The 2019-20 Indiana Pacers in Review

November 12th, 2020

by Alan Lu

The Indiana Pacers’ logo.
(Photo:
Indiana Pacers/Sports Logo History)

The Pacers were expected to be a mid-tier playoff team in 2020, and they did in fact earn the 4th seed after winning 45 games this season.  They won more games than expected, as it was a shortened season due to the coronavirus, and it restarted back up in the Orlando bubble.  McMillan was given a contract extension just before the playoffs, and their starting small forward T.J. Warren played very well in the Orlando bubble, as he dropped a 53-point game in a win over Philadelphia, and he was one of the stars there, so all seemed well.

However, T.J. Warren had a tiff with Miami Heat’s superstar forward, Jimmy Butler in a January 8th game that resulted in an ejection and a loss for his team, and Indiana lost once again in the NBA restart to Miami in Warren’s final regular season game, and then Indiana had to face Miami again in the playoffs.  The prevailing thought was that Jimmy Butler was inside his head, and that he was metaphorically taking up some real estate inside Warren’s mind, and suddenly the 4th seeded Indiana Pacers became underdogs to open the playoffs against the 5th seeded Miami Heat in the 1st round of the 2020 NBA playoffs.

Then, the bottom fell out for the 2020 Indiana Pacers to close their season.  They were then swept in just four games by the Miami Heat, and head coach Nate McMillan lost his job as he was fired merely weeks after signing a contract extension, which was famously parodied by NBA Desktop.

Here’s a really fun song from NBA Desktop, “It’s Time to Start the Finals (Billy Joel Remix).” 27 seconds in, we get a recap of the Pacers’ extension and then firing of Nate McMillan.
(Source: YouTube, via NBA Desktop)

Since then, they have hired former Toronto Raptors assistant coach Nick Bjorkgren to be their head coach for the 2020-21 NBA season.

Indiana Pacers’ center, Domantas Sabonis had a very good season as he made his first All-Star team in 2020, but injuries limited his effectiveness in the Orlando bubble in the postseason.
(Photo: S
tacy Revere/Getty Images, via Yahoo Sports)

C Domantas Sabonis – A-

2020 (IND): 63 GP, 18.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 54 FG%, 25 3PT%, 72 FT%, 34.8 MPG, 20.7 PER, 7.5 WS

Domantas Sabonis had his best individual season by far with the Indiana Pacers, and he made his first All-Star team in the NBA.  He posted personal bests in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game, and he did a terrific job of scoring, rebounding, and passing the basketball.  He is a skilled big man that is kind of like a poor man’s Nikola Jokic, and Sabonis also excelled as an interior defender for the Pacers.  Unfortunately, his tremendous regular season success meant little for the playoffs.  He wasn’t able to play in the postseason due to having suffered a foot injury, and the Pacers weren’t able to get any playoff wins in 2020.  Still, he’s a very good player for them to have, and he will be one of their best players yet again next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting center for the Indiana Pacers
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon had a very good season for the Indiana Pacers, but then he ended up missing some time due to injuries in 2020.
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports, via DraftKings Nation)

G Malcolm Brogdon – B

2020 (IND): 54 GP, 16.5 PPG, 7.1 APG, 4.9 RPG, 44 FG%, 33 3PT%, 89 FT%, 30.9 MPG, 17.7 PER, 4 WS

After being the 8th member to be part of the 50-40-90 club in NBA history, Brogdon was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal by the Indiana Pacers.  Brogdon played very well for his new team, as he experienced personal bests in points, rebounds, and assists per game, and he displayed strong playmaking skills this season. 

However, his shooting percentages were generally down, and he didn’t quite defend as well as he did in 2019.  He came down with the coronavirus, but he managed to recover in time to play in the playoffs.  However, his team ended up getting swept by the Heat in the postseason.  Next season, he will likely be a solid starter for the Pacers once again in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting point guard of the Indiana Pacers
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

Indiana Pacers’ forward, T.J. Warren had a very good season in 2020, as he especially was impressive late in the regular season in the Orlando bubble. His best game was when he scored 53 points to get his team a stunning win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
(Photo:
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images, Indy Cornrows)

F T.J. Warren – 2020 season grade, B+

2020 (IND): 67 GP, 19.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 54 FG%, 40 3PT%, 82 FT%, 32.9 MPG, 18.4 PER, 6.5 WS

T.J. Warren had a solid season, and he is an athletic, combo forward that excelled at shooting and scoring the basketball. He also did a decent job of defending when he was on the court, but he will need to improve his rebounding and passing ability.  Warren played terrific basketball late in the regular season in the Orlando bubble, and he will look to build off of that, as he will likely be a starting small forward for the Pacers in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting small forward for the Indiana Pacers
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

