The Pacers still have one lethal hole to overcome on defense

Oshae Brissett - Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Oshae Brissett - Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2021-22 NBA season was a memorable campaign for the Indiana Pacers—for the wrong reasons. While the franchise was not necessarily bereft of good tidbits, such as the acquisition of Tyrese Haliburton which signaled a much-needed youth movement, the on-court product was simply the lowest of lows for the team for a very long time.

One of the biggest culprits in the Pacers’ poor record last season was their poor defense. After years of boasting middling defense at worst, the team took a massive nosedive as a point-preventing unit, finishing the campaign with a defensive rating of 116.1, third-worst among all teams.

Heading into the 2022-23 season, the Blue and Gold, despite being penciled in as a rebuilding squad, will emphasize a big improvement on that end. However, there is one lethal hole that they may find hard to overcome in their pursuit of being a better defensive squad.

The Indiana Pacers may have a hard time improving as a defensive unit due to this reason

First, let’s get this out of the way: any marginal improvement on the rankings front, such as a jump from third-worst to just the seventh-worst in defensive rating, will not count as an upswing of any sorts. That being said, the reason why the Indiana Pacers could have a tough time making significant progress on defense is not a case of numbers and statistics.

The team’s utter lack of size in the wing positions outside of Oshae Brissett, rookie (and skinny) Kendall Brown, and a 35-year-old James Johnson will give them a nightly disadvantage right from the get go, especially with the abundance of talent in the forward positions in the league.

Brissett is an above-average defensive player in his own right, but he admittedly fares better as a backbone of the team defense instead of a one-on-one adversary. Also, his position makes things tricker. As the Pacers project to be a high-paced team, the coaching staff will likely play him more as a nominal power forward as part of an overall small-ball design outside of the starting lineup.

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If so, Indiana will be forced to cudgel Ben Mathurin or Chris Duarte as the small forward for long spurts. The former has high upside on the defensive end and the latter is certainly not a liability, but banking on either to handle the Tatums, Middletons, Butlers, DeRozans, and Durants of the world is asking for trouble. Heck, even with Brissett on those guys with him slotted at the 3, a triumphant shot attempt over a hand in the face is more likely.

Having Myles Turner, if he’s not dealt, back in the fray will give the Pacers a lot more leeway to cover up slips on the perimeter defense with his imposing defensive presence inside, but teams are smart enough to make him run around on switches and brew mismatches in the post instead.

Ultimately, as long as the Indiana Pacers continue to have a dearth of reliable length and bulk at the wing positions, their defense will remain vulnerable on a nightly basis, especially with scoring forwards in the league at an all-time high in both quality and quantity.

Next. 3 players who won't last the entire season with the Pacers. dark