This upcoming offseason for the Indiana Pacers is an important one. With seven impending free agents and the sixth most cap space in the NBA (per fastbreakdaily.com), this off-season could shape how the Pacers perform for the next four to five years.
In June of 2017 the Pacers traded their franchise player, Paul George, to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In return, they received Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Two years later and the team has yet to make it out of the first round losing in Game 7 to LeBron and the Cavs in 2018 and recently getting swept by the Boston Celtics in 2019.
While the Pacers have had two solid 48-win seasons, and clinched the fifth seed each year, there is still major room for improvement and that showed this past season. Losing Oladipo late in January could be a blessing in disguise for the Pacers.
Yeah, the Pacers still made the playoffs without their best player, but they struggled to do so finishing 16-19 after Oladipo went down with his season-ending injury. Most of their wins came against teams tanking or teams that weren’t making the playoffs. It is difficult in the NBA to compete without your best player, but the Pacers’ struggles really showed in the playoffs.
Look at their terrible second halves against the Boston Celtics as evidence that the Pacers really struggled offensively without their best player. Eight points in a quarter? Come on, Reggie Miller could do that in nine seconds. The Celtics’ series showed the Pacers need to shake up the roster and not rely so heavily on Oladipo.
In their most recent press conference, GM Kevin Pritchard talked about wanting to get a “creator-passer” type player. While he said it doesn’t have to come from the point guard spot, he did say they need a point guard with Darren Collison and Cory Joseph becoming free agents July 1st. Head coach Nate McMillian also talked about wanting to play at a faster pace next year and attempting more three-pointers.
Pritchard then went on to say “[Our cap space] allows us to be super aggressive, it allows you to do uneven trades. It allows you to go sign players.” So while he is saying the Pacers can be super aggressive in free agency, will they be is the question.
If Pritchard’s comments hold true, the Pacers should go hard after D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets. Russell fits the mold of a “creator-passer” that Pritchard was mentioning in his press conference. Plus, Russell is a young point guard that can control tempo but still play fast.
Russell was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the 2017 offseason from the Los Angeles Lakers. Basically just a castaway by the Lakers after taking him second overall in the 2015 NBA draft, Russell grew into an all-star player in the 2018 season.
With career highs in points, assists, and field goal shooting, Russell was voted an All-Star coincidentally after Oladipo had his injury. Russell was the guy in Brooklyn leading the Nets to their most wins and a playoff berth since the 2014-2015 season.
Last season Russell’s usage rate with the Nets was a career high, around 32 percent. With the raise in usage rate his shooting numbers did not suffer, they actually went up. His true field goal shooting and effective field goal percentage both raised to over 50 percent for the first time in his career. So not only were the Nets using him more in the offense, but, he was efficient in his shot selection.
Out of all players to play in at least one game during the regular season, Russell ranked top 50 in Player Impact Estimate (PIE) at 14.1. PIE measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in. For a more simple term, a player that contributes most to the team gets a higher PIE.
Another statistic that jumped exponentially last year for Russell was his win shares. His previous seasons he was around one win share a game, when he joined the Nets that number jumped to five per game. Win share is a stat kept to calculate how many wins each player was responsible for.
While Russell is still a restricted free agent, meaning the Nets can match an offer any NBA team offers him, the Pacers should still be very aggressive in trying to sign him. Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report went on FS1’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.” and said “The latest that I’ve heard is that it’s between Brooklyn and the Lakers,” in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes.
If Brooklyn were to sign Kyrie Irving that will all but push Russell out of the door. This could be good for the Pacers, they wouldn’t have to over pay for Russell if the Nets sign Irving and don’t want to match the offer sheet.
A recent report from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium had the Pacers as one of the top teams interested in Russell, along with the Jazz, Magic, and Timberwolves. Out of all those teams the Pacers have the most cap room and will be able to offer the most money.
The down-fall to the Pacers is they are a small market while Brooklyn is one of the biggest markets in the NBA. It will be a lot harder to draw free agents to Indiana than to Brooklyn which might keep Russell from signing here.
Another major factor in pursuing any free agents will be the injury of Oladipo. Pritchard didn’t lay a timeline when Oladipo will be back so that could keep free agents from signing with the Pacers.
I firmly believe the Pacers should keep out of the Kemba Walker bidding war. Instead, go after the younger and cheaper Russell. Not only can Russell play the point guard spot but he can play off-ball as well, if the team wants to run Oladipo at point guard, or run three guards at once for more perimeter shooting. The Pacers would be far better off going after Russell than any other of the soon-to-be free agents.
Sam Sinclair is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @SamSinclair96 on Twitter.