Oct. 11, 2017
Is This 2018 NBA Team Any Good?: Indiana Pacers
by Fox Doucette
Man, it is a terrifying time to be a Pacers fan. This team is good enough to make a bit of noise in the 9-12 echelon in the East and keep the fans clinging to false hopes of the playoffs as late as All-Star Weekend, but they're bad enough to have no chance whatsoever to make the actual playoffs.
Or, if you want the wry, worst-case scenario, they're too good to tank.
On the other hand, this is a batch of castoffs and nobodies surrounding the best young player Indiana's had since...well, since they drafted Paul George and let him go for five cents on the dollar, trading him to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
On the bright side, they waived Monta Ellis with the stretch provision, so at least his corpse won't stink up the court anymore. Kind of a shame, they could've used his washed-up self to go full Indiana Panzers after last place.
This is going to be the worst thing to happen to Indiana since they voted Mike Pence their governor.
2016-17 record: 42-40
2018 over/under: 31
So Is Oladipo, Like, Good?
He damn well better be. He's making $21 million a year.
But with a slash line of .442/.361/.753 during a season in which his job was to stay far enough out of Russell Westbrook's way that he'd get to knock down open looks, and indeed had over 88 percent of his threes assisted on, you'd expect him to be a better shooter. He's got a sweet stroke from the corner (43.5 percent) but can't shoot from anywhere else beyond the arc.
Playing alongside Westbrook in most lineups also gave him a plus-6.6 on/off split, but then again, he had great splits in Orlando too, and that was carrying a bad team.
The 13.6 PER, .085 WS/48, and negative BPM on both ends of the floor are concerning, so's the league-average shooting despite a bunch of open looks, but Oladipo's shooting has improved every year he's been in the league, and he's a league-average defender.
He's a five-dollar milkshake. He's good. I don't think he's 21 million dollars good.
Ahead of Sophie, Behind Ted on the Turner Power Rankings
Myles Turner is the hope for the future for Pacers fans. He put up a .511/.348/.809 slash line, an 18.5 PER, and more Win Shares per 48 than Paul George (by a good margin.)
The best player on the 2016-17 Pacers is still on the Pacers.
If you haven't heard his name yet, get out from under your rock and recognize, because the guy's distance breakdown on his shooting (inside 3 feet, 3-10, 10-16, 16 to the arc, and beyond the arc) went .715/.469/.453/.429/.348. That is outstanding shooting for a big man as young as Turner is (21).
He was third in the league in blocks as a counting stat and second in block percentage behind only Rudy Gobert.
The bad news is that he is an absolutely atrocious rebounder for his size; his 13.0 rebounding percentage was legitimately terrible, and the 19.6 he posted on the defensive end is why the Pacers were so consistently bullied on the boards and couldn't beat teams with strong big men (Indiana finished 25th in Defensive Rebound Percentage as a team.)
Even so, Turner's Defensive Rating of 105 was four points better than league average. He put up a 101 in Frank Vogel's last year coaching, and that was as a rookie. The 2.6 DBPM and 3.7 Defensive Win Shares (13th and 17th in the league, respectively) were impressive, especially since Nate McMillan is a mediocre-at-best defensive coach (Indiana dropped from third in defense under Vogel to 16th, and Nate has never coached a team that finished higher than 13th defensively.)
A star is born, folks, let's hope like hell he gets some help.
Speaking of Nate McMillan...
Are we sure this is the guy you want coaching an up-tempo style of offense dictated from on high? The Pacers were 18th in pace last year, and that's just breakneck for a guy whose Portland teams never finished faster than the 3rd-slowest team in the league; the '04 Sonics were the median NBA team in pace that year and the fastest of McMillan's career (and finished last in the Pacific Division and 12th of 14 West teams overall.)
He's got a touch of Scott/Hollins Syndrome in him. The team was 27th in three-point attempts even as they were fourth in percentage when they did get them up, and that's with vomit-inducing chuckers like Rodney Stuckey and Monta Ellis taking a lot of those shots.
Every strength the Pacers have as a team, last year and this year even with the roster changes, is completely nullified by McMillan's coaching style.
Which is great if you're tanking. But I said he was a bad hire when Larry Bird brought him in to replace Frank Vogel, and I think he's a bad hire now.
Let's Not Talk About Domantas Sabonis.
.399/.321/.657, 93/108 Offensive/Defensive Rating split, .022 WS/48, -4.8 BPM, -1.2 VORP, 6.9 PER, in 20.1 minutes a game. Holy hell, he's one of the worst players in the league. And they traded friggin' Paul George for him.
Oh, and he had minus-1.0 Offensive Win Shares. Negative Win Shares. Seriously. Oklahoma City was a dumpster fire last year. No wonder Westbrook won MVP.
As Good As You Do
Thad Young put up a .100 WS/48 season, precisely the minimum acceptable standard for a starter. Glenn Robinson III put up a .467/.392/.711 slash line, won the dunk contest, pulled .085 WS/48 and a positive VORP, and generally showed he's a capable role player. Whatever else may be said about Al Jefferson...wait. Jefferson had a Letter League washout VORP. Never mind.
In other words, the Pacers are exactly what they look like on the surface. A 30-win team with an emerging young superstar and a core that's not good enough to elevate him even in the East. Too good to tank, too bad to make the playoffs, there is no plausible scenario in which this team ventures outside exactly the box that their terrible management has put them in. With any luck, the front office will have inflated expectations, because at least that might cost McMillan his job and lead to a full demolish-and-rebuild in the remnants of Larry Bird's regime.
But this is the Pacers. They'll find a way to screw it up. Either way, this one's Busted. And yes, I left Lance Stephenson out of this on purpose, because this is a serious basketball column, not fan gushing over a guy who put up .012 WS/48 in those six games at the end of last season and hasn't been good since 2014. Shut up.