One of the crowning achievements of Myles Turner’s basketball career was that he made the 2019 USA team, and he was selected over Miami Heat’s eventual All-Star center, Bam Adebayo to be on the team.
(Photo:
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images, via Indy Cornrows)

C Myles Turner – B-

2020 (IND): 62 GP, 12.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 46 FG%, 34 3PT%, 75 FT%, 29.5 MPG, 14.8 PER, 4.2 WS

Myles Turner is an athletic, floor spacing big man that can knock down outside shots to help his team on offense.  He’s been known to make threes to help his team on offense, and Turner is also a very good shot blocker that excels at playing interior defense to help his team protect the paint.  However, he will need to improve his rebounding, and he also needs to be more assertive on offense.  Currently, he projects to get a lot of playing time with the Pacers in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting power forward for the Indiana Pacers
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars (3 star potential)

Indiana Pacers’ veteran guard, Victor Oladipo has made one All-Star team, but injuries has derailed him recently, and he struggled to make shots efficiently for his team in 2020.
(Photo:
Ashley Landis/Pool Photo – USA Today Sports, Sportsnaut)

G Victor Oladipo – C

2020 (IND): 19 GP, 14.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 39 FG%, 32 3PT%, 81 FT%, 27.8 MPG, 11.3 PER, 0 WS

He missed most of this season due to a knee injury, but he was able to make a late return in 2020 to the Indiana Pacers.  Unfortunately, the two-time All-Star did not play nearly as well as anticipated, however, and he really struggled to make shots efficiently this season.  He also didn’t quite defend nearly as well as he has in past seasons. 

Oladipo has not been nearly as effective as his sterling 2018 campaign.  It’s uncertain if he can bounce back to play well next season, but his team is likely holding out hope that perhaps he can and will.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting shooting guard for the Indiana Pacers
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Oladipo recently came back from a knee injury.

Jeremy Lamb – B-

2020 (IND): 46 GP, 12.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 45 FG%, 34 3PT%, 84 FT%, 28.1 MPG, 14 PER, 2.7 WS

Jeremy Lamb started many games in place of Oladipo when Oladipo was out, and Lamb did an adequate job in his absence.  However, Lamb injured his knee late in February, and ended up missing the rest of the season.

Lamb is an athletic, skilled swingman that can do a little bit of everything, as he can provide some scoring punch in a complementary role, he also is a decent rebounder and passer, and he also is a solid defender.  He will need to improve his outside shot, but if he can fully recover from his knee injury, he could be a solid role player for the Pacers in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Missed considerable time due to a knee injury this year.

Justin Holiday – B

2020 (IND): 73 GP, 8.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 43 FG%, 40 3PT%, 82 FT%, 25 MPG, 12.1 PER, 4.2 WS

He is a veteran swingman that had a very good season for the Pacers in 2020.  Holiday excelled as a floor spacer for them, and he did a great job of knocking down three-point shots.  He also defended well when he was on the court, and he was very efficient in making plays this past season.  He’s not really a scorer, and he will need to improve in the other areas, but he will likely give his team solid rotation minutes in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

T.J. McConnell – B

2020 (IND): 71 GP, 6.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.7 RPG, 52 FG%, 29 3PT%, 83 FT%, 18.7 MPG, 16.5 PER, 3.3 WS

He is a pass-first point guard that can reliably run the team, and he excelled at making shots inside the arc and at defending his opponents this past season.   He also is a good rebounder for a player his size.  McConnell’s not really a shooter or a scorer, but he can make two-point shots as he has a solid mid-range game.  He’s a solid backup point guard, and he will likely be a regular in the Pacers’ rotation in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Aaron Holiday – C+

2020 (IND): 66 GP, 9.5 PPG, 3.4 APG, 41 FG%, 39 3PT%, 85 FT%, 24.5 MPG, 11.6 PER, 2.1 WS

He is a tough, gritty playmaker that can effectively run the team on offense.  Aaron Holiday excelled at knocking down threes and free throws for his team, and he also showed a solid ability to distribute the basketball and defend when he was on the court.  He will need to improve his ability to score and make two-point shots, and he will need to improve his rebounding, but Holiday likely will project to be an effective backup point guard on the Pacers’ team in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Doug McDermott – B

