It’s that time of the NBA calendar again when the league’s general managers respond to a bunch of questions as compiled by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann about the best players, teams, coaches, and offseason moves. This season, with Indiana’s front office running back nearly the same roster with by and large evenly dispersed talent and in the absence of a first-round draft pick, the GMs didn’t have much to say about the Pacers, aside from projecting where the team will finish in the Eastern Conference.
In that category, with Philly’s roster making more sense, Miami fresh off an NBA Finals berth, and Brooklyn adding former MVP Kevin Durant, only four percent of the responders picked Indiana to repeat as a top-4 seed. Overall, Milwaukee was tapped to win the East with 64 percent of the vote, with the pecking order after the Bucks tabulated as Brooklyn, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Indiana.
Other than registering as a playoff team, the Pacers also made a brief cameo in the “which player will make the best head coach someday” category, with Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell both receiving votes.
Per the overall silence, then, more interesting is what was said with what wasn’t said, particularly in the coaching category. When asked which new or relocated head coach will make the biggest impact on his new team, none of the GMs voted for Nate Bjorkgren. Granted, some of that might be because he is a relative unknown as a first-timer, but that didn’t stop Steve Nash from winning the category with 28 percent of the vote. Of course the word “impact” can also somewhat be left up to interpretation. For some, that might mean biggest increase in win percentage or upgrade in playoff outcome, whereas for others it could be more indicative of a culture change or shift in philosophy. Thus far in preseason play it’s been evident that Bjorkgren has made a major “impact” on the team’s shot profile and defensive stylings, but it remains to be seen how that change will “impact” the team in terms of postseason success. Notably, the best assistant poll was peppered with coaches who were either once employed by the Pacers (i.e. Philadelphia’s Dan Burke) or reportedly finished near the top of the team’s coaching search (i.e. Brooklyn’s Mike D’Antoni, LA’s Dan Craig, and Toronto’s Chris Finch).
Given T.J. Warren’s scoring explosion during the seeding games, in which the mid-range maven connected on 50 percent of his threes while launching seven per game, it’s also somewhat striking that the Pacers didn’t register any consideration in response to the “which player is most likely to have a breakout season?” poll. In that regard, it seems as though the increased defensive attention he was shown in the playoffs may have couched some interpretations of the versatility he displayed in the bubble as more of a flash in the pan as opposed to a building block, at least by comparison to what the GMs are expecting from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter Jr, De’Aaron Fox, and Devin Booker. That said, being out of sight while sidelined with plantar fasciitis likely hasn’t helped to keep him in the forefront of voters’ minds, either.
For all of those reasons, after flaming out numerous times in the first-round of the playoffs over the last four years, it’s clear that it’s up to the Pacers, at long last, to give the rest of the league, or at least the league’s decision-makers, something to talk about.