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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild 2020: Indiana Pacers

Trilly Builds is back! Same as last year....only different! We still have our "Good Things" and "Bad Things" section. We no longer have our rebuild status grade because, with the way the season ended, just about every team could claim incomplete. I've added three things that I would do if I took over the franchise tomorrow. And a "protected players" section, as I may do an expansion draft later and want to cover my bases. Previous editions can be found here. Let's get to it!

Indiana Pacers (39-26, 5th Eastern Conference)

Good Things

1. The Pacers just keep on truckin

The Pacers have stars retire, ask to get traded or suffer serious injuries and they just keep churning out winning seasons. This year, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and Victor Oladipo all missed at least 10 of the 65 possible games. Just as Oladipo was returning from injury, Lamb tore his ACL and Brogdon tore a quadriceps muscle. Both were expected to miss extended time.

And still, the Pacers have the seventh-best defense in the league and were just two games out of homecourt advantage in the East. A testament to coach Nate McMillan, their front office and players stepping up.

2. Domantas Sabonis

You remember when he was a stretch-four for the Thunder and got played off the court in the postseason just three years ago? Now, he's an All-Star and All-NBA team candidate on a great contract (over the next four seasons, he makes $77 million dollars. Blake Griffin gets $75 million over the next two seasons, for reference).

These are the people to average at least 18 PPG, 12 RPG, 5 APG in a season this millennium: Kevin Garnett (3x), Giannis Antetekounmpo (2x), Demarcus Cousins and Sabonis. And none of those guys was as young as Sabonis when he did it (23). He made his first All-Star team and showed he can hold his own defensively at center. He's a stud.

3. They have their starting five moving forward

Not only do they have them, but they also have them under roster control for next season. The five-man unit the Pacers would likely start/close games with (Turner-Sabonis-Warren-Oladipo-Brogdon), was a +10 net rating when they played together this season. They've also got their projected second unit (Lamb, Bitadze, McDermott, and McConnell) under contract next season. 

Bad Things

1. Roster health

That five-man unit above? They played all of 86 minutes together this season, over six games. As aforementioned, four of their top guys missed at least ten games. Oladipo was looking better by the game but he was coming off of a very serious quadriceps injury. Brogdon's injury history played a part in him slipping to the second round of the draft, as well as Milwaukee deciding to let him sign with Indiana in RFA. Lamb will be recovering from the ACL he tore in late February. 

2. Locked into the current roster

Well.....kinda. Oladipo is going into the last year of his contract and will surely be looking for the max. Brogdon, Sabonis, Warren, Turner, and Lamb are all signed for at least the next two seasons. They're projected to be seventh in payroll next season but they're currently the fifth seed in the East. You like the continuity of having your guys locked up (see: Good Things portion) but going forward, would you take their situation over anyone above them in the standings (MIL, TOR, BOS, MIA)? Probably not. Healthy Brooklyn and Philly squads are probably better too. If you pay Oladipo the max, you're really locked into that core. If he leaves for nothing, you're locked into it...only without the best player.

The Pacers owe a first-round pick this season and two future second-round picks to the Bucks for the Brogdon trade.

3. The offense doesn't fit modern basketball

The Pacers are 18th in offensive rating which is slightly below average, but it may be even worse than that shows. They're dead last in the league in both free throw rate and 3-point attempt rate. It works because they're a good defensive team (7th in defensive rating) and they run at a slow pace (23rd) which will win you a lot of games over the course of the regular season. The Pacers don't have a single-player averaging 20 PPG but they have seven players averaging between 10-19 PPG. This sounds like balance but in the postseason, it turns into an offense that has nobody that can get a bucket. Hopefully, a healthier team sees a jump in offensive minutes.

3 Decisions I’d Make If I Was GM Tomorrow

1. Choose between Turner and Sabonis

Technically, they work together because the lineups together are a net positive (+2.1 over 1000+ minutes). But it puts the offense in a tight spot, and they already can't afford any slippage there. I think they're going to have to pick one of their bigs and flip the other for pieces to bring their offense into 2020. They're both 23 years-old, durable (missed a combined eight games in 2018, 15 games in 2019) and on good contracts: Turner has three-years/$58 million remaining and Sabonis is about to start a four-year/$77 million dollar deal. I say that to say this: Even in a league where big men are mostly replaceable, good big men aren't so I think they could get a solid haul for whichever they chose to deal. 

Turner is a 3-and-D center, which is a good thing. He shot more threes this year than he ever has (34% 3P on 4.2 attempts per game) even if his average there is a little lower than you'd like. He's a great defender that happens to be playing in an era with Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid, meaning he won't get the accolades but he's good. He can defend the rim and move his feet on the perimeter. On offense, he can space the floor for a non-shooter. On defense, he can cover up for teammates' mistakes. He's not much for rebounding but otherwise, his style of play makes him a fit on just about any team. 

Where Turner excels defensively, Sabonis makes his money on offense. He's a bruiser with a nasty side that doubles as a great passer. In a time where everyone is taking more threes than ever, Sabonis is taking 92% of his shots from 2P range. It works because he makes a good deal of them. He's an elite rebounder and more than a fine defender in his own right, even if he's not the rim protector or defender in space that Turner is.

