Saving Pacers Basketball

Joshua Breeden, Sports Editor

With the NBA playoffs well underway, the Indiana Pacers again find themselves watching from the sidelines. For the past three seasons, the Pacers have finished in the bottom three of the Eastern Conference. They have lots of young players with high potential, along with elite shooters like Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. But with so much upside, why have they underachieved? What changes can improve the roster that will finally result in many more wins than losses? This may sound crazy at first, but it is realistic to build a playoff contender for next season.

In the modern era, NBA teams try to build through the draft due to the increase in shooting talent along with them staying within the league’s salary cap. The Pacers currently have three first-round picks: Theirs, plus Boston’s and Cleveland’s. Their own pick puts them into the lottery. If the Pacers can get into the Top Ten, I would like to see them draft a big man due to the abundance of guards on the roster. Someone like Jarace Walker out of Houston would be a great pick up who would pair up nicely with center Myles Turner, as both of them are dominant rebounders. After getting someone to pair alongside Turner, who signed a two-year extension with the team a couple of months ago, they need to purge some of their guards and restock their forwards. Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte, Buddy Hield, Bennedict Mathurin, and Andrew Nembhard are guards who get significant playing time. That is too many, considering small ball doesn’t sustain NBA teams long-term and simultaneously, more big men are shooting three-pointers more often. 

They should keep Haliburton and Hield because Hield, a phenomenal shooter, is a great catch and shoot player while Haliburton is the playmaker and team leader in assists who creates shots for his teammates. I would also keep Mathurin because at age 20, he is already a well-rounded and fast developing playmaker who can drive to the basket, which the rest of the Pacers rarely do. The other guards should be put in a packaged deal in order to get a small forward who can create his own shots and drive to the basket. This would take pressure off Haliburton, who easily surpasses others in number of assists.

The Pacers’ defense needs improvement, too. Turner is one of the NBA’s premier shot blockers in recent years and his interior defense was key to the Pacers avoiding blowouts in games against explosive teams such as the Lakers, who consistently drive to the basket. The Pacers defense is a coaching problem. Yes, there is some benefit to having defensive set guards, but the off-ball defense can be taught. Guards are usually more athletic and agile than other players. 

These are numerous but necessary changes for the Pacers to become better than a team where opponents empty their bench during the second half of regular season games to rest their stars. Draft a power forward, trade some guards for forwards, and keep the young core. Practice off-ball defense.  

If the Pacers make these changes, they can make a run in the East next season now that so many stars from other teams have gone to the West.

Note:  Catch Josh Breeden’s weekly talk show “On the Sidelines,” every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Horizon Radio.