The Memphis Grizzlies are set to kick off the 2018-2019 NBA season, tonight at 6:00pm CST against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. To get you a little insight into what’s going on with the Pacers I reached out to Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper on Twitter) of Indy Cornrows to get the skinny on Victor Oladipo and his crew.
What role is former Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans going to have?
Take pressure off of Victor Oladipo, not only when the first-time All-Star goes to the bench but also when the pair of straight-line drivers play in tandem. The Pacers got outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions during the minutes when Oladipo was off the floor last season, so anticipate every effort being made to ensure that either he or Evans is always on the court to act as a scoring fulcrum. Evans, by virtue of his ability to both rise above the pick and methodically draw bodies to and from the ball with head fakes and hesitations, also arguably provides the most reliable answer for how Oladipo can remain a scorer when teams try to force him into being a passer.
As such, expect the one-time Grizzly to be the primary shot-creator for the second-unit in the role of sixth man. However, his willingness to distribute (yes, I realize this was a point of contention last season) in order to maximize Oladipo’s closing speed on the weakside will also be worth keeping an eye on -- particularly given the implications that doing so may later have during the playoffs.
What is the Pacers’ ceiling for this season?
The Pacers went 14-2 in games decided by three points or less last season, and they had eight games in which they rallied from a deficit of 15 or more points, so it very well may turn out that they win fewer games and still end up being a better team in comparison to last season. By adding shooting, secondary playmaking, and bench depth, Indiana’s decision-makers conservatively addressed the most prominent issues that plagued the team during their first-round playoff series with the Cavs.
That being said, the Celtics (health), Raptors (Kawhi Leonard), Sixers (internal improvement), and Bucks (coaching; shooting) also all have compelling arguments to make for why they’ll be more formidable in the postseason than they were a season ago, too.
What are the expectations for Victor Oladipo?
He comes off as very determined to avoid being a one-hit wonder, and that seems reasonable - if not a baseline. His speed and skilled agility, barring unforeseen injury (knock on wood), isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Even when the accuracy of his long-distance pull-up jump shot oscillated last season from 50 percent in November down to 15 percent in February and back up to 58 percent in April, trapping his downhill momentum was still more threatening than sagging off of it because of his ability to punish lumbering bigs for hanging back in the lane or fly past guards when they ducked under screens.
Whereas he had a penchant for committing turnovers when he was encouraged to pick up his dribble, the rate by which his potential energy turned kinetic always left him with the option to rocket down the lane when he was encouraged to shoot.
Of course, he isn’t starting 2018-19 as the largely panned return in the Paul George trade; he’s an All-Star, who should expect to be treated as such by opposing defenses. He revealed some new tricks during preseason (i.e. creating separation off the dribble and draining a one-legged fadeaway); however, given the existing incentives to crowd him, the biggest key to taking his game to the next level will either be demonstrating improved accuracy throwing the types of skip passes and one-handed whip passes that will discourage opponents from abandoning the weak side corner to load up on his usual release valves, or putting undue pressure on the nail defender by playing side-by-side with last season’s version of Tyreke Evans.
Is this a make or break season for Myles Turner?
Observing what Victor Oladipo did last season as a late-bloomer makes this question REALLY dangerous, right? I will say this; I definitely think this will be his most telling season to date.
From entering the concussion protocol after only one game and being limited to eating and sleeping for two weeks thereafter to observing his supposed understudy blossom in his stead and later spraining a ligament in his elbow, Turner was never consistently put in the position to develop as the focal point of the offense that many expected him to readily become following the trade of Paul George.
Instead, his touches per game (48.8) were roughly the same as the season prior (47.9).
Assuming Nate McMillan makes it more of a priority to safeguard the feathery mid-range jump shooter’s involvement in the offense, Turner won’t so much be in the eye of the beholder anymore as much as he’ll be whatever he reveals himself to be.
Combine that with the heightened expectations he heaped on himself with the steady deluge of offseason workout videos he posted on social media along with the fact that the team has another 22-year-old on the roster who plays the same position (albeit differently), and, yes, this certainly has the potential to be a pivotal season for him, even if also less pressure-packed after signing a four-year, $72 million extension.
What is the Biggest X factor for the Pacers going into the season?
Myles Turner, for most of the reasons just mentioned. He already has a lot of benchmarks to meet on his growth chart (i.e. consistency, making more of an impact when his shot doesn’t fall, understanding floor spacing as well as he creates it, demonstrating improved fluidity anchoring pick-and-roll coverage or defending in space, putting himself in the optimal position to gain rebounding position, being better prepared to read and react out of the short roll, etc.), and the time needs to be now for the Pacers to research and discover the reality of what they may have in the Turner-Sabonis pairing over a larger sample size rather than tabling it except for against bulkier lineups.
As mentioned above, Turner is now inked through the 2022-23 season, and Sabonis becomes extension eligible at season’s end.
Before determining if they should double-down on young centers or potentially package one of them in lieu of expecting them to share the same position, Indiana’s front office needs as much information as possible to determine if they should invest in zigging at the same time as several of the other teams expected to be near the top of the Eastern Conference are increasingly zagging toward more versatile lineups showcasing multi-talented wings with size.
Whether and to what degree Indiana’s pair of developing skyscrapers blossom this season, both together and apart, will go a long way toward determining Indiana’s place in the Eastern Conference not only this season but also for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to Caitlin for hopping on the interwebs to give us the lowdown on all things Pacers. You can check out the great coverage by her and several others over at Indy Cornrows, and don’t forget to check out everything we have going about the Grizzlies right here at GBB.