2. Trade Myles Turner

I choose to keep Sabonis. He's considerably better as a facilitator and rebounder than Turner and the team is better with him on the floor. Turner spaces the floor well for a center but if you flip him into a better shooter on the wing, it opens up things even more for Sabonis down low. Turner doesn't make enough threes to scare anyone so I'd try to move him for somebody that does. Put Sabonis around four shooters and watch him bully teams. Bigs are taking and making more threes than Turner so he's not providing as much spacing as he does in theory. Trade Turner where, Whiskers? WHERE?!? I'm glad you asked!

New Orleans: This one is my favorite. You plug Turner into the minutes that Derrick Favors played this season and let him be the rim protection that Zion needs, while also being able to provide some spacing for Zion on offense. Turner is also young and cheap enough to grow with the Pelicans core of Zion/Ingram/Lonzo. They've got assets to spare and both sides could benefit here

Myles Turner to New Orleans for Darius Miller (salary) and tell the Pacers to take three from the following four assets: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Pelicans 2020 first-rounder or one of the three Lakers picks from the AD trade. They could also get into Melli or more picks if need be.

Washington: Brad Beal is pissed off and ready to compete. John Wall should be healthy next year. The Wizards offense is promising (12th in ORTG) but the defense is awful (30th in DRTG). Enter Myles Turner. 

Myles Turner to Washington for Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Moe Wagner and a protected future first-round pick. Pacers get a former Hoosiers great player in Bryant, a young big in Rui and some shooting in Wagner. The particulars about the protection of the pick is what could make this intriguing for Indiana.

Sacramento: The Kings could turn all those Dedmon/Giles/Len minutes at center in Turner, who can grow with Fox and Bagley. There are a couple of different versions where this trade could work which makes it interesting, but I think this is the most fun.

Myles Turner to Sacramento for Buddy Hield. Straight up. Things have been rocky for Buddy and the Kings even before he signed a contract extension that kicks in next season, four-years, $86 million. He's had spats with coaches and ultimately ended up coming off of the bench this season, in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovich.

You could say it went well:

"If Hield remains displeased with his role, a source with knowledge of his thinking said he might request a trade. He believes he is a starter in the NBA and there's no guarantee he'll get that job back, given how the team has played lately. And unlike last season, when he never criticized [Dave] Joerger publicly and even refrained from doing so after their well-chronicled January 2019 run-in at Golden State, Hield has shown a willingness to criticize [Luke] Walton that has proved at times problematic."

Turner for Buddy. Kings get Turner and it frees up the money/minutes to re-sign Bogdanovich. Pacers get Buddy and add him to Oladipo/Brogdon/Sabonis and turn him loose as a starter that will never have to create his own shot.

3. Re-sign Oladipo before next season starts

Keep your best players, duh Whiskers. But it's a little trickier. Oladipo will ask for a max contract and he has the leverage to do so. He's going into the last year of his deal and will hit unrestricted free agency. There's always the risk of losing him for nothing. His one good year was 2017-18 so it's fair to ask was that season the exception or the norm. You might be overpaying for one good season or for a guy that can't get back to peak health after a devastating injury:

At the bottom of the thigh, the quadriceps muscle attaches to the top of the kneecap, and that tendon where the muscle meets with the bone, that’s the quadriceps tendon. In Oladipo’s case, he tore that quadriceps tendon right off the top of the kneecap.

Yikes. And with all that, I'd try to get a deal done with him this summer. I'm betting on his one season being the norm and not the exception, and I trust guys to recover more from injuries now than I ever did. AD, Durant, Kawhi, Paul George, and Embiid have all had their injuries, to differing extents. The elite talent bounces back, even if not for every game. But if Oladipo goes on a Kawhi type of load management plan, I'm more than fine with that. Oladipo started ten games after returning from injury this season, and he was getting back to his old self:

First five starts: 12/3/3 on 43/35/64 shooting, 27 MPG

Last five starts: 19/5/4 on 47/40/79 shooting, 27 MPG

I'm betting on that being the guy that I'm getting for that next contract. Ideally, I'd sign him to a three-year extension with a team option for a fourth season. Ideally. Realistically, he's going to wait until his deal expires and ask for a new four or five-year max with a player option:

In a contract extension, Oladipo would be limited to a starting salary of $25.2M. Based on the league’s latest salary cap projections for 2021-22, the Pacers guard could earn a starting salary of up to $37.2M if he waits until free agency to sign his next contract.

It's a steep price, but talent costs. And I think Third Team All-NBA/First Team All-NBA defense type of talent is worth paying for. If there is a way to get him to agree to a contract extension instead of waiting for UFA, I'd give him a blank check.

Protected Players

1. Victor Oladipo

2. Malcolm Brogdon

3. Domantas Sabonis

4. Myles Turner

5. TJ Warren

6. Goga Bitadze 

7. Aaron Holiday

8. Doug McDermott

Thoughts: McDermott vs Lamb is interesting, but Lamb is recovering from the torn ACL. McDermott's deal is a year shorter and gives them a little more flexibility moving forward. 

Unprotected Players

1. Jeremy Lamb

2. TJ McConnell

3. Edmond Sumner

4. TJ Leaf

5. Aliza Johnson

Thoughts: Very funny after I said to bet on the athlete to recover from injury, that I immediately leave Lamb unprotected here. Very funny indeed.

Ineligible players (unrestricted FAs)

1. Justin Holiday

2. Jakarr Sampson