Indiana Pacers: Need for consistent wing defender apparent

Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Through this early portion of the season, the Indiana Pacers have exposed some of their weaknesses. The Pacers have shown resilience amidst a slew of injuries but the team has no proven wing defender.

It’s been a slow start to the season for the Indiana Pacers, but the team is motivated to get back on track.

As a result of Victor Oladipo’s absence, it was expected that the revamped roster would hit a few snags on the road until his return. But in a watered-down Eastern Conference, the Pacers are expected to be in the playoff picture even if the team’s star returns later than anticipated.

Due to the bumps in the early portion of the schedule, the Pacers have given us a thorough evaluation. Multiple needs and weaknesses are identified, including health, bench production, three-point shooting, and fouling.

However, one other need has the potential to hamper the Pacers’ season.

The team has no proven wing defender.

Justin Holiday has been the team’s best wing defender by defensive rating according to Holiday has a solid rating of 97.1 in the 23 minutes he averages per game.

T.J. Warren has posted a 102.7 defensive rating which is the best among the starters and of his career.

Warren, who has never played for a team that has won more than 40 games has improved playing on a more competitive team.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Edmond Sumner, whose 122 is eighth-worst among players with at least 60 minutes played. However, we have a small sample size due to injury.

Sumner has played just 67 minutes for the Pacers this season and as a young player who has shown flashes of defensive competence is likely to improve once he returns from his hand fracture.

Statistically, the situation is not ideal but not apocalyptic.

A glance at the box scores from the Pacers’ season to date or even a simple eye test reveals the team’s glaring need for a key defender on the perimeter.

Luke Kennard dropping a career-high 30 points on the wing versus the Pacers in the season-opening loss to the Detroit Pistons is an example.

Christian Wood had 19 points, including three 3-pointers, in the Pacers’ second loss to the Pistons on October 28.

Most recently, the Pacers had no answer on the wing for Devonte’ Graham in an overtime loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

Off the bench, the backup point guard scored a career-high 35 points and got to the free-throw line at will.

With all due respect to the players listed above, the caliber of opponent’s wings will only rise as the Pacers face stiff competition as the season progresses.

ESPN’s Relative Percent Index (RPI) has the Pacers currently at .401, the fifth-lowest figure in the league as of November 7th. It will only get tougher.

Come postseason, who will guard the bigger scoring wings in the conference?

The Boston Celtics swept the Pacers last postseason, and no clear candidate exists to limit Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward effectively on the perimeter, let alone all three.

The Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler could prove to be difficult to defend and the Orlando Magic have length to throw at opponents.

The Philadelphia 76ers have a super-sized starting five and then the ultimate challenge of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is a handful, even for elite defenders.

The Pacers will continue to be tested defensively.

It’s not impossible to cobble together an effective defense without an elite wing stopper. Myles Turner is a premier rim protector in the league, and his return from injury could help stabilize the defense.

The concern lies in postseason play when individual matchups are schemed and attacked by teams. Warren possesses the ideal size and has improved, but remains a minus defender.

Teams can attack Warren in the pick-and-roll and isolation situations and will look to do the same versus other Pacer defenders who have yet to prove their worth on that side of the ball.

Former Pacers Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young weren’t NBA All-Defense team caliber players, but they did a serviceable job on tough matchups.

Bogdanovic, in particular, was key, as his defense against LeBron James in the first round of the 2017-2018 Eastern Conference Playoffs helped extend the series to seven games.

Ideally, the Pacers should look to acquire a three-and-D type wing, someone who can handle a tough defensive matchup and stretch the floor on the other end.

Unfortunately for Kevin Pritchard, those types of players aren’t exactly readily on the market.

Everyone in the league is looking for those kind of players, so it won’t be easy to find one. Therefore the Pacers need one of their own to emerge as a consistent wing defender.

Still, it’s worth a call around the league to see if perhaps a team with a logjam or a player buried on the depth chart could be had for a reasonable price.

But the Pacers and their front office will first look within.

Even a defender without great shooting touch could be an effective acquisition. Someone like Toronto’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could fit in a lineup surrounded by shooters.

So far, new import Malcolm Brogdon has looked like an All-Star addition and T.J. Warren has shown tremendous scoring ability. Fellow new addition Jeremy Lamb has also flashed potential on the offensive end.

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Defensively, the Pacers have their work cut out for them. If someone does not emerge or is acquired then the team could struggle in the postseason should they reach it.