Are the Indiana Pacers slowly pivoting off Jalen Smith as a core player?

Jalen Smith, Indiana Pacers - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Smith, Indiana Pacers - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

While wins have been quite elusive for the Indiana Pacers recently, few would tout the team as an utter disappointment this season. In fact, the contrary is perhaps the better descriptor to sum up their campaign, as despite their latest free-fall in the standings, they have still been churning out a much better product than anticipated before the season.

That, however, is not an expansive, spread-eagled narrative applicable to each and every player donning the blue and gold. Some players have notably declined this season, particularly the younger ones. And if we can surmise, that could be the reason for the team still holding onto their veterans despite limitless rounds of rumors harping on how the front office should have the team as sellers in the market.

Anyway, going back to the elephant in the room, one player who has performed worse than expected is forward Jalen Smith, who has already lost his starting power forward job in the middle of December. Indiana has penciled him in as their future PF during the offseason, but given his continued demotion, is the team now slowly pivoting off him as a core player?

Are the Indiana Pacers now sagging off Jalen Smith as part of the core?

There’s an argument to be made that Jalen Smith’s demotion has everything to do with the Pacers having a lot more success with their unconventional design. On paper, he remains a viable role player who can potentially fare better against taller teams, though that hasn’t been Indiana’s rotational response as Rick Carlisle has continuously — and understandably — doubled down on small-ball as the team’s core identity.

If we’re speaking on the basis of this season alone, Smith’s role will most likely be the same as what it is today — a backup big man who usually plays as the lone big. The Pacers’ success this season with Tyrese Haliburton leading a perimeter-oriented rotation is inarguable, and when he returns from injury, it’s most likely that they continue just that.

Frankly, part and parcel of Smith’s numbers declining this season is his dangling role. His perimeter shot has been too unreliable to reinstall him as the main power forward, at least for the current campaign. Conversely, his play style has never resembled that of a natural center’s, and his rather lanky frame hasn’t helped him at all in that regard.

Still, all those do not answer the question. Are the Pacers really pivoting off Jalen Smith as a core player? Well, not exactly. Call me the biggest optimist here — or perhaps the most subtle Jalen Smith fanatic — but the upside is still there for the 22-year-old (emphasis intended). After all, it’s a lot easier to envision a world where Indiana’s brass prefers him as the future power forward for the team instead of Aaron Nesmith.

Detractors — or the more objective beholders — could argue that the Pacers’ reported escapades of trying to upgrade at the forward position is a big signal of their discontent or at least, discomfort with having Smith as a core guy, but that could just be an amalgam of different factors, such as Indiana being much more competitive than expected, the legitimate presence of an unusually high number of very tradable power forwards around the league, and Myles Turner potentially leaving or being traded out of Indiana necessitating the need for more big man depth.

For now, the Indiana Pacers, like other teams, are feeling out the market and doing their due diligence by trying to improve the roster. Jalen Smith’s standing as the team’s future power forward is more shaky than before, but it’s too premature to resolutely say that the team is now pivoting off him as part of the core. After all, he’s just 22 and still figuring things out himself.

Give it time.

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