The bell has sounded. It is officially Opening Night for the Indiana Pacers.
Following an up-and-down preseason and some exciting promise from the new guys and improvements from the youngsters, the Pacers will kick off the 2023-24 season against the Washington Wizards, a team that also looks far different than last year.
As the Wizards are projected to be among the league’s cellar dwellers this season, this looks like an easy Pacers win on paper, but you never know.
Analyzing years of Pacers mediocrity leading up to 2023-24 Opening Night
For the first time in what seems like years, the Indiana Pacers are actually coming into the season with legit expectations. After taking the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in 2018, the Pacers more or less stopped being competitive in the playoffs, getting swept in both the 2019 first-round against Boston and the 2020 first-round against Miami due to injuries to key players on the team.
Following these lopsided series losses, expectations for the Pacers more or less fell off a cliff as they traded Victor Oladipo to Houston midway through the 2021 season for Caris LeVert and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2015, falling to the Wizards in the Play-In Tournament.
Going into the 2021-22 season, the Pacers were in a weird position. After missing the playoffs, the expectations for the Pacers truly fell off a cliff, as fans and media members alike had no idea what direction the team wanted to move in, as they had just drafted Chris Duarte and big man Isaiah Jackson despite already having a logjam in the frontcourt with the Myles Turner/Domantas Sabonis experiment.
Sure enough, the team wallowed in mediocrity and uncertainty until the trade deadline, with the only positive not being 24-year-old rookie Chris Duarte, who impressed in his first year with his scoring.
This would change at the trade deadline, as Indiana traded for Tyrese Haliburton, shipping off Sabonis to Sacramento and starting off a rebuild, for lack of a better term. All this losing would pay off, as they selected Bennedict Mathurin with the sixth pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
As the 2022-23 season started, the Indiana Pacers’ expectations were still unclear, as we had not seen too much of Haliburton on this team, and fans were unsure of how the team would look throughout a full 82-game season.
The team did not disappoint initially, looking poised for a playoff run before Haliburton went down to injury, after which they decided to tank the rest of the season in favor of another high lottery pick.
This also paid off, it seems, with the Pacers selecting Jarace Walker with the seventh pick of the 2023 NBA Draft. In addition to Walker, they also selected Ben Sheppard with the 26th pick, traded for Obi Toppin, and snagged Bruce Brown from Denver in free agency.
This brings us to the present day, as the Pacers come into the 2023-24 season with some legit expectations and direction for the first time in what seems like forever.
While the casual fan is still mostly unaware of the Indiana Pacers, as usual, many hardcore fans and media members have showered praise on Indiana, with some expecting them to get into the playoffs by way of the Play-In and some even projecting them to snag the sixth seed.
In addition to the expectations, the Pacers also seem to be a team worth watching again, with Zach Lowe placing them 12th on the NBA League Pass Rankings after years of having them near the bottom.
Who can blame him, really, as the new additions, combined with the youngsters the team continues to develop, have the Pacers looking like one of the most exciting teams in the league.
With guys like Obi Toppin and Jalen Smith ready to catch lobs on a whim, Haliburton ready to break some ankles and throw some flashy passes, and Bennedict Mathurin looking like a completely new player, the Pacers are looking like a team to buy stock in early before the price rises. Not to mention the production from Myles Turner, who seems poised for another great season after finally breaking out in 2022-23.
The best thing about this Pacers team, in my opinion, is that they finally have a direction going forward. In previous years, the take has always been, “We’ll see as the season goes on.” This time, the direction is clear. Indiana has all the talent needed for it; they have the names on paper, and with the eastern conference being the weaker of the two, the playoffs are a very realistic sight.
In fact, after a while of tanking, this is exactly what Indiana Pacers fans want, as they have put their full faith in Kevin Pritchard and Chad Buchanan, and they have not been let down so far. If the stars align and Indiana avoids major injuries, the playoffs are a very realistic sight, and the play-in may not even be necessary for that.
Who really knows what happens during the regular season? One thing is for sure, though, this year is going to be one to remember if expectations and hype are to be believed.
The Indiana Pacers tip off their 2023-24 season in Gainsbridge Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Eastern time against the Washington Wizards.