The Pacers have a move to make at this year’s deadline but it doesn’t involve trading for a superstar like Kemba Walker, or a first rounder in exchange for a young player on the way out like Aaron Gordon or a marginal talent like James Ennis. Indiana’s move is to reintroduce Glenn Robinson back into the lineup in just enough time to improve the Pacers’ playoff rotation.
Despite a 111-102 loss to Washington on Monday, the Pacers are in the best position to win a playoff series in over three years. Indiana is top four in point differential in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the 2013-2014 season.
The Pacers’ final record will probably fall between the five and seven seed in the East, which means in order to win a series Indiana has to win a road game. Last year’s Pacers, who got swept in the first round, won 13 road games all year.
The 2015-16 Pacers won 19 road games which turned into one playoff road win and two very close road games. This year’s team has already won 11 road games and are on pace to win at least seven more.
Adding Robinson to the mix makes Indiana more lethal by solving their weakness at defending small forwards. While Robinson is undersized, he’s a better defender than current starting small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic has earned the right to start, especially if his shooting slump is over. But in certain playoff circumstances, Robinson could finish the game for Indiana because of his defensive skills.
With Robinson you have to do a lot of projecting because he suffered a severe ankle injury. But in his limited action with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants he has some of the same one-step explosion that we had seen last season.
Robinson’s even more important because when the playoffs start, the rotation of players who get minutes shrinks. Nate McMillan won’t use his entire bench, meaning players like T.J. Leaf, Al Jefferson, Alex Poythress and Joe Young won’t get very many minutes. Instead, McMillan will rely on eight or nine players depending on Robinson’s health.
So, circling back to the trade: If the Pacers make a move it would be to either improve upon the projected playoff rotation or to add to it. Most teams don’t play more than nine players, so if Robinson is ready the latter isn’t an option.
While fans would love to see some more consistency out of players like Lance Stephenson and Myles Turner, there is no obvious upgrade available.
Turner can be frustrating, like on Saturday against the 76ers and Monday against the Wizards, both games in which he struggled to stay out of foul trouble. That being said, he’s one of the league’s best rim protectors and shot blockers. Remember when he won the Grizzlies game with this awesome block.
Stephenson’s issues stem from his overconfidence and streakiness, both of which make for a very frustrating player. In big games, though, he always seems to show up. Playoff Lance is a completely different dynamic.
Adding an extra player would be nice but the Pacers are in a great position to succeed this year and in the future. Winning a playoff series could be a building block towards competing for a championship over the next three to five years.
Another underrated factor is that the players and coaches genuinely seem excited to be around each other. The situation in Indianapolis is a complete contrast to what’s going on in Cleveland, where there’s constant infighting.
Past history would suggest that in order to compete for a championship, a team has to have at least three years of playoff experience. These teams tend to lose in the first round their first year together then advance one or two rounds further in the following two seasons. By year four that team is competing for a championship.
Right now the Pacers have a team that could win a playoff series and accelerates their timeline. Veteran players win in the playoffs, and Indiana has five players who have experience winning (Darren Collison, Thaddeus Young, Bogdanovic, Stephenson and Cory Joseph).
Joseph and Stephenson bring experience off the bench, both have played in multiple conference finals. Joseph hurt the Pacers in the playoffs two years ago when he was on the Raptors.
If this year is the beginning of the Pacers’ five-year run towards competing for a championship, winning just one playoff series jumps their timeline by a full year. They’re fully capable of doing that, so I’m saying they should resist making a move that could possibly jeopardize their future.