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2022-23 NBA Preview: Indiana Pacers

The First Year of a Rebuild

The Indiana Pacers entered the 2021-2022 season with playoff aspirations.  After a series of injuries and tough losses during the first half of the season, the Pacers decided that it’s finally time for a full-fledged rebuild.  At the deadline, the Pacers decided to trade All-Star Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento for potential franchise cornerstone Tyrese Haliburton.  After finishing 13th in the East, the Pacers received the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft lottery.  \

The Pacers now look to get younger, trading Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics for draft compensation and young talent.  Pacers’ lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin will be an integral part of Indy’s future postseason plans, mentioning that Lebron James is “going to have to show me he’s better than me.”  With the roster’s average age being below 24 years old, the Pacers will finally enter the rebuilding stages after the teams reluctance to do so post Paul George and Victor Oladipo.  

Point Guard

You can always count on the Kings to make things interesting.  In a shocking move, the Pacers acquired Tyrese Haliburton from Sacramento, evidently becoming their franchise cornerstone.  In 26 games with Indy, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists per game.  A full offseason with his new team will only bolster the young playmaker’s marks, potentially turning Haliburton into a 20-10 type of player. 

T.J. McConnell is now the clear backup point guard under Rick Carlisle’s high-octane offense.  McConnell is one of the team’s only veterans and will only help Haliburton improve on the defensive side of the ball.  McConnell is able to pick up opponents 94 feet from the basket.  Indy selected former Gonzaga product Andrew Nembhard with the 31st pick in this year’s draft.  Nembhard led Gonzaga to a Final Four and Sweet Sixteen appearance in back to back seasons.   

Shooting Guard

After shifting through multiple roles last season, the mature game of Chris Duarte is too much to overlook.   The 25-year-old enters his second season and is prepared to take an even bigger leap.  The NBA All-Rookie Second Teamer showed glimpses of his elite ball handling and shooting stroke throughout his rookie campaign.  The former 13th overall pick is expected to soar this year with his size and ability to score on all three levels.  

Indy adds another scoring option with athletic Arizona rookie Bennedict Mathurin.  The Summer League proved that Mathurin is still very raw, but has the potential of being an elite NBA scorer.  Mathurin was shut down after only 3 games in this year’s Summer League, averaging 19.3 points and receiving NBA All-Summer League Second Team honors.  The Pacers possess one of the most exciting young backcourts in all of basketball.  There is no doubt that Coach Carlisle will explore lineups with Haliburton, Duarte, and Mathurin all on the floor at the same time. 

Small Forward

It seems like Buddy Hield has had his name mentioned in trade talks from the time he’s arrived. Hield was the primary scoring threat for the Pacers last season, leading the team in scoring during the last two months of the season.  However, Hield doesn’t fit into the Pacers rebuilding plans knowing how ball dominant he is.  Aaron Neismith is an athletic wing and movement shooter who was acquired in a trade this offseason. 

The 22-year-old struggled to get consistent minutes in Boston.  Although his three point percentage fell drastically last season, the opportunity to receive more minutes will only benefit the former lottery pick.  If Neismith is able to shoot the ball at a high percentage from long range, Neismith will carve himself a role going forward.  

Power Forward

With the injury bug plaguing the Pacers all last season, Oshae Brissett was one of the only availables.  Brissett missed only 4 games due to injury, stepping into various roles throughout the season.  His season averages don’t tell the whole story as Brissett is able to stretch the floor, playing the three, four, and even an undersized five.  Jalen Smith was acquired midseason and flourished in his upgraded role.  Smith’s three-point shot will only improve, shooting 37% from behind the arc in the prior campaign.  His ability to score inside and out makes Smith the perfect fit for Carlisle’s system.  

Terry Taylor was an undrafted rookie who found himself playing for the Pacers G-League affiliate.  After averaging close to 30 points a game in four G-League outings, Taylor was called up to the Pacers, becoming one of the best offensive rebounders in the league.  

Center

Yes, Miles Turner is still on the roster.  However, all signs point towards the big man being traded as Turner has found his name in trade rumors since early last season.  Kentucky product Isaiah Jackson is a lob threat and rim protector who will fight for that starting center role.  In limited minutes, Jackson averaged 1.4 blocks a game.  These numbers should balloon if Jackson is able to find more consistent minutes. 

Jackson has the potential to be one of the league leaders in blocked shots.  Newly acquired Daniel Theis contributed in the NBA Finals weeks prior to being traded.  Theis is one of the best screen setters in the league, providing veteran leadership to the Pacers young frontcourt.  Goga Bitadze will fight for a backup center role in the final year of his rookie deal.  

Critical Questions 

The Indiana Pacers are finally entering the rebuilding stages after years of falling short in the postseason.  For a rebuilding team like the Pacers, the critical question will be contingent on the development of their young core.  Can the Pacers properly handle the rebuilding process, or will the front office not have the patience to do so?  Additionally, which players will the front office bring in to support the development?  In years prior, the Pacers always looked towards acquiring win now assets.  The main focus for the next few years will be on these young stars’ success and growth.  If Haliburton, Duarte, and Mathurin all pan out, this Pacers organization is bound to find success in future postseasons.  At every position, the Pacers have talent.   

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