In a season filled with unexpected leaps and bounds, the Indiana Pacers overachieved this past NBA season earning a respectable fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. After trading their previous franchise player in Paul George, the Pacers were expected to be a lottery team heading into this offseason with little hope of success in the near future.
Victor Oladipo, the league’s Most Improved Player, led the Pacers in a tremendous fight against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They forced the eventual Eastern Conference champions to a Game 7 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Oladipo proved that his All-Star season was not a fluke as he averaged 22.7 points, six dimes, 8.3 boards, and 2.4 steals per game. The entire series versus the Cavs he embarrassed the Cavaliers guards with his explosive athleticism, sound pick-and-roll wizardry, and scoring ability.
By the end of the season, Oladipo became a member of the All-NBA Third Team and the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team. His performance in only his second ever playoff series already put the league on notice. He’s a first option for a franchise. Oladipo is deserving of holding the keys to the city in Indiana at the age of 26. He does, however, need a helping hand if Indiana wants to compete in the future for years to come.
The Pacers have a bevy of options to exercise if they want to land a star to play alongside Oladipo by the end of the offseason. A roster loaded with expiring contracts and trade-able assets, Indiana can be a dark horse franchise lying under the offseason radar. Here are there options this summer:
Keep the Team and Develop Further
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Along with Oladipo, center Myles Turner has established himself as a rising star as he enters just his third season. Head coach Nate McMillian’s system of pick-and-roll mismatches thrived in the playoffs when his All-Star guard’s usage rate increased as the series progressed. Meaning the Pacers are a better team with the ball primarily in Oladpio’s hands (30 percent usage rate in Indiana versus 16.6 percent in OKC).
It seems that with the emergence of backup center Domantas Sabonis and veteran leader Thaddeus Young, the Pacers supporting big men are formidable against other East teams. Their guards Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, and Lance Stephenson proved to be decent options for when Oladpio needs rest. And the sharpshooting ability of Bojan Bogdanovic puts defenses in predicaments when rotating from the pick-and-roll.
Along with their current roster, the Pacers drafted point guard Aaron Holiday with their first round selection. Holiday’s skill set is valuable in that he can play off-guard with Oladipo. He proved it at UCLA which included him playing with Lonzo Ball. Last season, Holiday averaged 20.3 points per game and almost six assists per game in Pac-12 play. Holiday is a winner and can take control of games at high leverage moments. That is option one for Indy.
Aquire a Star
The Hoosier state team, given the roster they have, could go another route in which they sign or trade for a big name.
As stated earlier, the Pacers were a considerable better team when Oladpio’s usage rate was relatively high. A secondary guard who can thrive without the ball in his hands seems like a move Indiana could do.
After the Toronto Raptors declared nobody on their team as untouchable, Kyle Lowry seems like a good fit with Olapido in the backcourt. Lowry is coming off of an All-Star season with a relatively low usage rate of 20.2 as the Raptors starting point guard. He shot a career high 44.4 percent from deep too, 10 percent higher than Collison, the Pacers’ best three-point shooting point guard.
How about Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans? He showcased his value this past postseason after sweeping the Portland Trailblazers in the first round. His defensive tenacity on All-Star caliber guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum earned him All-NBA Defensive First Team with Oladipo.
Holiday is coming off his best year in the league averaging career-highs in points per game (19) and field goal percentage (49.4). Conveniently, the Pels are looking to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins or land a big name free agent to pair with “The Brow” that is Anthony Davis.
New Orleans may need to trade a red-hot Holiday for some valuable point guards such as Collison or Joseph in order to match salaries and land a free agent this offseason. Not to mention, the Holiday reunion of brothers could bring some brotherly love to the Hoosier State…sorry Justin.
Lowry or Holiday would be valuable additions to the Pacers’ roster, but they would need to put together a tantalizing package to land them.
The Pacers are a team to look at for the next couple of years. Oladipo is only 26 and is approaching the early stages of his athletic prime. If surrounded by the right pieces, lead by team management that can get high talented prospects and veterans, the Pacers will be competing for the Eastern Conference throne if all goes north.
The Oladipo era has begun and boy are these Pacer fans ready for this new chapter of their franchise.