30 Teams in 30 Days

2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Can the Indiana Pacers overcome their playoff hurdle?

The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Today, we take a look at the Indiana Pacers.

2019-20 season record

45-28, fourth in the Eastern Conference

Notable additions

Amida Brimah, Free agency

Rayshaun Hammonds, Free agency

Jalen Lecque, Trade

Kelan Martin, Free agency

Cassius Stanley, 54th pick of 2020 NBA Draft

Notable departures

Alize Johnson, Free agency

TJ Leaf, Trade

Depth chart

Starter 2nd 3rd
PG Malcolm Brogdon Aaron Holiday TJ McConnell
SG Victor Oladipo Jeremy Lamb Cassius Stanley
SF TJ Warren Justin Holiday Edmond Sumner
PF Domantas Sabonis Doug McDermott JaKarr Sampson
C Myles Turner Goga Bitadze Amida Brimah

3 key storylines

What version of Oladipo will we see?

In Victor Oladipo's first season with Indiana back in 2017-18, we finally saw him live up to the hype of a former No. 2 overall pick. Averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a league-leading 2.4 steals per game, it appeared as though the Pacers got a steal in acquiring the first-time All-Star guard and young, promising forward Domantas Sabonis in the deal that sent Paul George to Oklahoma City.

In 2018-19, his second with Indiana, Oladipo earned his second All-Star bid averaging 18.8 points to go with a career-high 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game but a ruptured quad injury cut his season short, forcing him to miss the majority of the 2019-20 season as well.

When Oladipo finally returned in late January 2020, he looked rusty, as you'd expect. The Pacers were among the top teams in the Eastern Conference by playing well-rounded, team basketball around a breakout All-Star season from Sabonis and the return of Oladipo was expected to help take the team to another level. Although Oladipo had flashes of his All-Star form, he never fully looked like himself.

Averaging just 14.5 points with career-lows of 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game with career-worst shooting splits of 39.4% from the field and 31.7% from 3-point range, it was clear Oladipo needed more time to re-adjust to the NBA game.

With it being the shortest offseason in league history, will only four months off be enough time for recovery and training to get prepared for the upcoming season for a crucial player on Indiana's roster?

If the Pacers want to keep their five-year playoff streak going, they're going to need their star guard to round into game shape fast. If they're going to snap their five-year streak of losing in the first round of the playoffs, they'll need Oladipo to return to the All-Star form we saw in his first two seasons with Indiana.

Can Warren build off of his performance in the bubble?

TJ Warren became a household name for his performance in the Orlando bubble, exploding onto the scene following an encouraging pre-bubble regular season.

With Oladipo still sidelined from injury and a void left behind from Bojan Bogdanovic signing with the Utah Jazz last offseason, Warren capitalized by becoming the team's go-to scorer prior to the league's hiatus.

When play resumed in the bubble, the team was also without its All-Star forward in Sabonis and Warren carried that momentum over in a big way by dropping 53 points in the Pacers first game to set the tone for what would result in an All-Bubble First Team selection. Take a look at his numbers during the pre-bubble regular season versus his numbers in the seeding games.

Comparing Warren's pre-bubble regular season vs. seeding games
PPG FG-FGA FG% 3P% FT%
Pre-bubble 18.7 7.5-14.2 52.9 37.5 81.2
Seeding games 31.0 12.3-21.3 57.8 52.4 88.9

As you can see, Warren took his game to another level when his team needed him most again. He was already having an incredibly efficient season but he made scoring look easy in the bubble. Following that 52-point outing in a crucial win over the Philadelphia 76ers, Warren proceeded to have back-to-back 30-point games resulting in two more wins. He wasn't done there, either, dropping 39 points on the Los Angeles Lakers in another win.

Once playoffs rolled around, with Warren as the focal point of the Miami Heat's gameplan, All-Star forward Jimmy Butler made life much more difficult. He still averaged 20 points per game but his shooting splits were much less efficient at 47.1% from the field and 36.8% from 3. He never scored more than 25 points in a game, ultimately being swept out of the playoffs by the eventual conference champions.

Will we see the seeding games version of Warren suit up for Indiana this season? Or did the Heat give other teams the blueprint on how to stop the prolific scorer?

The health of Brogdon and Sabonis

In Brogdon's first season in Indiana, he appeared in 54 of the team's 73 regular-season contests. It seemed like any time the former Rookie of the Year finally got into a groove, another random injury would pop up. He dealt with back soreness, a groin injury, strep throat, a concussion (which also led to neck stiffness), hip soreness, a torn quad and tested positive for the coronavirus all in one season. When it's laid out like that, it's almost impressive he was only absent for 19 games, although the five-month hiatus allowed Brogdon to recover from his quad and COVID-19.

As for Sabonis, the first-time All-Star was predominantly healthy all season prior to an extremely unfortunate injury in the bubble while preparing for the season's return. Sabonis suffered a bad case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, forcing him to leave the bubble, missing all eight seeding games and the playoffs. Without their star forward's career-best production of 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, Indiana struggled to remain competitive, resulting in a first-round sweep.

Both players are expected to be fully healthy when the 2020-21 season opens up and the Pacers will need it to stay that way to compete with the top-heavy Eastern Conference.

5 games to watch

Dec. 27 vs. Boston Celtics

The Celtics are expected to be among the best teams in the Eastern Conference and this early-season matchup gives the Pacers a barometer of how good they can be this season. With plenty of trade rumours surrounding these two teams this past offseason, it should make for an interesting game.

Jan. 9 vs. Phoenix Suns

A revenge game for prolific scorer TJ Warren, who was traded from the Suns to the Pacers for practically nothing. Warren will have the opportunity to showcase what he could've added to this new Suns roster while a backcourt matchup of Chris Paul and Devin Booker versus Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo should be fun too.

Jan. 27 at Charlotte Hornets

The Pacers were heavily linked to Gordon Hayward rumours throughout the offseason before the star forward landed in Charlotte. Indiana is always a homecoming game for Hayward, but this time around, there's a little added fuel to this matchup.

Jan. 31 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

TJ Warren sparked his bubble outburst with a 53-point game against the 76ers to kick off the season restart in Orlando. In the bubble, it felt as though Philly had no answer for the prolific scorer. Let's see if Warren can replicate that performance.

Feb. 3 at Milwaukee Bucks

This one has many more layers than just a Central Division rivalry. This acts as a revenge game for Pacers starting guard Malcolm Brogdon, who the Bucks neglected to re-sign in the 2019 offseason. It will also be another opportunity to see all three Holiday brothers on the floor together with Jrue being traded to Milwaukee this offseason.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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