Outside of a few murmurs regarding the possibility of a minor move, Thursday’s 3PM EST trade deadline is fast approaching without much reported mention of the Pacers. In the event that mum remains the word, the team still will have acquired something they haven’t possessed all season: sameness. From managing a turnstile of injuries while striving to stay afloat without Oladipo to slowly readjusting to life with Oladipo, Indiana’s front office hasn’t exactly been afforded an opportunity to evaluate this roster’s upside — at least not at full health.
For that reason, aside from perhaps quietly gauging the market, the Turner-Sabonis question is one better tabled until after the season. Goga Bitadze shows flashes of potential as a big body capable of spreading the floor, but he routinely fails to make contact on screens and can oftentimes be seen getting caught in no-man’s land on defense. He just doesn’t look ready for the playoffs (yet), which means the Pacers have definite need for both of their starting big men at center (even with Turner’s solo minutes treading just below sea level), regardless of how they fit side-by-side.
That said, the last portion of that sentence has been somewhat of a roller-coaster over the last two months. After a strong December, which saw Turner start to blossom into his role as a spot-up option on the perimeter, the pairing hit a bit of a rough spot in January, posting a lower net rating (-0.2) than the team (1.7). To be fair, some of that can probably be attributed to Turner’s mini-slump from three (23.9%), and the fact that Brogdon wasn’t on hand to set the table for seven games, but moments where they noticeably grapple with how to negotiate space continue to crop up.
In Utah, for instance, there were several instances where they were almost like dueling banjos, with Turner attempting to duck-in against Bojan Bogdanovic at the same time as Brogdon and Sabonis were running pick-and-roll.
To his credit, while consistency from deep has been somewhat of an issue, Turner has already attempted more corner threes through 50 games played than he did all of last season, and he’s been more effective in the post shooting over the top against cross-matches and smaller bigs. As an example, though this occurred when Sabonis wasn’t on the floor, slipping a flare screen and immediately diving into a turnaround jump-shot isn’t something he would’ve readily done a year ago.
Predominantly orbiting the periphery of pick-and-rolls in double-big lineups, though, comes with a certain degree of marginalization. Frustration shows up at times when he gets overlooked on the block or no one sees him in the corner, which can make those moments when he shies away from pulling the trigger from deep all the more puzzling.
Even so, no one can say that the parties involved haven’t tried to make it work, and it has worked (well, even!) — in stretches. The question is whether those stretches will coincide sustainably enough in the postseason to make the pairing worth the nearly $40 million price tag — especially since, thus far, the team has shown a general tendency late in games to adapt to their competition rather than forcing their opposition to bend to them.
Still, even if just considered within the context of toggling between two divergent options with the benefit of Turner’s rim protection and ability to jump out above the level of screens in hand, there’s plenty of reason to stay patient until the draft and see how things play out with Oladipo back in the fold.
To that point, however, they could probably use a little bit of help with depth at the four spot. In many ways, Justin Holiday has been the actualized version of what C.J. Miles tried to be for the Pacers when he volunteered himself as tribute at stretch-four. He battles to make post touches tough, and he’s been durable as a consummate 3-and-D wing, but neither he nor T.J. Warren quite have the heft to hold their spot against bigger forwards.
That showed up in Portland against Carmelo Anthony, when rotations out of double-teams resulted in giving up offensive rebounds and open threes.
Playing Holiday and Warren together in lineups with Brogdon and Oladipo gives the Pacers the option to switch and the speed to closeout, but they’ll be at risk of being targeted— which could matter if Turner or Sabonis get into foul trouble or the match-up calls for them to downsize.
In the back-court, meanwhile, they currently have more guards than they can play. Earlier in the week, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said in his annual trade column that the Pacers “could probably get a first-round pick for Aaron Holiday” while noting that the team had “shown little inclination to move him.” Maybe some of that comes with the territory of getting into business with brothers? From his floor spacing to his defensive versatility, Justin plays a key role off the bench and there’s little doubt that playing with Aaron was at least part of the reason he signed with Indiana. So, how would it go over if they traded his little brother mid-season? That’s something the front office, which obviously has a better sense of the locker-room than you or I do, has to weigh against any potential return.
It also should be noted that while the Pacers have a logjam at the guard position; they don’t exactly have a lot of overlap.
Aaron’s development hasn’t been linear in terms of his decision-making with the ball in his hands, but he’s shooting better than 45 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. That, coupled with his ability to attack gaps, could come in handy against zone coverages, and it might loosen things up at the nail if the coaching staff ultimately rules in favor of keeping one or the other of Brogdan and Oladipo on the floor as much as possible. After all, possessions with Aaron at the two-guard don’t require quite as much forethought as those with McConnell stashed away in the corner or slotted at the wing. Granted, Aaron doesn’t have much of a shot at long-term upward mobility with the Pacers, but he does have the potential to provide the back-court with some latitude when need be.
If they stand pat, that’s what they’ll gain. By not changing with their multitude of already existing changes, they’ll keep their options open with their own roster and finally afford themselves the opportunity to suss out the ceiling of what they already have.