2020 (IND): 69 GP, 10.3 PPG, 49 FG%, 44 3PT%, 83 FT%, 19.9 MPG, 14.4 PER, 3.3 WS

He is a skilled, sharpshooting forward that excels at knocking down shots to provide floor spacing for his team on offense.  McDermott is basically a shooting specialist as he doesn’t really help in many other categories, but his ability to shoot and score efficiently makes him a pretty solid, situational-use role player in the NBA.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Goga Bitadze – C-

2020 (IND): 54 GP, 3.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 47 FG%, 19 3PT%, 73 FT%, 8.7 MPG, 12.1 PER, 0.7 WS

Goga Bitadze is a European big man that hails from the Republic of Georgia, and he was able to get some sparse playing time this season.  Bitadze excelled as a shot blocker and interior defender, but didn’t do much else well at the NBA level in 2020.  Most likely, he will compete for a backup center role, but it’s uncertain if he can get regular rotation minutes on the Pacers’ team next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)

JaKarr Sampson – C+

2020 (IND): 34 GP, 4.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 59 FG%, 13.9 MPG, 12.6 PER, 1.2 WS

After having played very well in just four games for the Chicago Bulls, JaKarr Sampson latched on to play for the Indiana Pacers.  He’s an athletic, energetic combo forward that excels as a finisher around the basket, and he also is a solid rebounder and defender.  He will need to improve his outside shot and playmaking skills, and he hasn’t played a 1000 minutes in an NBA season since the 2015-16 season.  He’s good enough to be on an NBA roster, but it’s uncertain if he’ll be able to a regular in a team’s rotation next year.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

T.J. Leaf – C-

2020 (IND): 28 GP, 3.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 42 FG%, 28 3PT%, 44 FT%, 7.9 MPG, 12.9 PER, 0.3 WS

Leaf was a 2017 first round pick drafted by the Pacers after having a surprisingly successful freshman season, as he was teammates with Lonzo Ball, the offensively skilled combo forward has not really made much of an impact in the NBA during his three-year career so far.

He excelled as a rebounder this season and was a capable defender in limited minutes, but he struggled to knock down jump shots this season, and it’s unclear if Leaf can play well in a regular rotation role in the NBA.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 star potential)

Edmond Sumner – C

2020 (IND): 31 GP, 4.9 PPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 RPG, 14.4 MPG, 10.1 PER, 0.4 WS

He’s an athletic, big point guard that can play either backcourt position when he is on the floor.  He can reliably run the team, and he is also a solid defender, but he will need to improve his shooting, scoring, and rebounding skills.  It’s uncertain if he will be able to crack the team’s rotation next year, but he is an intriguing prospect that may have the skills to do so.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 star potential)

Alize Johnson – C

2020 (IND): 17 GP, 2.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.4 APG, 41 FG%, 38 3PT%, 70 FT%, 6.9 MPG, 13.3 PER, 0.3 WS

2020 (NBA G-League): 19 GP, 20.3 PPG, 13 RPG, 4.3 APG, 52 FG%, 34 3PT%, 63 FT%, 36.7 MPG, 20.3 PER, 1.7 WS

Alize Johnson is a versatile, skilled combo forward that has played very well in the NBA G-League, but he has not gotten much playing time in the NBA.  He rebounds the ball well and he is a player that can do a little bit of everything, but he will need to make more shots consistently and improve his defense to increase his chances to get more playing time in the association next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 star potential)

Side note: Will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Brian Bowen (Two-Way) – D

2020 (IND): 6 GP, 1.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 30 FG%, 0 3PT%, 5.2 MPG, 0.1 PER, -0.1 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 29 GP, 16.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44 FG%, 34 3PT%, 88 FT%, 33.9 MPG, 15.5 PER, 2 WS

He’s an athletic, energetic swingman that was mostly a project player that signed on a two-way contract with the Indiana Pacers after having a rather pedestrian season in a tough professional league in the NBL in Australia in 2019.  This season with the Pacers, Bowen barely played in the NBA, but he did not play well in limited minutes, and it seems that he may not be nearly as ready as anticipated.  If he can crack the rotation, he could project to be a 3 and D type of role player in this league.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth swingman, fringe roster player

Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

Naz Mitrou-Long (Two-Way) – D

2020 (IND): 5 GP, 2.8 PPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 RPG, 35 FG%, 17 FT%, 9.4 MPG, 7.8 PER, 0 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 14 GP, 13.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 5.9 RPG, 37 FG%, 33 3PT%, 80 FT%, 27.3 MPG, 14.8 PER, 0.4 WS

Naz Long is a skilled combo guard that can score the basketball in a variety of ways, and he also can run the team at the point if he’s called upon to do so.  Unfortunately, he has not had much success in the NBA, and he’s struggled to get many minutes in this league, but he may have the skills to make an NBA team’s roster in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth swingman, fringe roster player

Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

Head Coach:

Nate Bjorkgren, 2020 season grade – Incomplete
2020 (TOR): N/A
Head coaching career: 0-0

Bjorkgren was Nick Nurse’s assistant coach in Toronto for the Raptors this past season, and he is a new head coach that was hired to coach the Indiana Pacers for the 2020-21 season.  After Indiana swiftly changed course and their decision on Nate McMillan by firing him weeks after giving him an extension, they hired Bjorkgren to provide a new voice for their team, where he will get to install a team-oriented system for them next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Head Coach of the Indiana Pacers
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars (3.5 stars potential)

Former head coach:
Nate McMillan – C+

2020 (IND): 45-28, 0-4 in the playoffs

Coaching career: 661-588, 17-36 in his playoff career

The Indiana Pacers did a fairly good job of winning games in the regular season, and McMillan helped his team win 45 games in 2020.  He received solid years from Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Warren, and they may have exceeded expectations, especially since they were only able to get 19 regular season games from Victor Oladipo.

However, the Pacers couldn’t muster a win in the 2020 playoffs, as they got swept by the Miami Heat, and as their management were frustrated with the results, they decided to let McMillan go, as they fired him at the end of the season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Assistant coach of the Atlanta Hawks
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

The 2019-20 Indiana Pacers’ season grade: C+

The 2019-20 Pacers were a solid defensive team throughout the regular season, and they also did a good job of making two-point shots and passing the basketball.  However, they struggled to grab rebounds, and they only rated in the middle of the pack in team three-point percentage.

The Indiana Pacers’ Projected 2020-21 NBA Rotation

Projected Starters:
C Domantas Sabonis
F Myles Turner
F T.J. Warren
G Victor Oladipo
G Malcolm Brogdon

Key Reserves:
G-F Jeremy Lamb
G-F Justin Holiday
G T.J. McConnell
G Aaron Holiday
F Doug McDermott

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
F JaKarr Sampson* (UFA)
G Edmond Sumner
C Goga Bitadze
F T.J. Leaf

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
F Alize Johnson* (RFA)
G-F Brian Bowen (Two-Way Contract)
G Naz Mitrou-Long (Two-Way Contract)
The 54th Overall Pick of the 2020 NBA Draft

Players that will be Restricted Free Agents:
Alize Johnson

Players that will be Unrestricted Free Agents:
Justin Holiday

Projected Players Cut from Next Season’s Roster:
Naz Mitrou-Long

2020 NBA Draft Picks:
#54

Projected Offseason Plan for the Pacers:

The Indiana Pacers pretty much met their expectations this past season, as they came in projected as a mid-tier playoff team, and earned the 4th seed in the East.  They were also not projected to go very far in the playoffs, and they lost in the first round to the Miami Heat.  However, they got swept in four games, which cost then-head coach Nate McMillan his job.

The Pacers have a pick late in the second round, so it’s uncertain if that pick will factor into their team.  Their team is pretty much set, and if they choose to sign their draft pick, they most likely would sign that player to a two-way contract, albeit there are only two two-way contract spots.  At this stage, they would be best served this late in the draft to pick the best player available.

Expected Regular-Season Record in 2021*: 38-34, 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.

In this scenario, the 2021 Pacers would play against the 10th seeded Atlanta Hawks in the play-in game, with the winner playing against the 2nd seeded Toronto Raptors in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs.

Expected 2021 Season Outcome: The Indiana Pacers have a solid group of players to work with, and while they don’t have any one elite player on their team, they are likely to be a mid-tier playoff team once again next season.

(* – The asterisk denotes that the expected regular season win total is adjusted for the 72 game schedule that the NBA will play for the 2020-21 season.  The initial projection for the Pacers was for them to get 43 wins in an 82-game season.  Also, the projected record does not take into account for the NBA draft or free agency, as those events have not happened yet.)

In case if you need the rubric for my player rating system of projecting NBA players for the 2020-21 season, here is the link. In addition, Basketball-Reference, RealGM, and Spotrac were vital information sites that I used to look at player and team statistics, as well as contract information.

Side note: Also, the letter grades attached to the player name was my grade for their 2019-20 season, as it is my judgment of their performance and whether or not they met or exceeded my expectations, and didn’t have much bearing on my projection of how they will perform for the 2020-21 NBA season.

Thank you for reading my grades on the 2019-20 Indiana Pacers and their season, and it also was an early forecast on what to expect for the upcoming season. There are still big events that have yet to happen, as the 2020 NBA Draft will take place on November 18th, and free agency will begin on November 20th. Thanks for reading.

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