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How will the Pacers manage the rotation with Tyrese Haliburton sidelined?

Indiana’s budding star is expected to be out for at least two weeks.

Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After leaving the arena on crutches following Wednesday’s loss to the New York Knicks, the Indiana Pacers have provided an update on the status of Tyrese Haliburton, announcing via press release that the potential first-time All-Star will be sidelined for at least two weeks after sustaining a left elbow sprain and what very notably is being referred to as a “mild” left knee bone contusion.

The statement also says that he underwent an MRI this afternoon and is awaiting additional opinion on the results of those scans. When considering how much mystery was shrouded around T.J. Warren’s injury last season as the weeks turned into months, this at least seems like a more transparent (and very specific) update — even if further diagnostics regarding the imaging has yet to be learned.

Here’s the schedule for the Pacers over the next two weeks, which includes the top-two teams by record in the Western Conference as well as the Milwaukee Bucks, who currently sit in third in the East.

When Haliburton was sidelined for two games during the team’s west coast road trip spanning from the end of November to the beginning of December, Andrew Nembhard played some of his best basketball of the season, appearing unflappable against the Golden State Warriors as he scored or assisted on 15 of the team’s last 18 points to secure the win while being confronted by a mixture of zone, full-court pressure, and switches.

Granted, the Gonzaga product isn’t likely to average 23.5 points and 10.5 assists on 60 percent shooting, as he did versus Golden State and Portland, but he did demonstrate a steady hand and will also have more of a helping hand than what was the case for those two games when T.J. McConnell was also sidelined. The bigger question, of course, is who will join the starting lineup. Chris Duarte has struggled to find his fit, as well as the bottom of the net, since returning from injury, but maybe being separated from Bennedict Mathurin, who started the second half against New York, will help break him out of his slump.

Mathurin, meanwhile, has started two games for the Pacers, with the most recent coming against the Miami Heat on December 23 when Haliburton ended the game with a franchise-record 10th made three. In that contest, Mathurin was assigned to Kyle Lowry and had some issues impacting passes to the roll-man after switching. For the game, he shot 2-of-6 from the field and only played six minutes after halftime, with the team instead toggling between Oshae Brissett and T.J. McConnell in the closing lineup. Of course, the other game he started was alongside Nembhard versus Golden State, when all three rookies played a sizable chunk of minutes together during the first quarter.

Given that Myles Turner, Aaron Nesmith, and Oshae Brissett are all currently listed as questionable for Friday night’s game against the Hawks, it seems reasonable to think that the team will have to rely heavily on trapping and pressure to make do on defense, which likely means digging deep in the rotation, regardless of what the rotation turns out to be.

After all, the Pacers nearly managed to erase a 25-point deficit against New York by extending pressure, blitzing ball screens, and trapping bully drives with a never-before-used grouping of McConnell, Nembhard, Duarte, and Bitadze on the floor. It’s worth questioning why the Knicks didn’t downsize sooner during that stretch to make it more difficult for that lineup to scramble out of the traps; however, without Haliburton as the engine, those are the types of surprises that the Pacers are likely going to have to keep manufacturing in order to keep on as the surprise team of the season with less than a month until the trade deadline.