We’re now one game into the Victor Oladipo-less era of the Indiana Pacers, and although things aren’t looking great, they aren’t exactly dire yet.
Indiana traveled to Memphis to play the 20-29 Grizzlies who are better than the 14th spot they currently hold in the Western Conference. If Memphis was in the East I have no doubt they would be a playoff team thanks to the dual threat of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. This hypothetical Eastern Grizzlies team would probably fall somewhere between the Wizards and Nets.
If the Pacers had lost to a team like the Hawks or the Suns we would be having an entirely different discussion. Considering the circumstances of Wednesday’s devastating injury, they played how a team should.
The Pacers spent most of the first quarter trying to figure out how the offense would function. On the first play of the game Thaddeus Young was literally pointing in the direction that the clearly confused Tyreke Evans was supposed to go. This continued for much of the first quarter and into some of the game’s later stages.
And for now, that’s okay.
But as one game without Oladipo turns into 10, 10 into 20 and 20 eventually into 35, this confusion won’t cut it -- especially if the Pacers want to make the playoffs as a top four seed, which I would assume is still the goal.
At some point head coach Nate McMillan has to not only rely on but build an offense around Evans and Myles Turner. That’s the only way Indiana has a shot at winning enough games to achieve their playoff goal.
Evans hasn’t played anywhere near the way he did last year. His shooting percentages are down; his assists and rebounds are way down. Some of that is thanks to a difference in roles and some is a regression of who he was before his great season in Memphis.
I understand McMillan and Evans haven’t gotten along great this season. Heck, McMillan suspended him early on. The fact that Evans played only 24 minutes and sat out from the 4-minute mark of the third quarter to the 4-minute of the fourth is bewildering.
But Evans isn’t completely innocent: he hasn’t given McMillan a ton of hope with his plays on the court. How many times do we have to watch Evans drive past a defender and shoot a dumb layup that doesn’t come anywhere close to going in?
I went to Evans’ NBA.com stats page and searched within the following criteria: 2-point field goals, missed shots and shot distances from less than 5 feet.
117 shots came up. seriously, click here and see for yourself.
The Evans thing is going to have to work in order for this Pacer team to be successful,. Unless Indiana is planning to make a trade (which is a column for another time), there’s no one else on the roster who can do what Oladipo did on offense besides Evans.
McMillan is going to have to have to work with Evans to figure out how to run plays that put him in his comfort zone and accentuate his strengths. Otherwise, this team is doomed.
Turner, on the other hand, is different than Evans because he’s never been given the opportunity to take more than 12 shots in a game (besides that brief stretch where Ponytail Myles first became a thing).
Against the Grizzlies we saw the Pacers briefly take the Turner car out of the garage by letting him put the ball on the floor and make plays.
It’s time to see more plays like that and more opportunities for Turner. He should definitely be taking seven three-pointers a game. Heck, he should be taking even more than that, what with his shooting 40 percent from three. On most nights, especially within the Eastern conference, he’s going to have the most favorable matchup.
Look around the East, who really has the advantage over Turner when he’s on offense (aside from maybe Al Horford and Joel Embiid)? Sure, Turner has his flaws, but he’s never been given an opportunity the centerpiece of an offense. He’s never been told that when he gets the ball he can go to the rim, that he can shoot any shot, or that -- if he’s feeling generous -- he can try to set someone else up. Oladipo had this freedom, and if Turner doesn’t get some of that I guarantee we’ll be seeing a lot of contested shots as the shot clock winds down from players like Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young.
It’s time for Turner and it’s time for Evans. Oladipo allowed everyone on the team to play a role around him -- which was great, and that’s why they won a lot of games -- but now, there’s no time for standing around and watching.
Somebody has to have the confidence to step up, and it should be Evans and Turner.