The Indiana Pacers finished this season with a 34-38 record. This gave the team the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference, which clinched the team a spot in the new play-in tournament. The team would stomp on the Charlotte Hornets in the first game, but would ultimately get eliminated by the Washington Wizards. The Pacers dealt with injuries, trades, and internal problems throughout the season. Myles Turner and T.J. Warren went down with injuries that saw their season end, the team traded away all-star Victor Oladipo in a massive trade, and the coaching staff and players are fighting with one another.
In May, the team had to suspend deputy coach Greg Foster after he and center Goga Bitadze got into a verbal fight that was escalating. Bitadze would later be fined as well for the altercation. The fight began mid-game, as both were seen arguing aggressively. First-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren and his coaching staff have not been on the same page all season. Players on the roster have also been reported to not be interested in Bjorkgren’s lead as well. After the fight happened, it came to light that the head coach did not have the locker room’s attention. With their season coming to an end, the front office gave out a notice to the media saying that they are uncertain about the head coach’s safety in keeping his job.
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The Indiana Pacers dealt with tons of injuries during the season. Going into the season, the team was projected to be a lower seed in the playoffs, until all-star guard Oladipo requested a trade. When the team finally traded him in a blockbuster deal that also included James Harden, the team was expected to be a borderline playoff team. In return for Oladipo, the team received Caris LeVert. Although LeVert would miss half the season getting treatment for a mass on his left kidney.
Even with all the injuries dealt with Indiana, the team still made the play-in game tournament. Which is what most had thought the team would land after the Oladipo trade. If Turner and Warren were healthy, many believed that they could have made the playoffs, and possibly even skipped the play-in the tournament.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis was a sneaky all-star caliber player this season. Only reaching the all-star game by an injury reserve spot, the power forward was incredible for the Pacers. Averaging 20.3 points, 12 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on the season, Sabonis thrived on an injury-riddled team. With Turner out for the final stretch of the season, Sabonis stepped up. The forward averaged in that 16 game span 20.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game.
Sabonis was all over the court, providing both scoring, defense, and playmaking for the Pacers. A deserving all-star, the player was highly underrated all season. Stats like his should be considered as an All-NBA finalist, but with his team not making the playoffs, it will be unlikely for him to get the credit that he deserves.
Defensive Player of the Year – Myles Turner
At one point in the season, Turner was the leading contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Unfortunately, the center only played in 47 games this season dealing with multiple injuries. In his time that he was on the court he averaged a league-high 3.4 blocks and just under one steal per game. Turner is a premier rim protector and rivals Rudy Gobert for the best post defender in the league. Unlike Gobert, Turner is able to stretch the floor defensively and guard the perimeter. Able to guard four positions with ease, Turner is an elite defender. Without Turner on the court, the Pacer’s defensive rating drops, and overall the team struggles.
Sixth Man of the Year – T.J. McConnell
McConnell was the best defensive guard coming off the bench this season. The guard led the league in total steals with 128 on the season. Defensively, McConnell terrorized opposing teams and helped filled in when Turner went down. He came off the bench and averaged 1.9 steals which is a career-high. Offensively, McConnell was very efficient. The point guard averaged 8.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game off the bench. He also had shooting splits of 55 percent from the field and 31 percent from three. McConnell was excellent on both sides of the ball for the Pacers and helped a depleted bench become successful.
Biggest Surprise – Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon took a huge leap in performance and production this season. Last season the point guard averaged 16.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 7.1 assists per game which was great for a competitive playoff team. Since the departure of Oladipo, Brogdon would find himself outperforming last season. This year he averaged 21.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game, as the guard had a career-high in points and rebounds. Brogdon took his play to the next level in the absence of Oladipo, which allowed him to thrive in Indiana and could be a future star for the team.
Biggest Disappointment – Aaron Holiday
There were high hopes for Holiday to break out this season. He improved from his rookie season to his sophomore season, and everyone expected him to take another leap forward in his third year. Unfortunately, the guard took a step back. Holiday averaged 7.2 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game which were all under what he averaged the prior season.
Even his shooting percentages were down from the previous season. Holiday shot 39 percent from the field, 36 percent from three, and 81 percent from the line. Again, all were down from the season prior. Holiday took a step back when the team needed him to progress.
The state of the Indiana Pacers is a mystery. The team has great young talent, but the ceiling of these players is not franchise leaders. Turner and Brogdon can be valuable third options for championship teams, and Sabonis a solid number two guy for a team. But without a franchise player, the Pacers will be stagnant.
The team will have to figure out if they can afford to trade for a superstar this offseason. It would be difficult to draft one and have the rookie become the guy right away. There are not any valuable franchise-caliber stars in free agency this season as well. It would be in the team’s best interest to trade for a superstar that can lead the team. Trading away either Turner, Brogdon, or Warren in the deal will have to be necessary.
As for the coaching staff, It might be Bjorkgren’s first and only year as the head coach. It is clear that he does not have the locker room’s attention or praise. The team will most likely wait until the season is over to see if any other team parts with a coach that they like. There are plenty of coaching options to replace him and his coaching staff.
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