Hard to believe, but it’s almost that time of the year again. Two-a-day practices, new teammates, preseason games, position battles, FanJam — all right around the bend.
With the Pacers seemingly done with big moves for the offseason, the roster is at a place where it will only require tinkering from now to the start of the season. Here at Pacers.com, we decided to take a look at five questions that await the Pacers as the 2017-18 season approaches.
1. Can Glenn Win the Job?
Once the Paul George trade became official, it was clear that the small forward position would be an opportunity for some player on the roster. Glenn Robinson III, who started a number of games at SF in Paul George’s absence during the 2016-17 season was an obvious candidate to fill the gap. But weeks in to free agency, the Pacers announced they were signing Bojan Bogdanovic, a talented wing player whose arrow is still pointing up.
Each can make a case for starting. Bogdanovic is a more proven asset in the league, racking up 16 games last season in which he scored 20 or more points. Robinson, on the the other hand, had just one game in which he cracked the 20-point mark.
But scoring is just part of the equation. Defensively, Robinson III might have the upper hand, using his quick feet and high-flying athleticism to disrupt opponents’ shot attempts.
Additionally, Robinson’s stat line from last season doesn’t tell the full story. The stretch of games in which Robinson started in place of George at small forward, rather than alongside him as a shooting guard, was a period in which Robinson saw his most sustained success across any of his three NBA seasons.
In the month of November, with George battling a sprained ankle, GRIII started in five games. In those games, he scored 16, 8, 20, 17, and 15 points, quickly turning into a reliable contributor.
When George returned to the lineup and Pacers head coach Nate McMillan elected to play GR3 as the starting shooting guard, Robinson’s numbers suffered, scoring double digits in just two of 19 starts before returning to his role of coming off the bench.
At the introductory media availability for Bogdanovic, McMillan made news by saying that on day one of training camp, he would have Bogdanovic slotted at small forward, meaning that in order to start, Robinson will have to win the job in camp and preseason.
2. Oladipo and …
As far as the Pacers’ starting lineup goes, it is safe to assume that Victor Oladipo will be a starter for game one and beyond. The question then becomes who will share the second guard spot with him.
Throughout most of his career, Oladipo has floated between the point and shooting guard position, and some aspects of his game would seem to make him a better fit at shooting guard, especially if he can begin to be a consistent threat from beyond the arc.
So who starts at point guard? There are three realistic options.
The first, and most obvious candidate, would be Darren Collison, who the Pacers signed during free agency after a solid season with the Kings. Collison played in 68 games for Sacramento last season, starting in 64 of them.
While the Kings didn’t have much on-court success, Collison put together one of his finest seasons, averaging 13.2 points, 4.6 assists, and just 1.7 turnovers per game, all while knocking down a career-best 41.7 percent of his 3-point shots.
It’s Collison’s low-risk ball handling and high-percentage shooting that makes him the favorite to start at point guard this season, but close behind him is trade acquisition Cory Joseph.
Joseph’s stats from last season (9.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds) don’t jump off the page, but his performance filling in for an injured Kyle Lowry point towards a player that could be a reliable starter.
In 22 games as a starter last season, Joseph upped his averages to 12.2 points, five assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. While running the show, the Raptors went 15-7.
Joseph’s 3-point shooting (31.7 percent for his career) is an impediment on his chances of starting, but during his first media availability, he stressed that his long-range stroke has been one of the primary focuses of his offseason.
The final candidate to start at point guard — albeit a bit of a wild card — is Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson joined the Pacers and the tail end of 2016-17 and used his seemingly limitless levels of energy to help propel Indiana into the playoffs. Reports surfaced early in the offseason that Indiana was considering playing Stephenson at point guard, but the team’s moves since that report point in a different direction.
Nevertheless, Stephenson’s offseason training regiments have been made with the intention of graining the strength and quickness needed for the position. “I feel like this is the hardest I’ve been working since I’ve been in the league,” said Stephenson recently.
3. Turner’s Trajectory
Year three of Myles Turner is upon us and expectations are high.
From the way the 21-year-old has approached the offseason, it sounds like he wouldn’t have it any other way.
