During the offseason, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard described the transition process the team is going through as a rebirth as opposed to a rebuild.
Regardless of which euphemism you chose to describe it, the Pacers' fresh start begins on Wednesday night when they host the Brooklyn Nets. The uncertainty surrounding this team, now devoid of a superstar, leaves fans with plenty of questions on opening night and players with pleny of opportunities to provide some answers.
Will the Pacers tank?
Of course not. Kevin Pritchard has said as much and owner Herb Simon doesn't believe in the practice. However, it isn't necessarily the team's decision to make. The Pacers look at the Miami Heat who last year were prime tanking candidates with a transition roster and a couple of early injuries. But a few key players emereged and they made an impressive run at the end of the season which has reset their foundation on stable ground going forward.
That could happen to the Pacers this year, but if no new players emerge to lift up the team, they will remain near the bottom of the league whether they want to or not. I had to chuckle at this line from an article in the Indy Star on the Pacers' "decision" not to tank.
Make no mistake, the success of this season hinges on whether Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner develop into stars. If those two fail to transform into a fearsome 1-2 punch, then Pritchard’s decision to forego tanking will have been the wrong one.
Um, if Oladipo and Turner don't play like stars this season, the Pacers will be tanking whether they want to or not. Try as they might, by the middle of the season the team's development path should be apparent and decisions on utilizing veteran players (Collison, Bogdanovic, Young) around the trade deadline should formalize that direction for the remainder of the season.
Who scores crunch-time buckets?
Based on the preceding comment, the easy answer for big buckets down the stretch would be Oladipo and/or Turner. But those two alone can't carry this Pacers team. If this team is going to live up to the high expectations they have been espousing during preseason, then the burden will need to be shared by several players. Aside from Turner, the Pacers have a mature starting lineup, but will that group always be the crunch-time five?
If Lance has it going or Corey Joseph is rolling off the bench, it makes sense for McMillan to mix and match his lineups based on what matchups are working against an opponent on a particular night. When the Pacers were among the top teams in East, Frank Vogel said he liked to force other teams to match up against their lineup instead of trying to match the opponent. This Pacers team doesn't have that luxury and will need to be flexible when hunting W's late in games.
Whether it's Turner, Oladipo, Collison, Lance or someone else, there is no shortage of players willing to shoot for a win and without the focus on one guy, maybe the Pacers can create a good shot before the buzzer sounds.
How will the Pacers defend and rebound?
The Pacers' starting unit is going to have to find a way to get stops and rebound. Domantas Sabonis and Lance Stephenson are probably the team's best rebounders but they are coming off the bench. The starting unit didn't look very strong on the glass during preseason and while the effort on the defensive end showed up, there were also concerning breakdowns.
But the jumbled playing rotations of preseason make it hard to judge anything definitively, but this may eventually be the most vital answer the Pacers are looking for. Since offense in the half court won't be this team's strong suit, the more they can get the ball and push it the other way for easy scoring opportunities, the better.
Will Sabonis earn some respect?
Speaking of Sabonis, over the past few weeks while listening to NBA podcasts I've heard Sabonis referred to as a "bust" and "garbage" by national NBA media folks. Usually, this is in the context of the Paul George trade so I understand that the talent level on both sides of the trade looks lopsided, but after watching Sabonis in preseason I can only assume, his detractors haven't seen him play much.
Right now, Sabonis has a more complete game than Myles Turner AND he's a couple of months younger than Turner. While Myles has a larger remaining upside, Sabonis has shown strength in the middle with the ability to rebound. That strength helps set quality screens and Sabonis is quite adept at rolling after the screen to score around the basket. He seems comfortable shooting a jump hook over either shoulder, something Turner would be wise to develop, and can even slide back behind the arc to make the occasional three-point shot.
That's not garbage.
Hopfeully, Sabonis can deliver a consistent level of play he showed in preseason throughout the regular season to make others take notice.
Any more questions?
The Pacers appear confident as a group heading into the season despite all of the questions they need to answer. The above inquiries are but a sampling of the unknown heading into the season. Please feel free to share any questions you have heading into the regular season. With the proper attitude adjustment concerning this team’s expectations, the Pacers should be a fun team to root for this season.