It’s opening night, so finally we get to see what Pacers president Kevin Pritchard has built. It theory, it’s pretty damn cool. In practice, take your best guess.
There is no way to predict how this Indiana Pacers team will gel and compete – especially early in the season.
Pritchard is trying to re-invent small market basketball. This roster is a compilation of players whose total needs to be greater than the sum of its parts.
What Billy Beane did as a baseball general manager, Pritchard is trying to do for basketball. While other teams aggregate stars in their chase for a championship, Pritchard is weighing heavily the mindset of players as he invites them to this hoops purist party.
With an inability to attract top tier free agents and an intolerance for tanking so top draft picks can be utilized, the road to a Lawrence O’Brien Trophy is unclear for the Pacers. So Pritchard is trying to change the game.
There are so many new pieces, it’s impossible to know what will happen this season. Add the unclear timeline for Victor Oladipo’s rehab, and the questions far outnumber the answers.
And here are some of the questions:
- Can Domas Sabonis guard opposing fours while starting next to elite rim protector Myles Turner?
- When will Oladipo be back?
- When Oladipo returns, will he be happy being one of five players grinding out wins, or will he crave the evolution toward becoming Vic the brand?
- Are reports of Jeremy Lamb’s defensive liabilities overblown?
- Can the Pacers combination of comparable parts compete with teams built around one or two elite level players?
- Is T.J. Leaf ready to defend back-up fours?
- Can Goga Bitadze ramp up his development to contribute on both ends off the bench?
That’s a lot of questions, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. Add questions about how much the guys who are gone will be missed, and we could be here pondering answers until tonight’s tipoff.
Thad Young was a versatile leader. Darren Collison was very steady as a point guard. Bojan Bogdanovic was an underrated defender and elite level shooter who forced defenses to spread the floor. Have the Pacers upgraded with their replacements?
My educated guess is that they have, and the Pacers will win 50 games to finish third in the Eastern Conference. I love the way these guys work together and support each other. In a league filled with business owners and brand managers, the Pacers appear to have a keen understanding that basketball is best played by a team of five, rather than five guys individuals looking to get theirs.
When the Pacers tip-off this season tonight against the Detroit Pistons, fans will get their first real look at Malcolm Brogdon as the leader of this team. While Oladipo is the most talented and charismatic player, Brogdon will be the leader. He’s a we-first adult who will set the tone on both ends.
Brogdon will not only be a key to the Pacers success – his absence will negatively impact the Milwaukee Bucks. He is a cultural change agent who may never make an all-star team, but might be the most valuable Pacer for the next decade.
As national experts kowtow to LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with the Rockets, and Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Bucks, Pritchard’s Pacers are comfortably under the radar as underdogs.
We get to see the fruits of Pritchard’s experiment tonight. Social media and international TV ratings are built by signing stars. Can a championship team be built without anyone either craving or deserving of the spotlight?
The Pacers are giving it a shot. And they are pretty good shooters.