Indiana Pacers X-Factor: Caris LeVert

As the NBA season approaches and the preseason winds down, we’ll be taking a look at the player on each team that holds the key to unlocking their potential, and for the Indiana Pacers, that means a prolific scoring wing in Caris LeVert.

The 2020-21 season was an odd one for the Pacers, with the team scuffling to a 34-38 record that prompted another head coaching change. During the campaign, it was not a well-kept secret that Indiana’s locker room had turned on Nate Bjorkgren, which could explain some of the uneven performance, but injuries also tormented the Pacers, particularly on the wing. T.J. Warren enjoyed a breakout in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble, but he appeared in only four games, and the Pacers made a move in January to add to their wing depth with LeVert.

During the trade process, a physical flagged a mass on LeVert’s kidney and, while he was able to make a full recovery, the former Michigan and Brooklyn Nets standout did not return to action until March. By the time he returned, LeVert was able to play in 35 games, but the circumstances were suboptimal for evaluation purposes, and questions loom about how Indiana might approach the upcoming 2021-22 season.

For one, Warren remains a giant question mark for health reasons. That puts additional pressure on LeVert, Justin Holiday, lottery pick Chris Duarte, and others to fill the gap on the wing. Beyond that, the Pacers have a proven head coach in Rick Carlisle, and he will likely want to put his own fingerprints on what transpires in Indianapolis.

LeVert is a notable scorer, including a mark of 20.2 points per game last season and 20.7 points per game with the Pacers. That type of scoring prowess from a wing is clearly desirable in the modern NBA, but LeVert has never been a dominant defender, and his career true shooting mark of 52.5 percent leaves plenty to be desired.

Indiana does have talent, with Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis standing alongside LeVert in the starting group. There are questions about how the Turner-Sabonis pairing might progress but, at the very least, it is easy to project what Brogdon, Turner, and Sabonis might bring individually. The same could be said for LeVert from a volume scoring perspective, but the 27-year-old could also take the next step with a full season in a new environment and an avenue to develop into the team’s clear No. 1 option if things break right.

There are other potential X-factors for the Pacers as a period of potential transition approaches. LeVert tops the list, however, and the 2021-22 season could also be a significant one for LeVert individually, as he attempts to make the jump from a strong supporting piece to a potential centerpiece.