Scoring 132 points en-route to a thrilling (or, at least as thrilling as preseason play can be) win over the Sacramento Kings on foreign soil, the India Pacers did what they had to do in order to febreeze the lingering stench of that which was wrought by the London Pacers from our collective consciousness.
As such, we’re shining a spotlight on the day’s standout moments and plays, while also taking a closer look at what fell flat. Here’s the winners and losers from the new-look roster’s preseason debut.
Winner: Fans in India
No matter what happens in the second game of this back-to-back set, this was a much better showing for the Pacers in terms of spreading the gospel of basketball in a new market than what happened in that 140-112 loss at O2 Arena in London in 2017.
Rather than burying themselves under a barrage of 3-pointers and never coming up for air, the Pacers continued to fight in a game of zero-consequence even after surrendering 39 points in the first quarter. On top of seeing Kings point guard Yogi Ferrell drain a 70-foot shoot before the halftime buzzer sounded, fans in Mumbai got treated to extra basketball. T.J. Warren sank a game-tying three to force overtime. Myles Turner roared when he came up with a game-saving rejection, and both benches seemed genuinely hyped about what was unfolding. There was even some back-and-forth between coaches in terms of lineup adjustments. Overall, it just felt more fun than most preseason games have the right to be, and it’s cool to think about what sort of an effect that might one day have on the many young fans and students of the game who were in attendance.
Loser: Shuffling feet
There’s a certain degree of irony to the fact that the league’s officials have made traveling a point of emphasis at the same time as the NBA is experimenting with a single-shot free throw rule at the G-League level. The endgame of the latter is supposedly to cut down on game-length, but an increase in stoppages actively works against that aim.
Consider this: Across the four games that the Pacers played versus the Celtics in the playoffs, both teams were whistled for a combined six traveling violations. Today? The Pacers alone were whistled for nine, and almost half of those were assessed to Sabonis (4). Of course, the line of thinking on this is likely that cracking down on the violators now will eventually lead to a reduction in violations; however, until that course-correction happens (which seems like it could take a bit, given how loosely traveling has been officiated in the past), expect an uptick in whistles.
In other words: Rejoice, highlight truthers! This is your moment.
Winner: Malcolm Brogdon, rising above the pick for three
It didn’t take long for Malcolm Brogdon to make Darren Collison’s careful playmaking from season’s past a distant memory. Racking up 15 points and 14 assists in his debut as Indiana’s lead ball-handler, the 50-40-90 club member completed some passes that Collison could..well... never.
Brogdon with the cross-court dart in transition.— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) October 4, 2019
Darren Collison could never. pic.twitter.com/OzTj7NIEGB
Not only did he find the corners, he shook rollers free with the way he set up his man at the point of attack and he even used his size to post-up with the intent to pass on a high split cut involving Warren and Sabonis. In short, there was plenty of evidence of the increased options he’s capable of bringing to the table; and yet, this was perhaps his most encouraging play of the day:
Given that he shot just 29.4 percent on pull-up jump-shots of all varieties last season, the temptation is going to be there for his defender to sneak under the screen and prioritize him as a driver, which could ultimately have the adverse effect of congesting things at the nail for Oladipo once he returns. Taking, let alone making, this shot is an early positive sign for the growing room of that partnership.
Winner: T.J. Warren, walking bucket
Even with the obvious “it’s only preseason” caveat, it feels like the Pacers may at some point owe the Phoenix Suns a thank you note for gifting them with T.J. Warren.
Granted, he isn’t always going to score 30 points on 60 percent shooting, but the comfort-level he exuded from nearly every spot on the floor as he showcased his throwback arsenal of difficult bank shots, hanging floaters, and one-legged leaners while simultaneously doing damage from three, suggests that at least the Pacers won’t be as labored to find shots.
Winner: Sabonis facilitating offense
Per usual, good things had a tendency to happen when Sabonis was involved at the elbows. However, given that he and Turner only logged about 16 minutes of action together, what made this particular possession standout was the potential of what happened around him after he acted as the team’s pivot point. To begin with, it’s notable that Warren actually completed the simple kick-out pass to Lamb, but watch Turner on Warren’s initial attack.
Rather than putting down roots in the dunker’s spot, he cleared to the corner. That sort of positional awareness was oftentimes missing when Indiana’s twin towers shared the floor last season, so this was a welcome demonstration of what could be in terms of spacing should it continue.
Loser: Defensive flubs
Sacramento only scored 59 points in the second half and overtime after exploding for 72 over the game’s first two frames, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t still some head-scratching moments on that end of the floor for the Pacers.
As in, what exactly is T.J. Warren doing on this running slip? Rather than communicating a switch or sticking with his man, he just commandeered the on-ball assignment and left Brogdon in the lurch of his overly-aggressive wake.
Then, moments later, he had no idea where the ball even was.
It isn’t exactly a surprise that the team’s raw scoring power is ahead of their defense, but seeing these type of individual mistakes while they’re ironing out the kinks is still going to take some getting used to.
Winner: Experimenting with Edmond Sumner in the role of Cory Joseph
Warren wasn’t the only starter who stood out a time or two for the wrong reasons on defense. Brogdon also had some not-so-shining moments against D’Aaron Fox’s lightning-quick speed, which contributed to Sacramento’s high-volume of lightly contested three-point attempts.
During overtime, McMillan adjusted by putting Edmond Sumner’s length on Fox and switching Brogdon over to Bogdan Bogdanovic. This was met with mixed results, as Fox still managed to get to the line after putting Sumner in jail in the pick-and-roll, but it was still worth investigating — especially in a preseason game. If Sumner can develop into a defensive pest in the same vein as Cory Joseph, then Brogdon could take the other team’s top wing without impacting Oladipo’s ability to roam, and McMillan would have the option to once again toggle between offense and defense when need be.