DimeMag

Indiana Pacers 2021-22 Preview: Can They Escape The Middle?

The Indiana Pacers made a bold pivot last year, swapping out Nate McMillan for Nate Bjorkgren. The Pacers made the play-in tournament, but fired Bjorkgren at season’s end due to reports of internal strife. They also moved on from Victor Oladipo last season, adjusting their core slightly to bring in Caris LeVert as a replacement. All in all, the season was a small step back for a team that prides itself on consistency.

Roster:

Malcolm Brogdon
Myles Turner
Domantas Sabonis
Caris LeVert
T.J. Warren
T.J. McConnell
Jeremy Lamb
Justin Holiday
Chris Duarte
Goga Bitadze
Isaiah Jackson
Torrey Craig
Edmond Sumner
Kelan Martin
Oshae Brissett
Duane Washington (two-way)
DeJon Jarreau (two-way)

Projected Vegas Win Total: 43.5

Biggest Addition: Rick Carlisle

Carlisle is the big addition for Indiana. He is demanding, but he’s a proven NBA winner and tactician. He absolutely should get the most out of this team, although they are possibly without T.J. Warren to start the year as he comes back from injury, which will be a difficult hurdle to clear.

Biggest Loss: Doug McDermott

Letting McDermott walk makes some sense. The team drafted Chris Duarte and signed Torrey Craig. But McDermott provided needed spacing that will be hard to replace. Carlisle will likely find a way to scheme around it, but for a team built around a frontcourt duo, spacing is extremely important and they now have less of it.

Biggest Question: Can the Pacers crack the East’s top-6?

On paper, the Eastern Conference should be better this year. There are more than six teams with hopes of being top-6 teams and, unlike the Pacers, several of those teams made significant offseason moves. The Celtics, for instance, brought back Al Horford, signed Dennis Schroder, and nabbed Josh Richardson in a trade. The Heat, last year’s six-seed, brought in Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker. The Bulls spent big to make a push to leap in the standings, too.

Indiana, meanwhile, is basically running it back. There should be a Carlisle bump and LeVert should be more settled after his arrival was stalled by a health scare. But there are no real upgrades that would seem to promise improvement. Is that enough to avoid the play-in tournament?

What Makes This Season A Success: Making the playoffs. As noted, the East is better on paper. It’s going to be competitive in the middle of the conference as the non-Brooklyn, non-Milwaukee teams jostle for positioning. A lot of it may come down to health and luck.

For the Pacers, success would be making the playoffs and perhaps making a push to get out of the first round. This is a franchise that prides itself on being competitive year in and year out. Even if they fall in the 7-10 range and have to navigate the play-in tournament to get to the playoffs, that is what the team is usually going for. Getting there and having a shot at something more is the goal.

What Makes This Season A Failure: Missing the playoffs altogether. With Carlisle as head coach and a core of Sabonis (25 years old), Turner (25), Brogdon (27), Warren (28) and Brogdon (29), the time is now for the Pacers to make the playoffs. The window to be a solid playoff team is going to be slammed shut if this year goes poorly, but it’s clearly not the plan. These are all players in or around their primes. If they miss the playoffs and end up with a late lottery pick, that doesn’t really help them in the short term and doesn’t give them a young talent good enough to change the trajectory of the team. If the Pacers miss the playoffs, it’s remaining stuck in the middle with nothing to show for it.

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