INDIANAPOLIS – Shockingly, another NBA season is about to start.
Under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers will begin the 2020-21 season on Wednesday when they host the New York Knicks.
What are the storylines that I’ll be watching for this season?
1. Um, Victor Oladipo?
For several reasons, there’s no bigger storyline for the 2020-21 Pacers than Victor Oladipo and his future.
-Where’s he at physically?
-Will he ever show signs again of being an All-NBA talent?
-What about his looming contract situation as a 2021 free agent?
-Does he want to remain in Indiana?
-Should the Pacers move Oladipo at the trade deadline?
What seemed like a slam dunk two years ago—Oladipo being the Pacers’ guy to build around—is no longer true.
New coach Nate Bjorkgren visited Oladipo this offseason and pointed to some specific ways where he feels the former IU star can flourish in his system.
Oladipo says he has taken major strides physically from where he was at in the bubble.
There’s so many branches to this overarching storyline, with the uncertain future of Oladipo and the Pacers being the center of it all
2. Bjorkgren’s Influence
It was not the safest off-season move, but it was necessary for the Pacers to inject some new life into their organization by making a change at head coach.
First-time head coach Nate Bjorkgren was not a ‘win the press conference’ type hire. However, his plans and hopes should have fans intrigued.
Offensively, the Pacers are adamant they will play with more pace, be more modern in relying on the three-point line at a higher rate. Bjorkgren wants multiple ballhandlers initiating the offense with spacing, and off ball movement, being a key.
Defensively, Bjorkgren has said the Pacers will be a team willing to not only switch assignments within a play, but also changing defensive looks often throughout a game.
Bjorkgren is going to take more risks and a fresh perspective should be welcomed. Of course, life in the big seat brings a different amount of pressure and expectations.
3. The Two Bigs
Without making a substantial off-season move, the Pacers are likely to have the exact same personnel when it comes to their top 9 or 10 guys.
That means a returning starting five, with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
One would assume those two will stay in the starting lineup, which will be a change from Nate Bjorkgren’s time with the Raptors.
Turner’s name was rumored in several trade discussions this offseason. Will that impact him at all? Does he find more of a consistent offensive role in Bjorkgren stressing the three-point line?
Healthy from the foot injury that forced him to miss the bubble, Sabonis might be the Pacers’ most valuable player. Does the arrival of Bjorkgren change his usage? More three-point attempts? More ball-handling?
4. Needed Return On Malcolm Brogdon
This might not be a topic on the minds of tons of fans, but it is for me.
Let’s remember what the Pacers gave up for Malcolm Brogdon—trading away a first-round pick, plus paying him $21 million annually.
With that, comes expected return. And that would be an All-Star type of talent, who is available on a consistent basis.
In Year One of Brogdon, the Pacers did not get that. Brogdon certainly had flashes of being an All-Star caliber player, but the expanded usage of him in Indiana led to more inefficiency (particularly as a shooter and in handling the ball). His three-point shooting went from 42.6 percent to 32.6 percent and his turnovers per game rose from 1.4 per game to 2.4.
Health wise, Brogdon missed 26 percent of the season, which is a number that he’s hovered around too often in his NBA career.
Again, Brogdon had a lot of nice moments in running his first NBA team, but he’s held to a higher standard given what the Pacers gave up to acquire him.
5. Ascending T.J. Warren
One of the darlings from the NBA’s bubble life was T.J. Warren.
As the Pacers were dealing with injuries, it was Warren who took off and was a deserved choice for the All-Bubble team by the NBA.
Warren’s consistency and reliability in his first season with the Pacers was one of the best aspects of last year.
Projecting that forward to Year Two is an interesting debate. Assuming Warren’s plantar fasciitis doesn’t linger, there are a few questions here: How does Warren, 27, fit into a style that wants to shoot more 3s and create more spacing? Can he be the lead guy on a playoff team winning a series?
Remember, Warren is the only Pacers player who has actually played under Nate Bjorkgren before.
6. Development of Goga Bitadze
The Pacers could play an entire 72-game season this year, win a playoff series and this storyline wouldn’t matter too much.
But it does when looking at this team moving forward, and the possibility of breaking up the Myles Turner/Domantas Sabonis duo.
We all know the elephant in the room with recent Pacers draft picks.
Since 2016, the Pacers have had 9 draft picks (4 first rounders, 5 second rounders). Only 3 guys remain: Aaron Holiday, Goga Bitadze and Cassius Stanley.
They need better return on their draft picks. Period.
If Bitadze (who missed the preseason, which was another step back for him) takes strides—mainly in looking more competent on defense and continuing to build on the offensive skill—-that would give Indiana a chance to possibly move a Turner or a Sabonis and still feel good about their center depth.
Again, this is a storyline looking deeper into the upcoming decade.