Like the Orlando Magic, who is No. 22 in my NBA offseason power rankings, the Indiana Pacers are an up-and-coming team looking to end a postseason drought this year. The Pacers went 35-47 last season, a ten-game improvement over the prior campaign. Indiana has missed out on the playoffs in each of the previous three years.
2023-24 NBA Power Rankings Offseason Edition: No. 21 Indiana Pacers
While Indiana is No. 21 in my power rankings, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic. Last year, the Pacers were a high-octane team offensively that liked to play fast and force turnovers on the defensive end. Indiana was also one of the league’s better three-point shooting teams due to how they moved the ball. The Pacers were decent on the offensive glass. But their biggest problem was on the defensive end, as they didn’t guard anyone or rebound the ball
2023 NBA All-Star Tyrese Haliburton, who is coming off a career year despite missing 26 games, is the catalyst for the Pacers. His continued development and the expected improvement of second-year players Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard are essential for the team’s growth. Buddy Hield and Myles Turner are solid veteran players.
Indiana also had a successful offseason, prying away Bruce Brown from the NBA champions Denver Nuggets and trading for Jarace Walker on draft day. Those seven players, along with T.J. McConnell, Isaiah Jackson, Obi Toppin, Jalen Smith, and Aaron Nesmith, give the Pacers a solid 12-man rotation.
Indiana Pacers Summer League
Indiana went 2-3 in Las Vegas this summer. However, the Pacers got a lot out of it. Mathurin, who was selected to participate in the 2023 NBA Rising Stars game, continued to show his incredible scoring ability. However, he still needs to improve his efficiency and ball handling. Like Mathurin, Nembhart also had a solid two-game summer session. But Nembhart, who also played in the Rising Stars game, did shoot the ball better than Mathurin. He did struggle from deep and with turnovers. Jackson really thrived in his two Vegas appearances, averaging a double-double with 17 points and 12.5 rebounds. Jackson also blocked 1.5 shots a game while shooting nearly 70% from the field.
Meanwhile, the Pacers’ two first-rounders struggled a bit. Walker scored double-figures in three of his four games and grabbed double-digit rebounds once. But efficiency, ball-handling, and fouls were an issue. Ben Sheppard shot it well from deep, connecting on 2.4 threes at a 38.7% clip, and scored in double-figures three times. However, he struggled slightly with ball handling, efficiency, and defense.
Best Offseason Decision: Signing Bruce Brown
Indiana was able to steal Brown away from the Nuggets by offering him an extraordinary amount of money. Brown, who had said he wanted to stay with the Nuggets, signed a two-year, $45 million contract with the Pacers. The 26-year-old forward made $6.6 million last season. While Brown’s deal may seem like an incredible increase, the contract is team friendly. Next year is a team option.
Brown is an elite defender who can play all three backcourt spots. He is coming off arguably his best season yet, as he set a career-high with 11.5 points and 1.1 threes per game. He added 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 steals while compiling a shooting slash line of 48/36/76. Brown also produced three double-doubles and his first triple-double. The biggest question is whether Brown will start or come off the bench for the Pacers. He has shown the ability to do both but has been more effective as a starter throughout his career.
Worst Offseason Decision: Drafting Ben Sheppard
While I don’t believe Indiana made a wrong decision, reaching for Sheppard at No. 26 in the first round is their worst move. Out of Belmont University, Sheppard was projected as an early-to-mid second-round choice. However, as demonstrated during summer league action, the 22-year-old guard can shoot the lights out. He is athletic and has shown some defensive acumen, with the most significant question being his ball-handling capabilities and consistency.
What’s Next? Figure Out Rotation
Indiana’s roster appears to be set with their 15-man squad and all three two-way spots filled. The Pacers could add three players on training camp deals. But coach Rick Carlisle’s biggest task will be to figure out the Pacers’ rotation.
Haliburton, Turner, and Hield are locked in as starters. That leaves Nembhart, Brown, Mathurin, Smith, and Nesmith as candidates for the other two spots. Last season, the Pacers were 12-11 when Nesmith and Nembhart started with Haliburton, Turner, and Hield. They were 6-5 in games where Smith replaced Nesmith in the starting lineup and 4-3 when Nesmith and Smith started with the other three players.
If they don’t start, Brown and Mathurin figure to be the first two players off the bench. Jackson, Toppin, and McConnell would battle for the ninth and tenth spots. It is conceivable that the Pacers would trade McConnell with Brown being able to play the point or one of their frontcourt reserves before opening night. McConnell has drawn interest from at least the Phoenix Suns earlier in the summer.