Pacers followed up their strong season with a strong off-season. They signed Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, and Kyle O’Quinn. Evans, in particular, could prove to be the steal of the summer. He averaged 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game last season for the Memphis Grizzlies. Tyreke signed a one year deal with the Pacers during the off-season. Evans is still only 28 years old and it would not be surprising to see him put up similar averages this year. O’Quinn should also be a valuable contributor off the bench, and at $4.5 million, his contract will not break the bank. His rebounding ability should be a nice fit alongside Myles Turner as well. McDermott is an excellent three-point shooter, who shot 42.6% from deep last season. They also drafted point guard Aaron Holiday the with the 23rd overall pick. He put up great numbers at UCLA averaging 20.3 points per game and shooting 42.9% from the three-point line during his 2017-18 campaign. Holiday will be a very good backup point guard this season with the potential to become a starter in the future.
The Pacers enter this year with higher expectations than last season. Last season, we projected them to miss the playoffs and win between 29-33 games. It is fair to say they exceeded expectations. Oladipo and Evans should have strong seasons once again, and they will be one of the stronger teams in the Eastern Conference. We expect them to get the fourth seed in the East and make it to the second round of the playoffs after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. However, they do not have the star power to contend with the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers.
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