His improvements from his rookie year to sophomore season were drastic, upping his scoring from 10.3 to 14.5, his rebounding from 5.5 to 7.3, his blocks from 1.4 to 2.1, and his assists from .7 to 1.3. All while his field goal percentage rose above 50 percent and his 3-point shooting began to take shape, making a respectable 34.8 percent of his looks from deep.
If Turner’s growth continues on its current trajectory, the young center making his first All-Star Game this season isn’t out of the question. In a recent article on Bleacher Report, an anonymous Eastern Conference Scout said of Turner’s All-Star prospects: “I definitely expect him to be there. I think he’s going to have a monster year.”
While much of the focus for Turner’s third NBA season will be focused on whether or not he can find consistency on the glass, an area of play in which bigger centers such as Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard have given him trouble, part of his game that deserves a closer look is his passing.
As a rookie, Turner averaged under an assist per game, executing a pretty simple jump shot or pass series when he received the ball. But this past season, Turner unlocked part of his game that we hadn’t yet seen, zipping passes across the baseline to open shooters without hesitation. Turner’s ability to see the floor is indicative of the speed of the game slowing down for him, and the result was a noticeable uptick in assists, rising to 1.3 per game.
That may not seem like much, but Turner’s evolution as a playmaker is helped greatly by his ability to create for others. This past February, ESPN’s Zach Lowe made a note about Turner’s passing abilities in one of his weekly columns: “Turner is making more advanced reads, and he’s making them faster — even while gliding through heavy traffic. Turner can map the floor in the heat of a pick-and-roll. He’s increasingly confident flinging cross-court lasers to corner shooters, or dropping slick interior dimes to a big man partner loitering along the baseline.”
With George no longer on the roster, 2017-18 figures to be a year in which the Pacers begin to lean on Turner as their primary playmaker, and with slick passing being a part of his game, the young center could be on track for an impactful season.
4. Forward Thinking
From the draft to the trade market, the Pacers spent the offseason stocking their cupboard with promising and talented forwards, most of whom are capable of playing both power forward and center.
In the draft, Indiana snatched up T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu, each from UCLA, and each with attributes that could make them impressive NBA players.
With the Oklahoma City Thunder trade, the Pacers landed Domantas Sabonis, who just wrapped up an encouraging rookie campaign.
The problem for the Pacers now becomes their ability to grow their talent with limited playing time available at the position. Obviously Myles Turner will play the lion’s share of minutes at center this season, Thaddeus Young is likely to start at power forward, and veteran forward Al Jefferson figures to do his usual work as a change-of-pace off of the bench. That leaves Sabonis, Leaf, and Anigbogu fighting for what’s left.
Anigbogu, still just 18 years of age and standing at 6-feet, 10-inches, played just 13 minutes per game last season at UCLA, making him an obvious candidate to get his sea legs by playing with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League this year. Even with his upside, Anigbogu will face a steeper learning curve than his UCLA teammate T.J. Leaf. The Mad Ants offer the perfect opportunity for Anigbogu to find comfort and consistency on the floor against NBA-caliber competition.
With Turner and Young starting and Jefferson playing off the bench, deciding whether to play Leaf or Sabonis might come down to who the opponent is. If the opposing center is an undersized five capable of shooting, McMillan could elect to play Sabonis and Leaf alongside each other. Against a more conventional center, Jefferson would likely get the call with either Leaf or Sabonis flanking him.
The good news for the Pacers is that their problem is having too much talent and not enough minutes at the position. The inverse scenario isn’t as pretty.
5. Young’s Turn?
Entering his third NBA season, Joe Young is still looking for a chance to prove he can be a reliable contributor. Young played more minutes his rookie season than in his sophomore campaign. And with Stephenson, Joseph, Oladipo, and Collison on the roster, it’s still unclear where Young finds an opportunity to crack the rotation.
But despite uncertainties, Young put forth the exact type of offseason you’d want from a player hoping for a larger role. In the Orlando Summer League, Young was third in the league in assists per game, averaging 5.8 dimes while also posting averages of 13 points and two rebounds per contest.
Additionally, Young suffered a badly dislocated finger at one point and returned to the game with his finger wrapped in bandage, showcasing some toughness.
Young’s hunger to establish himself is evident in his frequent early-morning workouts, often posting videos of him in the Pacers’ practice gym before the clock even hits 5:00 AM.
At present, it seems unlikely that Young will be in the rotation when the season starts, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a shot to make an impact this year.