With the sun having officially set on the FIBA World Cup tournament a few weeks ahead of when it rises for training camp, there’s still plenty of time to squeeze in an extra preview — a remake of last season’s “10 Questions for the 2018-19 Indiana Pacers” with a twist. In this edition, we’ve presented six over-unders for your consideration with some explainers as to why each could end up saying a lot about how next season — and, maybe, beyond — shakes out.
Let’s get cracking!
Combined 3PA per game for Myles Turner and T.J. Warren: 6.8
This line is a shade below the number of threes that Turner averaged in combination with Bojan Bogdanovic last season (7.4). Why? Because, per usual, it’s not a given that the Pacers as a whole will actually take more threes. At the team’s end-of-season presser, Nate McMillan said he “would like to see us get more attempts,” but he also qualified that “the personnel allows you play a style of basketball to create that.” Then, when the Pacers drafted Goga Bitadze a little over month later, he seemed intent on reverting to old habits:
“We’re going to play to our strengths,” McMillan told Pacers.com’s Mark Monteith. “If that’s two bigs out there on the floor and pounding inside, we’ll take advantage of that.
Some teams are not cut out (to shoot a lot of 3-pointers). Last night it changed for us.”
Granted, this was said in the immediate aftermath of adding a third center and just prior to the whirlwind that was free agency, so it’s possible that the additions of Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and Justin Holiday may have once again shifted his opinion. However, if there’s anything that we’ve learned about Nate McMillan in the years since he moved one chair over, it’s that he values shot quality over shot quantity and prefers to get the most out of his players by allowing them to be themselves — minus a few exceptions.
That could manifest itself in a number of ways. Perhaps, with a full summer to prepare for the Turner-Sabonis tandem, it results in clearing out the dunker’s spot and running more roll-replace actions with equal but opposite cuts to maximize the diametric skill-sets of his two starting centers. If that happens, and Turner becomes more comfortable spreading to the corner, then feel free to pound the over. On the other hand, although Warren recently added 3-point shooting to his throwback arsenal of difficult bank shots, hanging floaters, and one-legged leaners, he is — at his core — an in-between scorer.
Warren’s brand of self-starting, bucket-getting will be a plus against switching defenses, but maintaining his adaptation into a modern forward will depend at least in part on to what degree McMillan titrates his dosage of shots as a floor spacer.
3P% for Malcolm Brogdon: 38.0
Brogdon became just the eighth player in history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free throw line last season, but he also shot 31 percent from deep with less than 6+ feet of space, 26 percent on pull-up threes, and 1-of-4 when stepping back behind the 3-point line. As such, and given that he’s about to be transplanted out of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s gravitational sphere and into the role of primary ball-handler (at least until Oladipo is back), it seems fair to assume some modest slippage in his 3-point conversion rate.
The question is how much? Collison still managed to drain over 40 percent of his threes last season with Oladipo sitting out 46 games; however, it begs mentioning that the since-retired point guard accomplished that feat on lower volume than should be expected from Brogdon on a 4-year, $85 million contract, and he was also more capable of shooting off-the-dribble.
Which side of the fence you come down on here likely depends on two things: 1) How confident you are in non-Oladipo options to collapse the defense and find Brogdon on time and on target, and 2) Whether you think he’ll arrive at training camp better equipped to create space for himself outside the arc as the team’s starting point guard.
Free throw rate (league rank): 20th
It flies under the radar more than the team’s low volume of threes, but the Pacers have also ranked in the bottom third of the league in free throw rate (number of free throws per field goal attempt) each of the last two seasons. In part, this is a byproduct of McMillan’s prioritization of open shots (a good thing!), but it comes at the cost of easy points when those shots don’t fall (not such a good thing). Of course, it didn’t help that last year’s squad also struggled to knock down their meager share of freebies, ranking 22nd in free throw percentage.
Fear not, it look as though help might be on the horizon. Brogdon attacks downhill far more frequently than Collison, and he’ll have more opportunity to handle and run pick-and-rolls than he did with the Bucks. Sabonis drew more contact in a smaller bench role last season than Thad did as a starter. Myles showed more of a willingness to roll and absorb contact with the World Cup team — albeit in a different role. And Lamb and Warren both fit the mold of head-down scorers.
That said, Oladipo is returning from injury, and his percentage of shots from inside the restricted area already dipped in favor of long twos and threes in comparison to a year ago. Granted, improved spacing might redistribute that math a bit, but it also wouldn’t exactly come as a surprise to see him exist more on the perimeter while he eases his way back into game action.
As for Warren and Lamb, they both averaged a comparable number of drives to Bogdanovic last season on slightly higher usage, but neither of them got to the line as often — and it wasn’t because of their pass-out rates.
