After Kevin Pritchard worked the Indiana Pacers through a major roster overhaul this summer, what is the best defensive lineup they can put out this season?
The age-old question of roster continuity vs acquiring new talent seemed to have a rigid answer this offseason, as nearly every top team shifted stars in wake of the decline of the Hampton Warriors. The Indiana Pacers, who said goodbye to seven players and hello to six (and counting), were no exception.
After a summer in which President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard opted mainly for roster continuity and increased team chemistry, the Pacers saw the consequences of staying put. While the team was on pace for a mid-50 win season before Victor Oladipo‘s injury, Oladipo wasn’t up to his 2017-18 standards, there wasn’t substantial internal improvement from anyone but Domantas Sabonis and Bojan Bogdanovic and the team’s ceiling with the first Oladipo-era roster seemed to have been all but found.
And when ceilings are found, it’s time to make change. But those changes come at a cost. A cost like Thaddeus Young, who no longer was the right fit in terms of role or salary, but was a key pillar of the Pacers’ defensive effort the last three seasons, finishing No. 5 and No. 6 in deflections the last two years.
Or a cost like Cory Joseph, who was the steady hand the backcourt needed on defense the last two seasons. He finished first in the league among point guards last season in Defensive Player Impact Plus/Minus, right above defensive studs like Chris Paul, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry. Three years and $37 million later, Joseph became another in a briefly reoccurring line of Indiana point guards heading to Sacramento, the Midwest of California.
And while losing guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison won’t weaken the Pacers defense, it certainly won’t help scheme continuity. Indiana will have a lot of work to do in September and early October to fine tune the new roster.
But guys like Malcolm Brogdon help. Brogdon, who touts a 6’11” wingspan, feels like the perfect backcourt partner for Oladipo, who relies on speed and aggressive, riskier moves to thrive on defense. Brogdon, a longer, more patient defender, will slot in quite nicely next to him.
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Goga Bitadze, who should fill out decent minutes as the backup center, is an elite rim protector out of the 5 spot. He averaged 3.2 blocks a game in EuroLeague competition and is a fierce rebounder to boot, averaging 7.2 in his 25.1 minutes per game of EuroLeague ball. His perimeter defense is still a bit shaky, but as long as he isn’t forced out too far from the rim, he can be a Myles Turner-lite with the second unit.
Throw in spot guys like TJ McConnell and Justin Holiday, and the Indiana Pacers defense is going to be looking a lot different next year. It will almost certainly be worse, but that’s the cost of business when trying to score enough points to keep up in the modern NBA. Still, though, Dan Burke and Nate McMillan won’t sit on their hands.
That being said, what’s the best defensive lineup that the Pacers can roll out next season? Putting offensive disadvantages aside, what five would McMillan put out on the floor if Indiana just needed one stop? In this exercise, we’ll take a look at a few possibilites and consider the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Let’s get started.