ESPN Experts: Pacers Will Win 33 Games

After conducting a poll of its 53 NBA experts, ESPN has unveiled its consensus win projections for the Eastern Conference teams next season. The Pacers are expected to finish 12th, which would be lower than their back-to-back-to-back 9th-place finishes the past three seasons.

Here’s the full, team-by-team breakdown:

1. CLE – 61
2. BOS – 57
3. ORL – 56
4. ATL – 45
5. MIA – 44
6. CHI – 43
7. PHI – 39
8. WAS – 39

9. TOR – 39
10. DET – 38
11. CHA – 35
12. IND – 33
13. NYK – 32
14. MIL – 30
15. NJN – 29

And here’s the given rationale behind the expected drop-off for Indiana:

For three straight seasons, the Pacers have been the East’s best lottery team. Alas, our panel doesn’t see their inglorious run of ninth-place finishes continuing, as Indiana looks like No. 12 material to ESPN’s experts. The biggest issue seems to be a depleted talent base unreplenished since the Pacers’ recent glory years.

It’s hard to argue with anyone saying that there’s a dearth of talent on the Pacers roster. Outside of Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and TJ Ford, there isn’t a lot of proven production residing in Indianapolis. Still, it seems unlikely that the Pacers will actually be worse this year than last season.

I suppose the very fact that losing a player of Jarrett Jack’s caliber will actually be a sizable blow to the team doesn’t help support the case that the Pacers will be as good or better than last year, but you have to expect Dunleavy to be more productive this season than last. Because if he comes back even remotely healthy from his knee issues (something he is optimistic about), there is no way he won’t be. He essentially didn’t play last season. Throw in the continued improvement of Granger, the promise shown by Brandon Rush at the end of last season, the fact that Roy Hibbert is no longer a rookie and the addition of Tyler Hansbrough, and I think it’s hard to argue that the Pacers will actually be worse this season than they were last year. Even the fact Granger, TJ and Murphy have now played a full season together should make for a more cohesive starting unit at least.

Of course, like everything about the Pacers upcoming season, everything hinges on MDJ’s knee. (Disclaimer: That pun was entirely unintentional.) If Mike can’t play 70 games — or at least be his old self for, say, 50 — the Pacers will  undoubtedly struggle. Jarrett Jack did a lot of the ball-handling last year, so if there’s no Jack, no Marquis Daniels and no MDJ, there may be some real offensive issues. Sure, Granger has become much more dynamic with the ball in his hands (and is reportedly focusing on that aspect of his game this summer), but if he is the only one aside from TJ that Jim O’Brien can depend on to initiate any offense whatsoever, it’s going to be ugly. Really ugly. Because, personally, I doubt that Rush is ready to alleviate any of that pressure yet.

Will it be 33-win ugly, though? I don’t know.

Even if MDJ’s knee problems linger, and even if the other Eastern Conference also-rans like Toronto, Charlotte, Washington and Detroit have improved considerably (something I don’t really see, by the way), I’m not sure the Pacers will only win 33 games.

Here are the franchise win totals this millennium.

1999-00: 56-26 (.683)
2000-01: 41-41 (.500)
2001-02: 42-40 (.512)
2002-03: 48-34 (.585)
2003-04: 61-21 (.744)
2004-05: 44-38 (.537)
2005-06: 41-41 (.500)
2006-07: 35-47 (.427)
2007-08: 36-46 (.439)
2008-09: 36-46 (.439)

Going back even further, the Pacers haven’t won 33 games or less since 1989. Do we really think next year’s team will be the worst squad Indy has put on the floor in past two decades?

Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall was still fully intact the last time the Pacers finished a season with under 33 wins.

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