Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
Starting Lineup: Trae Young – Kevin Huerter – De’Andre Hunter – Jabari Parker – Damian Jones
Second Unit: Evan Turner – Cam Reddish – Allen Crabbe – DeAndre’ Bembry – Alex Len
Leading Scorer: Young (27.9 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Parker (6.4 RPG)
Leading Assists: Young (8.6 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Young
With John Collins suspended, the Hawks are a one man show. Unfortunately for the Indiana Pacers, that man is the prototypical player to give them issues. Young is having a monster year, and he still had one of his best games of the season against the Pacers when he scored 49 points. The Pacers struggle with small, quick guards all season, most recently allowing Kemba Walker to score 44 points on Wednesday night. Malcolm Brogdon is a good defender, but he’s not great at guarding the quick guards. Until Victor Oladipo returns from injury, he is going to be faced with that challenge. Expect the Pacers to throw a lot of different bodies at Young to try and slow him down. They may also look to blitz him on the pick-and-roll to make him give it up. That might lead to open three-pointers from other players, but that is better than allowing Young to operate cleanly out of the pick-and-roll.
Biggest Advantage: Frontcourt
Young is already a stud in this league, but the Hawks have absolutely no frontcourt power to supplement him. Collins has a future in this league, but until he returns from his suspension, this is arguably the worst frontcourt in the NBA. Parker is having a resurgence, but he is still awful at defense and is more of a combo forward. Len has been playing better since returning to the notation, but the Len/Jones frontcourt pairing is not what you want out of your center rotation. Domantas Sabonis should be able to punish them on the glass and scoring in the post.
The X-Factor: Edmond Sumner?
Since returning from injury, Sumner has found himself out of the rotation. However, that might change tonight because of Young. Sumner might be Indiana’s best option to slow down Young. His quickness and ball-hawking skills are best suited for a situation like this. He might not be a regular guy in the rotation anymore, but he has skills that are valuable in situations like this. He might play a big role in this one.
Many analysts pegged the Hawks to be a sleeper team to make the playoffs in the preseason. That hasn’t been the case this year as the team has gotten off to a slow start. A lot of that can be pegged on Collins’ suspension, as he is the only player that bolsters their frontcourt, but I still think they have underperformed. Despite being awful, this is a tough matchup for the Pacers simply because of Young. If the Pacers stop Young, this could turn into a blowout. How do you stop him? That’s another question. Start by throwing different defenders at him to change his pace. Blitz him more off the pick-and-roll to make other guys beat you. You’d rather have Hunter and Reddish shooting open threes than Young operating cleanly out of the pick-and-roll.