As my NBA preview continues, we turn to the playoff teams. So, I’m going to mix it up a bit and break these teams down even more.
8. Indiana Pacers
Summary — The Pacers were a playoff team last year despite being killed by injuries especially late. They did, however, have the lowest point differential of any Eastern playoff team which means they could slip. And they didn’t do much to alter their trajectory in the offseason. Still, they have a go to all star and some good young talent around him and they play hard and together. In the East that basically makes you a lock for the playoffs. Only real question is will we be able to say the same about this group with a new coach. I see some slippage on the horizon.
Starters — If the season started today, the starters would likely be
That’s a strong group on both ends. Only Warren doesn’t really make an impact on D and he’s not terrible there. Brogdan was a huge get before last year as he can take pressure off Oladip and provide some shooting. Both Sabonis and Turner can also step out and more than adequately defend their position in just about any scheme. And that’s the key. This team should be one of the better defending teams, and with every starter capable of also putting up 20 they should be one of the more balanced teams in the league. Oladipo is the star, especially on offense as a do everything combo guard, but Sabonis might be the key. Super high basketball IQ and brings skill and toughness to the lineup. Maybe because of the connection to his dad, but Portland fans have been dreaming of Sabonis coming to Portland for years. But Indiana isn’t letting him go anywhere.
Casual fans will see this group and be unimpressed as none of these names pop, but there is no weakness here. Only possible issue is consistency and shooting. They have more scorers than shooters, but they also have some bench options that help with that.
Before you get to the rookies, Aaron and Justin Holiday, T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb and Doug McDermott (aka Dougy McBuckets) all know their role and will see significant minutes. Between them they offer everything but size. But because Sabonis and Turner can both play the 5 in smaller lineups, they should be ok there. And last year’s first rounder Goga Bitadze actually looked ok in the limited time he played. He might get an expanded role this year. Plus their wings and guards rebound above average at their positions which also helps. No 6th man of the year candidate here, but they provide decent if not great depth. They will likely end up giving a couple of their rookies some run as well which I will discuss below. But the key here will be Justin Holiday and McDermott. Holiday plays both ends well and gives them a dynamic player off the bench who brings energy and skill. But McDermott is really their only shooter, so he needs to continue to improve, defend his position enough to stay on the floor and be a 45% 3 point shooter.
The Pacers had a boring offseason. No big FA signings. Their biggest was to keep Justin Holiday which was their top priority and a key move for them. They had no first round pick and didn’t have any draft pick until the mid 50s where they drafted Duke uber-athlete Cassius Stanley. Stanley is interesting because he was one of the biggest names in his HS class thanks to his Instagram profile and dunk highlights. He should be penciled in to the dunk contest right now whenever it comes back. The question is, can he do anything else? He was ok at Duke last year which meant he was a bit of a disappointment overall. He doesn’t shoot or dribble well and he’s a bit undersized for the front court.
So, is he Derrick Jones Jr. or is he Aaron Gordon or will he bust it in the gym and outperform all of those guys? Or, is he Jones Jr. without the commitment to Defense and will find himself playing overseas in a couple years? More than any other Pacer he may suffer from not getting coached by Nate McCmillan who is great with young players and a defensive specialist. If Stanley is going to bring back the hype of his HS days, he is going to have to work really hard to develop skills beyond dunking over everyone on the break. But as the 54th pick, he was a good flier for the Pacers.
Key to season
Health and fit with the new coach. Coach Nate is gone and a former assistant from Toronto is in. This team rode the strength of its defense and toughness and togetherness which is a hallmark of Nate coached teams. Then again the new coach is also Nate (Bjorkgen) so maybe that will hold over. They have enough talent to compete, but not enough to dominate so the key will be how well this team plays together and how many games they get from guys who seem to struggle to play the whole season.
Never a good sign when the first headline out of camp is “Oladipo says he has not asked for a trade.” Ummmm…what? That usually means there is an issue but maybe it’s not as bad as it could become. I wasn’t aware that Oladipo was unhappy, but he has to be fully locked in or this team is going to struggle. Something to watch here. If they struggle out of the gate and the new coach can’t reach his guys early, look for Indiana to have to shop Victor which will likely end the season.
Oladipo is a Jordan guy and gets some cool PEs and is a low key sneakerhead it turns out. His sneaker closet video for GQ is worth checking out. Mostly though the Pacers lack much of interest in the area of sneakers which is too bad given that they have cool colors, but it also sort of fits with their under the radar brand. Going back I think it’s a shame Pacers great Reggie Miller never had a signature shoe. He used to wear a bunch of different stuff from Puma to Nike and his Nike rotation was strong back in the day, but he was a 90s icon and deserved a shoe.
