The Pacers enter free agency this summer with only seven players (Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Leaf, Aaron Holiday and Goga Bitadze) under guaranteed contracts. The ample amount of roster openings gives Kevin Pritchard and co. a wide range of directions to go. What moves were smart and push the Pacers toward contention? What moves are setbacks? Here is a grade for every Pacers offseason move. As free agency continues, this story will be updated by the acquisition.
TJ McConnell ( 2 years, $7 million, per Adrian Wojnarowski)
2018-19 stats: 6.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.4 APG, .546 FG%, .333 3FG%
Analysis: My grade for the McConnell signing is entirely contingent on his role with the team. McConnell is a scrappy defender with a knack for initiating an offense, and all indications point to him being an even better teammate. That’s great for a third-string point guard who is only used in emergency situations.
I’m just afraid that won’t be how it plays out. If we make the assumption the starting lineup at the beginning of the season is going to be Brogdon-Lamb-Warren-Sabonis-Turner, then that leaves a bench of McConnell/Holiday-Sumner-McDermott-Leaf-Bitadze. If McConnell is in the point guard spot instead of Holiday, who is creating any offense in that group? And if you play him in the shooting guard spot instead of Sumner, either Holiday or McConnell is going to get picked on by a bigger guard on the defensive end.
The 6’2’’ ball-handler is also little to no threat from deep. He shot a mere 42 attempts from long range in the regular season, despite averaging almost 20 minutes a game on 76 appearances. This could be an issue in the case of a Brogdon injury. If you promote Holiday to the starting lineup, you are left with no offense in the second unit with McConnell at the head. But if you start McConnell so that you can let Holiday navigate the bench, then you have spacing issues in the starting lineup.
We won’t have an idea of how the rotation will play out until closer to the season, but if they signed McConnell to be an every day rotation player, then I don’t see a scenario where the second unit has a positive net-rating. If he was brought on to be the guard version of Kyle O’uinn, then this is is a fine addition.
Edmond Sumner (3 years, $6.5 million, per Wojnarowski)
2018-19 stats: 2.9 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, .344 FG%, .259 3FG%
Analysis: There was talk of a long-term deal between Sumner and the Pacers for days, and it finally came to fruition today with this three year deal. It’s worth noting that the third year has a team option, giving Indiana some flexibility if they needed to open up cash in the summer of 2022.
The 6’6’’ wing is still a prospect. His numbers in the NBA are not very inspiring, but that hardly tells the tale. His stats for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are much more telling of his potential: 22.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 4.1 APG. He’s also a lengthy defender who showed promise on that end of the floor against the likes of Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal.
Overall, locking up a possible rotation player for two million a year is always a good deal. He’s bound to get consistent playing time while Oladipo is hurt, and the slasher will have a chance to earn a permanent spot in the rotation even after his inevitable return. There are some major questions surrounding him, mainly turnovers and reliable shooting (see Caitlin Cooper’s analysis of the addition for more on this). But he has the defensive ability, length and athleticism to hang in the Association. His floor is a fine fifth guard to have on a team. His ceiling is a strong contributor off the bench who can help swing a matchup. Tough to beat that for the price.
And, plus, he’s a homegrown product. It’s always nice to see a team stick with a guy they drafted and developed.
Malcolm Brogdon (4 years, $85 million, per Wojnarowski)
2018-19 stats: 15.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, .505 FG%, .426 3FG%
Analysis: The Pacers have found their point guard of the future. Brogdon fits well in Indiana for many reasons. He plays well off-ball, which will allow Oladipo to continue to be the primary playmaker once he returns from injury. The 2017 Rookie of the Year’s outside shooting will help with spacing, especially if the team plans on pairing Turner and Sabonis more this year. And he and Oladipo could be one of the best defensive backcourts in the NBA.
The deal is a sign and trade, so Indiana has agreed to send one future first round draft pick and two future second round draft picks to the Bucks. This is a fine price to pay for a guard who matches up with Oladipo, Turner and Sabonis’s timelines, especially since Pritchard has been stockpiling second round draft picks as assets. Around $21 million per year is team-friendly since Indiana entered the offseason with more than double that much in cap space, per cap expert Keith Smith.
The only negative is that the combo guard will need to take a step forward in primary playmaking while Oladipo is rehabbing, especially since Bojan Bogdanovic has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Utah Jazz. Brogdon thrived in an off-ball role with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe providing most of the playmaking. This will be good once Oladipo is back. But until then, it will be a question whether or not Brogdon can fill some of the playmaking holes Oladipo and Bogdanovic leave behind.
Jeremy Lamb (3 years, $31.5 million, per Shams Charania)
2018-19 stats: 15.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, .440 FG%, .348 3FG%
Analysis: Lamb is quietly coming off the best season of his career in which he evolved into the Charlotte Hornets’ second-option. He set career highs in nearly every statistic while maintaining decent efficiency. A team is not set up to compete with Lamb as a second option, but don’t expect him to have that role on the Pacers.
The 27-year-old wing can fill in for Oladipo adequately in the starting lineup until he returns, and should slot in nicely next to Oladipo as an off-the-dribble scoring release valve when Oladipo gets double-teamed, as noted by Caitlin Cooper’s analysis of the addition. He’s average defensively, but he has the length (6’11’’ wingspan) to guard multiple positions. That in itself is a useful trait.
Overall, Lamb is not an upgrade over Bogdanovic, but he doesn’t need to be if he’s coming off the bench or playing as the fourth or fifth option in the starting lineup. For a little over $10 million a year, this is a very good deal for Indiana. It’s just disappointing we weren’t have Bogdanovic back.
TJ Warren (Traded to Indiana from Phoenix for cash considerations, per Wojnarowski)
2018-19 stats: 18.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, .486 FG%, .428 3FG%
Analysis: I floated the idea to Caitlin Cooper on Twitter for the Pacers to offer the 18th pick for Warren in a trade. The fact that they landed the 6’8’’ combo forward AND the 31st pick in the draft for cash considerations is still mind-boggling to me.
The forward is a bucket-getter, averaging 18 points or more per game for the past two seasons. He can score at all three levels, and recently improved his shooting from behind the arc drastically. He shot 42.8% on 4.2 attempts from three per game last year after shooting 22.2% from that range on 1.4 attempts per game in the 2017-18 season. He is a major upgrade offensively from Thad Young and can fill the scoring hole Bogdanovic has left in the lineup.
Warren comes with a lot of questions, though. He doesn’t do anything great besides scoring. Turner should be able to mask his defensive deficiencies, but the duo would struggle rebounding. Vice versa if he is paired with Sabonis. The highest assist percentage of his career is 7.7%, and his sudden rise in outside shooting makes you wonder if he truly improved or if it was an anomaly, (see Draymond Green’s 2016-17 shooting stats compared to his career).
And, there’s his health. The 25-year-old has never played more than 66 games in a season. He’s coming off a season in which he only played 43 games. That’s not ideal.
Still, getting a scorer like Warren and a draft asset for essentially nothing deserves an A in any grade book.