One of the fun parts of every new NBA season is learning who is going to be the breakout team of that year. There's usually always a team that many might have thought aren't that good or maybe are still too young to make a legit leap, only for that team to have an awesome season.
Last year of course it was the Beam Team in Sacramento. Nobody had that team winning 48 games and finishing in a top 3 spot out West heading into last year, and that's exactly what they did. In 2021-22 it was probably the Bulls, a team that was atop the conference for a long time before they got boned with injuries, ultimately finishing with 46 wins and a top 6 seed. In 2020, maybe you would put either the Knicks or Hawks into that category.
The point is, we tend to get a surprise team that's actually way better than most thought every season, and there's really only one choice when it comes to 2023-24. It has to be the Pacers. Vegas put their over/under win total at 35.5 games entering this season. That's, not great. Well, through the first 9 games (yes I know it's early, you don't have to say it), the Pacers are currently on a 54 win pace after taking down the Dame-less Bucks last night 126-124 behind a thrilling 4th quarter comeback. The more you watch the Pacers play, the more "Beam Team" vibes you get.
Last season, the Kings made their run behind a crazy offense. They averaged 120.7 points a game which led the West, and had the #1 offense in the NBA with a 118.6 ORTG. They were a team that was top 5 in 3PA and made 13.8 a night on 36.9%. They had an All Star point guard. They had good young role players. They had a good coach, and a trade is what started to really kick their rebuild into overdrive.
It's a little funny that the other team involved in the trade that kicked the Kings' magical season off is now having almost the exact same thing happen to them. Just compare the early production
The Pacers currently lead the NBA in scoring at 126.0 points a game. They are 4th in 3PA and make 15.8 a game on 38.7% splits. They are the only team in the NBA with multiple 20 3PM games
In terms of the Pacers ORTG, much like the Kings it leads the NBA at 121.5. They are led by an All Star point guard who is continuing to play his way into legit superstardom
Like the Kings, the Pacers have a good head coach in Rick Carlisle. To take this comparison even further, last year the Kings couldn't really stop anyone, finishing with the 24th ranked defense with a 116 Drtg. So far this year we've seen the Pacers give up 151 points in regulation, and they currently have the 26th ranked defense with a 117 rating. Pretty similar to me!
Now, to those who were maybe paying attention to the Pacers last season, maybe this start isn't that surprising. This was a team that was a top 6 seed just last season before Haliburton got hurt and missed all that time. That's ultimately what sent them to the Lottery and a 35-47 finish. But healthy and with the addition of Bruce Brown, I didn't really get why Vegas was sleeping on their win total like that. Especially with how Haliburton looked during the FIBA World Cup.
Before the season I thought there were two teams who could have a "Beam Team" like season. My first choice was the Magic, mostly because I believe in their young talent and that roster has insane length. They just needed to figure out how to score, and once they do that I feel like the Magic are about to take a leap. The other team was the Pacers, mostly because of what they did last year with Haliburton healthy, plus his own internal development. Haliburton is arguably the best point guard in the conference and is working his way into being a top 5 PG in the entire league (leads the NBA in assists and is shooting 50/40%). The Magic are getting there, but the Pacers have shown that as long as they remain healthy, they are not going to be a walk over type team. They could very well end up a homecourt team by the end of the year given what we just say SAC accomplish last season playing a similar style.
The one thing the Pacers are going to need though is their own Victory Beam. That was the final piece for the Kings and it changed their franchise forever. The Pacers obviously can't just do their own beam, that would be lame, but I would have everyone in that building burning the midnight oil in order to figure out what their "thing" is going to be, because once they settle on something they're going to truly be ready for a real leap into contention.