8. Golden State Warriors
Ok hear me out. They get 2 time MVP Curry back. They still have former DPOY Draymond and the same great coach in Kerr. They have the most talented big from this last year’s draft who could have been the first overall pick and they replaced Klay with an above average wing who can shoot, score and defend. So that’s basically the core of the pre-KD team that won a championship with their best player still in his prime. So, why aren’t they higher? Well….I don’t trust it. Draymond is older and already seems to be missing a step on D. They now have 1 go to scorer available when they are used to playing with 3 of the best in the game. Oubre is fine, but Klay was maybe the best pure shooter in basketball or at worst second. I don’t really know if Kerr is a great coach because the all-star team he’s been coaching barely needed a coach. So how will he be without all the stars? It was only 4 games last year before Steph went out, but they got beat bad in 3 of those 4 games. Honestly, I’m not sure this team makes the playoffs. Or, they could be a top 4 seed and make me look like a fool for doubting them. But I will need to be convinced. I don’t think you replace Klay that easily and the team that won without KD was younger, better and had more games together. Plus, they will still have everyone they play gunning for them as everyone remembers Curry flapping around the court like a spoiled 5th grader rubbing it in as this team used to crush people. Some people will be looking for payback.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
I could also see them start Bazemore or even Wannamaker at the 2 and bring Oubre off the bench depending on how they want to divide the scoring, but this is my best guess. We know what we are getting at this point from Curry. He’s a shooting savant that can hit from anywhere and is impossible to double because of his handles and his range. He’s a minus individual defender, but has actually learned to play the passing lanes pretty well and does a good job in scheme. Really only Curry, Dame and Harden live in a world where at any moment, they can drop 30 in a quarter shooting shots a step in from half court. He’s also a great playmaker and while I personally can’t stand him and hope he loses every game he plays and loved, loved, loved when Bron and Kyrie wiped that smug grin off his face for a second, I have to admit that he’s like Nash 2.0 and one of the best in the game.
Oubre is an interesting add. I like that he fills a similar role as Thompson on D and can score maybe more than people realize. It will be up to Kerr to bring out the best in him. He’s clearly a talented guy, but he hasn’t been consistent. If he can hit shots and consistently play smart, this team’s ceiling goes up a few stories. My concern is can you really play he and Wiggins together? Neither he nor Wiggins is a knock down shooter and so, even with Draymond at the 5 in a small ball lineup the paint could get a bit packed as teams stay out on Curry and dare the other guys to hit 3s. So, that means I wonder about them ever having their best 5 players play together at a high level. Wiggins may be the one hurt the most by Klay’s absence because he was about to spend the entire season being left open or guarded by a team’s third best wing defender. He would be best off focusing on D, but this team may need him to score and worse, may need him to shoot. I think Curry and Draymond will elevate him, so now the question is will he step up?
Looney is just a placeholder. He won’t finish games and he’s keeping the seat warm for Weisman. But I think they bring the rookie off the bench. Looney is only asked to defend and rebound which he does reasonably well. Ordinarily you might look at the 5 as a weak spot and that may be against the Lakers or maybe even the Blazers and Nuggets, but most teams don’t run through their bigs anyway and the Warriors will play a lot of minutes with Curry, Oubre, Wiggins, Draymond and someone like Lee or Paschall or Bazemore anyway. Even with my pessimistic view on this team, it’s still one of the best starting 5s in the game.
This bench is actually sneaky strong. Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee, Eric Paschall, James Weisman, Nico Manion, Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker can all play. They won’t take over most nights but they give Kerr some options for sure. Paschall in particular was incredible last year and could play a sort of Vinnie Johnson microwave role here. Bazemore is on the downside of his career but can still be useful. Everyone else fills a role. Only concern here, especially with the loss of Klay, is shooting. Seems funny that a team that used to be the shooting standard is now a bit deficient in that area. As long as this group is supporting the starters and not replacing them, we’re all good.
They lost Klay for the season and maybe longer, so the offseason was a disaster. But if you remove that very large event, they actually did really well. I like both of their draft picks. Weisman is athletic and projects to be both a good finisher and rim protector who will not be asked to do much more while he refines an already decent shot to become a modern center. Manion was a steal. Teams worry about his D, but I don’t. He just knows how to play basketball and plays hard and I think he could end up a starting quality PG some day. He’s going to get to study at the feet of one of the best which shouldn’t hurt either.
The real key though was getting Oubre. This was likely a season saving move. He doesn’t replace Klay but he avoids the drop off to someone like Bazemore. Oubre will have games where he leads this team in scoring and keeps some of the offensive pressure off Wiggins. He is plus on both ends and like I said above, he really only lacks consistency. Now that he is in a real system with better players, he could be set for a break out. Great pick up.
Key to season
Curry and Draymond staying healthy and elite. If either of those things fail to happen, this team misses the playoffs. If it is still who they are, this team could make a run at home court.
I think this is the year we find out who Steve Kerr is. I could have coached KD, Curry and Klay to 50 wins so that doesn’t tell us much. No one could have coached them to success with who they had last year, so that doesn’t tell us much. But now we have some talent, some new guys, some youth to develop and fit in. Basically this is a coaching puzzle, but the kind a good coach thrives in and puts this team back into contender status. If they integrate the new pieces and keep Curry at MVP level, Kerr may be only a matter of years before he goes into the HOF as a coach.
What in the world is Under Armor doing? They went from the people who made good sports underwear to a serious sports wear brand and appeared to have all kinds of momentum. They have the single most marketable guy for shoes in the NBA by a mile. They signed Spieth who seemed like the next Arnold Palmer and were a whisker away from signing KD! And after all of that, there has yet to be an Under Armor shoe I would even try on in public. They all look like the bargain table in the middle of Dicks in a going out of business sale. Curry’s shoes are consistently a punchline in the sneaker world. No good lifestyle shoes. Hideous basketball shoes. As much as I ripped Adidas for wasting Harden that was a light misdemeanor compared to what UA is doing with Curry. You can’t steal one decent designer from Nike? Adidas, New Balance, Puma all have decent to great shoes and UA can’t find one for the player that every kid now wants to play like? And yet now Curry is getting his own sub brand which he probably deserves, but we still don’t have a good shoe.
I’ll say it like this. If you bust out UA off the court, it tells me you just don’t care about how you look or are about to go do some yardwork. If you’re wearing them to ball, it tells me the exact same thing. There are 50 different Nike models that are better and available. Care about your shoe game and demand better from UA. It’s just mystifying.