Indiana Pacers: The good, bad and ugly from the 2021 NBA Preseason

Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /
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Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte
Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte – Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

What went well for the Indiana Pacers in the preseason?

The Good No. 1: Some Hot Rookie Servings, Anyone?

Safe to say, the Pacers’ rookies did not disappoint.

Chris Duarte, whom I’ve described as a worthy gamble with the 13th pick, has shown flashes of on-court brilliance and maturity that should earn him a meaningful role on the team. His dynamic two-way play on the wing position, headed by his smooth scoring acumen and impressive defensive chops, will force the coaching staff to carve ample minutes for him in his first year.

On the other hand, Isaiah Jackson proved worthy of being a regular rotation player, despite the logjam in the position. His outstanding athleticism is not just for show, as his defense really stood out even in spurts. More playing time should be in store for him as he improves and grows as a more complete player.

The Good No. 2: Bench on Full Throttle

While the squad’s original depth has been shaved as a result of coping for early injuries, the second unit looks like a force to be reckoned with. Aside from the two rookies, the team’s holdovers in TJ McConnell, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, Goga Bitadze and newcomer Torrey Craig have all thrived in limited minutes.

Most interesting is the re-emergence of Lamb and Bitadze. The former, reckoned to be a trade chip for Indiana, has been healthy and spearheaded the bench’s scoring attack. Meanwhile, the Georgian big man, not to be beaten by Jackson, looked good in spurts, improving his three-point stroke and rebounding while remaining sharp as an unorthodox rim protector.

The Good No. 3: Better on the Boards, so far

Throughout the preseason, the Indiana Pacers registered a 50.8 rebounding percentage, good for ninth in the league. While the sample size is small, it is a nonetheless a stark improvement from the putrid 47.6 mark it tallied last season, which was second-worst in the association.

Better yet, the Blue and Gold remained aggressive in deterring shots at the rim, but relatively succeeded on corralling defensive boards, a facet that was completely missing in the previous campaign due to their needlessly ultra-aggressive approach on D.