);
Indiana Pacers

NBA Season Preview 2019-20: Are the Indiana Pacers a sleeper team in the Eastern Conference?

pacers-ftr.jpg
Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner [NBA Getty Images]

With the 2019-20 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we'll dedicate one day to each team in the league.

Today, we're looking at the Indiana Pacers.

2018-19 season record

48-34 (5th in the Eastern Conference)

Projected 2019-20 season record

48-34 (4th in the Eastern Conference)

Notable additions

Goga Bitadze (draft)

Malcolm Brogdon (sign-and-trade)

Brian Bowen (rookie - free agency)

Justin Holiday (free agency)

Jeremy Lamb (free agency)

T.J. McConnell (free agency)

JaKarr Sampson (free agency)

T.J. Warren (trade)

Notable departures

Bojan Bogdanovic (free agency)

Darren Collison (retired)

Tyreke Evans (suspension)

Cory Joseph (free agency)

Wesley Matthews (free agency)

Kyle O'Quinn (free agency)

Thaddeus Young (free agency)

Depth chart

Starter 2nd 3rd
PG Malcolm Brogdon Aaron Holiday T.J. McConnell
SG Jeremy Lamb Edmond Sumner Victor Oladipo*
SF T.J. Warren Justin Holiday Doug McDermott
PF Domantas Sabonis T.J. Leaf Alize Johnson
C Myles Turner Goga Bitadze Amida Brimah

* Oladipo isn't expected to return before December of the 2019-20 season

3 key storylines

Who's going to step up while Oladipo is out?

Last season, Victor Oladipo was averaging a team-high 18.8 points per game to go with 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists before going down with a quad injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the year.

The Pacers were holding down the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference at the time and were in desperate need of a new primary scorer to step up and keep the team afloat.

Forward Bojan Bogdanovic became that guy, averaging a team-high 20.7 points on an impressive 50.3% shooting from the field and 41.1% from 3-point land for the remainder of the season, emerging as the team's premier scorer.

But Bogdanovic is no longer with the team and Oladipo remains out until December/January, so who's going to step up in Indiana this season?

MORE: NBA India Games 2019: Celebrity NBA fans roundtable | NBA India Games 2019 by the numbers

The dynamic frontcourt duo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will likely pick up some of that offence. Sabonis averaged 14.1 points per game last season but ironically, his scoring average went down to 12.8 points per game after the Oladipo injury. As for Turner, he bumped his scoring average to 13.9 points per game after Oladipo's injury.

What's more likely is that their three new key additions - Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb and TJ Warren - handle the bulk of the scoring.

Brogdon averaged 15.6 points per game on .505/.426/.928 shooting splits with the Bucks last season. As a focal point of this offence until Oladipo returns, Brogdon should easily be able to maintain a scoring average at-or-around that number.

Warren had proved to be a prolific scorer at times in Phoenix, averaging 18.0 points per game last season but posting as much as his career-high 19.6 points per game two seasons ago. His 48.6% shooting from the field last season was a career-low, but he did shoot a career-best 42.8% from beyond the arc.

Last but not least, Lamb was the Hornets' secondary scorer, averaging 15.3 points per game behind Kemba Walker. Even with increased attention from the defence, Lamb was still able to be a reliable scorer night-in and night-out, scoring in double figures in 66 of the 79 games he played in.

Can Oladipo return to the player he was last season?

Prior to Oladipo's season-ending quad injury, he was putting together one of the best campaigns of his six-year career. His 18.8 points per game was his second-best of his career while averaging career-highs in rebounds (5.6) and assists (5.2) per game.

He also emerged as one of the most clutch players in the league - his 5.1 points per game in the clutch was the best in the league and he was doing so while shooting a ridiculous 63.2% from the field. He had knocked down two game-winners and a number of other big time shots just 36 games into the season.

This hot start to the season was no coincidence as Oladipo posted a career-high 23.1 points per game in 2017-18 while leading the league in steals per game with 2.4. The momentum he carried over from that career-year had the Pacers rolling, but they couldn't get over the hump in the playoffs without their All-Star guard.

Indiana has the vibe of a sleeper team in the East this season - everyone seems to see it as a two-man race between the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, with the Boston Celtics lurking in the shadows. If Oladipo can return from his quad injury as the player he was last season and the season prior to that, the Pacers should have no trouble making some noise in the East.

Can the Pacers get past the first round of the playoffs?

The Pacers have not had trouble qualifying for the playoffs in recent years - they've made the playoffs four seasons in a row and eight of the last nine years.

With that being said, they've been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs four seasons in a row. Of those four playoff series, two have gone to Game 7. The other two have been clean sweeps.

MORE: NBA India Games 2019: History of the Pacers

While some teams would love to make the playoffs that consistently, the Pacers reached back-to-back Conference Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014. When you're that close - losing in Game 7 in 2013 and Game 6 in 2014 - falling in the first round of the playoffs in four-straight seasons isn't quite enough.

While nobody on this roster was a part of either of those pushes to the Eastern Conference Finals, the organization and fan-base must feel this team has the talent to return to that stage.

The pressure is on in Indiana to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

5 games to watch

Nov. 16 vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks won the Central Division last season and are expected to be a top team in the conference and division again this season. This will also be Malcolm Brogdon's first chance to prove that Milwaukee should have re-signed him instead of trading him to the Pacers.

Nov. 27 vs. Utah Jazz

This is a big matchup for two reasons. The Pacers elected to let Bojan Bogdanovic walk after he stepped up as the team's leading scorer last season when Oladipo went down. He's now a member of the Jazz and will be looking to remind the Pacers what he's capable of. Also, this is a meeting between Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert - a young, up-and-coming centre versus the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year. In their last meeting at the FIBA World Cup, Gobert's 21-point, 16-rebound double-double for France eliminated Team USA, so you'd have to imagine Turner is looking for revenge.

Nov. 30 at Philadelphia 76ers

This is a meeting between one of the best, most established frontcourts in the NBA versus one of the youngest, most promising frontcourts in the NBA. Joel Embiid and Al Horford versus Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis should be a battle in the paint.

Dec. 11 vs. Boston Celtics

The Celtics swept the Pacers out of the playoffs last season and this is Indiana's first chance to get them back. The Celtics also won three of their four regular season meetings last year, two of which were at the end of the season, paving the way for Boston to steal homecourt away from Indiana with a pair of late-season wins.

Dec. 28 at New Orleans Pelicans

This matchup is centered around the Holiday brothers. Younger brothers Justin and Aaron Holiday will try and take down their big brother Jrue as all three will surely be on the floor at some point in this contest.

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

More from NBA.com

#Ingles
Report: Ingles agrees to one-year extension with Jazz
Benyam Kidane
Zion Williamson takes a break during a preseason workout.
Ripple effects of injury to Zion Williamson
Micah Adams
Zion Williamson
Zion to miss '6 to 8 weeks' following knee surgery
Kyle Irving
jaylen-brown-080918-ftr-getty.jpg
Report: Brown, Celtics agree to contract extension
Kyle Irving
Buddy Hield
Report: Hield, Kings agree to contract extension
Kyle Irving
siakam-101919-ftr-getty.jpg
Siakam agrees to max extension with Raptors
Scott Rafferty
More News