One crucial adjustment the Indiana Pacers have to make

Rick Carlisle - Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Carlisle - Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

35 games into the season, the Indiana Pacers are touting an 18-17 win-loss card, which, by all accounts, eclipses most projections for the Blue and Gold before their campaign began. Led by Tyrese Haliburton, the team has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA — Vegas projected them to hover around 24 wins at the season’s end — a mark that will definitely look puny at this rate.

The Pacers trying to win now may be too premature of a direction in contrast to the outside noise, but that’s a story for another day. Doubling down on the present, they can certainly put up a great fight to shoehorn themselves into the playoff picture out East, but this is where things start to paint a blurry picture.

After a 12-8 start, Indiana has gone just 6-9. A tougher slate of games didn’t help their cause, but a .500-level play moving forward will only take them to a familiar, yet unlikeable place: the middle zone. To possibly carve out more wins, here is one crucial adjustment that they have to make.

The Indiana Pacers have to tweak the rotation to snag more wins this season

To say that TJ McConnell has struggled this season is an understatement — the veteran point guard is shooting a career-worst 43.7 percent from the field and averaging the least points and minutes per game while posting his third-highest turnover rate. His court time is down, but the sneaky guard remains Rick Carlisle’s go-to option to facilitate the second unit.

With Andrew Nembhard firming up as the starter in the off-guard position for now, McConnell is really their only choice to man the backup point guard position. However, this is where the adjustment cuts its place.

Indiana’s coaching staff should strongly consider realigning Nembhard’s role from being a secondary release valve in the opening group to facilitating the bench unit. The rookie excelled in a lead role before (remember the Golden State game?), and while a one-game sample is not the most reliable narrator, giving him more liberty in his role will help them maximize his gifts and familiarize him with a more prominent burden offensively.

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Starting Bennedict Mathurin in lieu of him is most favored by the fan base, but letting him cook off the bench has a lot of credence going for it. Instead, giving Chris Duarte his starting role back or reverting to a more conventional setup in the opening group with Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith, and Myles Turner — their original starting lineup by the way — gives the Pacers a lot more offensive punch off the bench while not making huge concessions defensively.

With Indiana currently the sixth-fastest team in the league, McConnell’s deceptive and change-of-pace improvisations, his bread and butter as a playmaker, have now been too familiar to catch opponents off guard. Before, he thrived largely due to defenses being caught off-guard by his volatile pace within relatively glacial half-court configurations.

Now, with the Pacers finally outpacing most teams, he’s starting to become more predictable. Oh, and the lack of three-point shooting certainly hurts his cause.

McConnell remains valuable as a situational point guard, but given the team’s current style, it makes more sense for the Indiana Pacers — both in the present and the future — to let someone like Nembhard soak more minutes in the spotlight position as a primary distributor.

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