2. Frontcourt depth and fight for playing time
Let’s get one thing straight: the Indiana Pacers are one of the deepest teams in the league.
Let’s also get another thing straight: A lot of depth on a team can be a gift and a curse, and for the Pacers, it has the potential to be both, as some very talented players are bound to be stuck on the bench for extended periods of time.
That is most evident in the frontcourt. As it stands, the Pacers are starting Obi Toppin and Myles Turner in the frontcourt, respectively. This leaves plenty of talented players on the bench, ready to scoop up those backup minutes however possible.
One can insinuate that the backup power forward role would go to rookie lottery pick Jarace Walker, as he impressed in Summer League, and, despite some dud games, showed flashes of a defensive monster in preseason.
Fellow rookie Oscar Tshiebwe is on a two-way assignment with the Mad Ants but should get enough call-ups during the season that he will be able to make his presence felt.
The real battle will be for the center spot. As it stands, Indiana has three backup centers fighting for minutes, all veterans and all players that can bring something to the table.
Let’s start with Daniel Theis. While Theis is sometimes seen as a player, the Pacers should look to trade soon, preferably to a contender. he does bring his own skill set to the table that can help a potential Playoff team like Indiana.
Fresh off a FIBA World Cup gold medal win with Germany, Theis has the experience and wisdom to lead the second frontcourt unit and be a fantastic mentor to guys like Walker, Tshiebwe, Jalen Smith, and Isaiah Jackson
Speaking of Smith, he is my pick for the backup center spot. Following an unexpected re-sign with the Pacers in the 2022 offseason, Smith had a pretty disappointing 2022-23 campaign, where he was one of the worst three-point shooters in the league at 28% and overall looked far less comfortable on the floor than he looked in the second half of the 2021-22 season when he first came to Indiana.
However, Smith seemed to have also done a lot of work during the offseason, as he obviously put on some more strength and muscle, determined to shed the “Stix” nickname that has followed him around for years due to his rail-thin physique.
Sure enough, Smith played fantastic in the preseason, averaging 9.6 points and seven rebounds in the first three games, and overall playing like a whole new animal. Smith was stronger in the paint, now refusing to be muscled around by other bigs, shot better from behind the arc, and was very active on the boards.
If Smith manages to keep this play up in the regular season and keep his three-point shooting to at least around 35%, the backup center position is his to lose.
This leaves one man left to talk about – Isaiah Jackson.
Jackson has had an interesting career so far. In two seasons with the Pacers, Jackson has been a steady hand off the bench for rebounds and energy but has also struggled with foul trouble and consistency. In the preseason, Jackson’s play was nothing to gawk at, as he averaged three points and 3.75 rebounds on 33% shooting, getting outplayed by Jackson and even Jarace Walker.
If this level of play is an indicator of what the future holds for Jackson, there is a serious possibility that he falls out of the rotation entirely and ends up on the trade block, with many Pacers fans calling for him to potentially be moved during the season to give more time for Jalen Smith and even Tshiebwe.
It is very important to remember, however, that Jackson is only 21 years old and still has a ways to go before it is time to give up on him. If I were the Pacers, I would hold on to Jackson unless a fantastic trade offer is sent and continue developing him for the future. He has shown flashes of being a fantastic big man thus far, and it is not time to give up on him just yet.