Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports
Before we dive into this Hot Take, let’s agree on three things:
1.) The Eastern Conference got worse this offseason
2.) The Pacers got better this offseason
3.) The Pacers have a good track record for making All-Stars out of decent players
Taking these three points, the Pacers -- who held down a 5-seed last year despite losing their best player to injury early on -- will host at least one playoff series in the East, and if they make the finals, have as good a chance as any to represent the East in the Finals.
With the additions of 15+ PPG scorers T.J Warren, Jeremy Lamb, and Malcom Brogdon, the Pacers will have one of the most consistent starting fives in the league. With Brogdon and Oladipo at the guards, Warren and Sabonis at forward, and Myles Turner at center, the Pacers will feature a deep and versatile group to start and finish games. The depth continues with Lamb coming off the bench along with Doug McDermott, Aaron Holiday, and rookie big man Goga Bitadze. The losses of Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Corey Joseph are significant, but the Pacers made up that lost ground and then some with their additions this offseason.
Be it their eye for talent or their skill for developing it, the Pacers can boast that five of the last twenty Most Improved Player Award Winners have plied their trade in the heart of basketball country. Jalen Rose, Paul George, and most recently Victor Oladipo have won the award, and the Pacers have no shortage of candidates this year, with both Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon threats if either takes the leap to stardom. Hoosier fans can start making plans for postseason basketball before the season even starts.
Few would question that the Pacers are a better team, but the East being a worse Conference is just as big a factor. The Raptors took perhaps the biggest single loss when Kawhi went west, and the Bucks losing both Brogdon (to a competitor!) and Nikola Mirotic will be weaker as well. The Nets look like the team to beat in the 2020-21 season, but they can only go so far this year without Durant. The Sixers both gained and lost some significant pieces, which will take some figuring. And I don’t need the Pacers to lift a trophy to be right -- just make it as far as Portland did last year. Totally doable.
The Pacers haven’t been to the third round of the playoffs since 2014, when LeBron was still a fixture in the East finals. He’s gone now, and the one team that had a transcendent star (Toronto) lost him. Giannis is not to be overlooked, but an Indiana team that can channel the physical defense and strong fundamentals of those conference final titans of yesteryear can play with anyone. And it won’t have to be a Hoosiers-style run to make it happen.
These Pacers are good.