Basking in the afterglow of a season that saw his team wildly exceed expectations behind the rapid ascension of Victor Oladipo while playing for and with each other, Kevin Pritchard didn’t take any well-deserved bows. However, it was evident that he wanted to take a few extra moments to breathe in the fresh air of the togetherness, toughness, and trust exhibited by the group he assembled before heading back down into the trenches.
“I’m going to sit back, I’m going to have a glass of wine, (and) I’m going to enjoy this season,” Indiana’s President of Basketball Operations told reporters at Tuesday’s postseason press conference. “To me, I’ve never done that before in my life.
“...I’m going to take some time — a few days, maybe — and then we’ll get back after it and try to figure out how to make the team better.”
Only 36 hours removed from a winner-takes-all Game 7 with LeBron James, both men seated at the podium rebuffed opportunities to make overarching declarations regarding how much or what sorts of changes would be needed to advance the team apart from one familiar hint.
“If you had a real shooting four, a real stretch-four to put out there with the same team,” Pritchard said of being able to surround Oladipo with shooters at the end of games when he’s functioning like the point guard, while making mention of the way in which Houston spreads the floor around James Harden with players who can guard their position and hit shots. “It’s a tough defend.”
To that point, Cory Joseph, Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Domantas Sabonis only logged 66 minutes of action together this season, but they were the most lethal five-man combination that the Pacers put on the floor during the game’s final frame (minimum 40 minutes played), outscoring teams by a mammoth 29.5 points per 100 possessions.
With Joseph pestering the point of attack, that group routinely managed to chip away at sizable leads by goading opponents into taking tough shots while keeping an adequate amount of scoring on the floor.
Of course, what works in the regular season isn’t always feasible in the playoffs, especially when Thaddeus Young’s defensive activity and mobility was imperative not only to clamping down on Kevin Love but also to preventing Myles Turner from needing to defend in space against off-ball screens.
Overall, the Pacers were a net-positive in the 337 minutes that Bogdanovic played at four, but they hemorrhaged 107.7 points per 100 possessions, marks which cast doubt on whether their shooting could reliably outpace their leaky defense over a larger sample size.
Barring more creative innovation, the same goes for the scoring output when Myles Turner acts as a floor spacer beside Domantas Sabonis.
Indiana already ranked among the bottom-five in the league in three-point attempts allowed per 100 possessions (30.9), but when the pair of 22-and-under bigs were on the floor together during the regular season that number ballooned to an untenable 43.9 and opponents shot just a shade below 40 percent from distance.
On the other hand, with Young having quietly shot a woeful 14-of-62 outside the paint post All-Star break, there’s more of an opportunity for opponents to crowd Oladipo on late-game isolation plays.
“If you look at Thad,” Pritchard began in reference to the lefty power forward whom he had earlier praised for his inordinate value as a glue guy as well as his leadership. “He can make some shots, but that’s not his thing.”
Nor is it Trevor Booker’s.
T.J. Leaf has already exhibited a knack for picking and popping and attacking closeouts, but the spindly 21-year-old might still be a few seasons away from possessing the strength and awareness necessary to get a hold on switching techniques and rotation assignments.
“I think this is a very important summer for him,” McMillan said of Leaf, referring to him as “a legit spread four” while admitting that his offense is ahead of his defense.
On the season, opponents scored 9.1 points per 100 possessions more when Leaf was on the floor as opposed to off, which was the worst differential among Indiana’s rotation players.
Outside of internal development and future potential, Aaron Gordon could be available if the Magic decide against matching rival offer sheets.
However, investigating restricted free agents would represent a significant break in tradition for the Pacers while tying up salary space, and though the athletic forward made 33.6 percent of his threes this season, his month-over-month splits suggest he’s still a ways away from proving consistency from that range.
All of which leaves either the draft or the trade market.
“I, personally, think the trade market could be better than ever,” Pritchard said. “And it’s because there’s not many teams with cap space this summer.”
At the deadline, Indiana’s head decision-maker stood pat, in part because six different players made pleas to see out of the end of their magical season together as a group.
With the playoff run at a close, how aggressive they will be going forward will likely depend upon whether the Pacers find themselves more sad that last season is over, or simply content that it happened.