Lamb, for instance, converted floaters of all varieties at a higher clip (48.4 percent) than he did around the basket in the half-court (46.4 percent), so it shouldn’t come as a shock that the stop-and-pop scorer nearly attempted more shots from inside 3 to 10 feet (224) than he did at the rim (227), per Basketball-Reference. Stopping short of the basket isn’t generally a formula that leads to getting fouled; and yet, Lamb will likely still be an upgrade over Tyreke Evans in that area, given that the former Rookie of the Year averaged less than a free throw per game on his array of wild finishes during his one-year stint with the Pacers.
This one’s a toss-up, but there’s no doubt that getting more chances at the charity stripe would make it easier for a team increasingly geared toward offense to weather off-nights from the field.
Minutes per game for Goga Bitadze: 15.2
So, um, yeah...this one has a lot of mitigating factors to mull over. With Sabonis expected to start at the four alongside Turner, Bitadze is in some ways both a back-up center and a third string center, which means his minutes average will likely depend upon how many games each of the team’s starting fives end up missing as well as how their minutes are staggered. For instance, will McMillan opt for one or the other of them to always be on the floor with their brief windows of simultaneous playing time merely shifted to the start and end of both halves? Or, will he opt for them to play more minutes together, thereby opening the door for Bitadze to get his feet wet with more regularity?
Here’s a generalized look at how the New Orleans Pelicans managed their rotation while attempting to make a go of their supersized frontcourt with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. As you’ll notice, they logged about 30 minutes in tandem, despite the fact that they averaged around 36 minutes a piece for the season.
The Pacers haven’t had a player average even 35 minutes per game in either of the last two seasons, so it’s more likely that Turner and Sabonis would each top out somewhere around 34 like Oladipo and Young did in 2017-18. If that happens, then there would be roughly 28 frontcourt minutes left to go around for Bitadize, T.J. Leaf, and when Warren swings to the four. Once again, this poses more questions:
- Will the Pacers pick-up Leaf’s fourth-year option? And, if they do, will they make it a priority to get him minutes?
- Will McMillan actually be willing to downsize with Warren at the four, where Bogdanovic just logged a career-low percentage of his playing time?
- And, how about Bitadze? He’s polished, but will McMillan actually throw a rookie into the rotation on Day 1?
That last bullet point might seem like a bridge too far for McMillan, but take into account the script change: If the Turner-Sabonis pairing doesn’t pan out, and if they decide to flip Sabonis at the trade deadline, there won’t be as much mid-season re-calibration necessary if Bitadze has already been logging at least some minutes at back-up center. Plus, wouldn’t it be worth it to get a teeny, tiny peak at how he fares in extra-large, five-out lineups with Turner?
There’s equal potential for him to obliterate the over as there is for him to hover just below the line. Plan accordingly.
Forced Turnover Percentage (League Rank): 11th
The Pacers have come in second for forcing the highest turnover percentage each of the last two seasons, which has allowed them to kill possessions on one end of the floor while compensating for their oftentimes anemic half-court offense on the other. Oladipo’s ability to transform point-saving steals into point-creating transition scores is obviously a huge factor here, as is replacing Thaddeus Young with Sabonis. Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday both have a knack for using their length to anticipate passing lanes, but the latter is most likely to be a 10th or 11th man and Young finished last season tied for fourth in deflections per game.
There also needs to be some consideration for the fact that the turnovers they force are oftentimes more a product of their funneling system rather than the purpose of it. That is, with the exception of Oladipo. If Brogdon struggles to keep up with lightning-quick guards, Indiana’s franchise star could end up spending more time chasing around point guards than he does roaming the entire floor, which could in turn lead to fewer pick sixes.
To be fair, the Pacers still managed to lead the East in forced turnovers per 100 possessions even after Oladipo went down last season, but...they weren’t starting Warren and Sabonis at the forward spots. Clinging to the top-10 in this category looks to be a tough ask, but doubt their track record for tightening the screws on weak links at your own risk.
Where you come down on this one should mirror how likely you think it is that the Pacers will reach agreement with Sabonis on an extension. To this point, both sides have expressed interest in getting a deal done, and if that translates into dried ink prior to the October 21 deadline, Indiana won’t be as pressed for time to evaluate the Turner-Sabonis tandem ahead of February’s trading deadline.
On the flip side, if they can’t come to terms, and they know that Sabonis is headed for restricted free agency in a shallow talent pool, Indiana’s general lack of appetite for trading players in-season might just transform into full-on hunger pangs — especially, if the pairing gets off to a rockier than expected start against the team’s slew of front-loaded games versus opponents with size.
Should that happen, the Pacers will already have two centers locked up for multiple years who are more capable of spreading the floor without sacrificing shot-blocking, but they also will have traded away arguably the richest source of the skill that is in shortest supply on this roster: passing.