The Indiana Pacers are off to an impressive 5-2 start to the 2021 NBA season, after a thrilling 118-116 Overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans last night. While the Pacers have racked up some significant wins to start the season, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon are accruing a hefty amount of minutes just as quickly.
Through the first few weeks of the season, the pair now rank 7th and 8th respectively in minutes per game among all NBA players.
Against the Pelicans, Malcolm never came off the court after the ball was inbounded to start the third quarter, and Domas was well on his way to doing the same before picking up his sixth foul 8 minutes into the fourth quarter. This is becoming a slightly alarming trend.
The pair both played over 21 of the final 24 minutes against the Knicks.
Granted, this trend is tangential with T.J. Warren’s injury; his minutes are irreplaceable. However, filling the unfillable void with even more minutes to Brogdon and Sabonis is head-scratching.
Sabonis is coming off of the first major injury of his career. While he had time off to rest and recover after being held out of the Bubble, it feels quite audacious to play him playoff minutes through the first two weeks of the season.
When folding Brogdon into this equation, it’s even more vexing.
Malcolm Brogdon has struggled to stay healthy throughout his NBA career; he’s played in more than 80% of his regular season games just once in his first four seasons in the league (His rookie season).
Being injury prone is not an indictment of Brogdon, but rather a reality of his game and body. He plays an incredibly bruising and physical style as a downhill driver, and that stress can build up and compound as the seasons stretches on. As we saw last year, Brogdon steadily wore down through a myriad of injuries accrued in his first season with the Pacers and as a full time lead-guard.
This is not about being “soft” or lacking grit; as I talked about with Brian Sutterer last week, injury management and load management are a science that has quickly evolved over the past decade. Preservation of your body and energy is a necessity for both player and team.
You might say...he managed the minutes like Game 7. https://t.co/GuQNza2DEg— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) January 5, 2021
This sentiment from Caitlin leads me to my next point. Why are the Pacers playing Game 7 of the regular season like it’s Game 7 of a playoff series?
Why is Malcolm Brogdon playing 25 straight minutes?
The Pacers are 5-2, a far better start than I frankly expected or predicted, but the method for getting here is unsustainable.
Much has been made of the Pacers demolition of teams in the third quarter. Even after two third quarters with even or negative net differences, the Pacers still own the best third quarter net rating in the league at +36. However, they also own the largest net swing between the third and fourth quarter.
The Pacers drop to a -14.5 net rating in the fourth. Yes, you read that right, that is a near 50 point swing which is massive. That will of course level out and the gap will lessen as more games are played, but it is a huge indicator of the major flaw with this team right now.
Malcolm and Domas were visibly gassed last night down the stretch of the third and into the fourth, which has been the case the past few games. Due to playing such a short rotation, standing right around 8.5 players right now, the team is expending a ton of energy without having the energy reserves to maintain their pressure and exertion on both ends.
Winning games in trhe regular season is important, but finding ways to better utilize the bench is essential to this team sustaining success. Edmond Sumner is raw, but he has shown flashes and ability to impact the game throughout his career. Is it sexy to play JaKarr Sampson or Kelan Martin? No, but as illustrated last night, JaKarr brought energy that the starters were lacking late in the game. In small spurts and the right spurts, the bench players on this team can be productive.
The Pacers offense has been more innovative, players have been better utilized, and there is an all around positive energy between the players and coaching staff that wasn’t there in the Bubble. However, this current trend is slightly concerning.
Jeremy Lamb is expected to return this month and Goga Bitadze is on the mend from injury, but until then, I’m eager to see whether or not Nate Bjorkgren will expand his bench or restructure his minutes to take the load off of the starters.