Picks aren’t just people. They’re currency, and they’re representative of the allure of the unknown. One of the many knocks against the return for Paul George was that the Pacers removed that element of surprise by opting for what “presently is” over what potentially “could be.”
“The reality is we know these kids now,” Kevin Pritchard said at the team’s introductory press conference for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. “The certainty of their character. The certainty of what we knew of what we’re getting. The certainty that I have no doubt that both these players, along with Darren (Collison), are starting caliber players.”
Along with that sureness, however, comes the probability of losing without the consolation of daydreaming about the concept of unlimited upside. Even if the schedule does its part to preclude the Pacers from the doldrums of rebuilding through the middle, it obviously can’t stock them with liquid assets.
Therefore, beyond relying upon the team’s ability to draft well along with hoping that they can somehow buy low on more young talent, here’s the last five of ten things that the Pacers can do to add meaning to what otherwise feels like a gap year.
Focus on what makes Myles Turner special
This is the biggie, right?
The 21-year-old center needs to be more physical next season, as evidenced by his recurrent tendency to shy away from contact and get pushed under the basket during his sophomore campaign. Still, purposefully consuming precious seconds of the shot clock establishing him in the post should be done with caution.
On the chance that Darren Collison struggles to fight over the top of screens to the same degree Jeff Teague did last season (more on this later), it seems unreasonable to expect that Turner will have the energy required of him to come out higher against ball-handlers, recover to the paint, and box out, if he’s gassed from banging on the block.
Instead, focusing on being less deterred by more imposing frames as the roll man or on the glass while modernizing his shot distribution would arguably be of greater value. His ratio of mid-range shots (337) to 3-point attempts (115) was 2.9 last season, despite the fact that he shot slightly above 35 percent from the longer distance prior to the injury he sustained to his index finger against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Stabilizing his range will open driving lanes for Victor Oladipo and Lance Stephenson without detracting from what he does best, spreading the floor and protecting the rim.
As Indiana’s top prospect, Myles Turner needs to be the lens by which his team evaluates most of what they do.
Racking up possessions is going to be a challenge if the Pacers struggle to get stops next season, but that shouldn’t inhibit them from improving their tempo within possessions. Per Kevin Pelton, ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus projects Indiana’s offensive efficiency to free fall from league average to bottom-five. However, even if they struggle to score on a per-possessions basis, they can still show signs of growth with regard to how well they move the ball (24th) and themselves (26th).
Take solace in Cory Joseph’s defense
After observing Jeff Teague struggle to stay attached to his man’s hip, Cory Joseph’s tenacity should be a sight for sore eyes. Notice, here, how the Canadian is relatively unfazed by the ball screen Bradley Beal sets for John Wall.
Importantly, that degree of pesky effort against the point of attack has the potential to prevent Myles Turner — at least in the staggered minutes the two play together — from having to stray 30-feet from the basket to hedge against ball-handlers. Instead, Indiana’s lone rim protector would be able to hang back in the high paint without being too far out of position to alter shots, if need be.
Experiment with the backup center position
Al Jefferson earning one of the NBPA’s thirty “Teammate of the Year” awards certainly wasn’t the most surprising thing that happened in relation to the Pacers this summer, but it was a surprise, nonetheless.
As Kevin Pritchard pointed out shortly after being promoted, it was obvious that the anachronistic center wasn’t in great physical shape last season. He short-armed makeable shots, struggled to muster the energy to box out, and he routinely lagged behind the break.
Still, as much as Big Al’s paint-centric game couldn’t satisfy his team’s desire to play with pace, being tethered to a fellow plodder didn’t meet his need for space.
Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Leaf are seemingly better suited than Kevin Seraphin and Lavoy Allen to take advantage of Jefferson’s gravitational pull, but the 32-year-old doesn’t seem to fit the team’s long-term plans since they can opt out of his contract at the end of the season.
If so, they might want to do their due diligence evaluating whether Sabonis would be best utilized at power fauxward or small-ball five.
Tellingly, the son of Arvydas Sabonis only converted 25 percent of his three-point attempts over the final two months of the 2016-17 regular season, after connecting on 21 of his first 46 tries from behind the arc with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He may have hit the proverbial rookie wall, or it’s possible he lacks confidence from that distance.
Either way, it’s worth it for the Pacers to find out.
He isn’t going to defend above the rim; but, he’s mobile, finds creative passing angles out of the post, and is an instinctive screen setter.
Meanwhile, finding an interested buyer for Jefferson, without having to surrender an asset, would likely require that he become the bench’s central focus. Doing so would come at the cost of possessions to Lance Stephenson, Glenn Robinson III, and Cory Joseph while prolonging the time it takes to determine what exactly they have in Domantas Sabonis.
The same goes for Ike Anigbogu’s raw talent.
Harness the power of Skinny Oladipo
As was laid out here, the results of the athletic wing’s svelte body transformation were readily apparent earlier this month at the 2017 NBA Africa Game. Obviously, each case is unique unto itself, but the noticeably elevated energy level of Skinny Kyle Lowry and Trim James Johnson provides modest reason to be encouraged by Oladipo’s noticeably chiseled frame.
Combine that with the likely chip on his shoulder as well as his sure-to-balloon usage percentage and the stage is set for him to put forth a career season.
Unlocking whatever hidden star presence of his may exist, however, would be preferable within the bounds of a more egalitarian offense than as the product of a potential one-man show.
This is a delicate balance, admittedly.