On October 2nd, 2017 Zach Lowe crafted an article that defined the Indiana Pacers expectations coming into the season. He wrote his 2017-2018 NBA League Pass Rankings which ranks the most entertaining teams to watch this season with your NBA League Pass. The Indiana Pacers ranked dead last. Consequently, along with the departure of Paul George, this created a narrative that the Pacers are a young and poorly constructed team. And yet on opening night, the Pacers came out hot with an exciting win over the Nets. The Pacers impressed with their fast tempo-play while simultaneously executing fundamentally sound basketball. They’re proving to the world that this team can get up and down the court in a hurry and possess athletes to slam it down your throat.
To Lowe’s credit, he did step back in his rankings after that first game.
It was honestly hard to keep up. We knew Nets would run, but Pacers were flying. Gonna make the League Pass Rankings system look silly. https://t.co/cVyDRbeVmL
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) October 19, 2017
However, the point was made and nobody had any expectations for this team. And if they did have expectations, they were low. Ever since then, this Pacers squad has looked to crush those expectations. And boy have they.
A Change of Pacers Culture
On paper, this team should not be much better than last year. In fact, many would argue that this team should be worse. The loss of Paul George was expected to bring this team down to lottery or fringe playoff level.Instead, the Pacers sit rather comfortably in the playoff race at 7th place and are just a few games back from 6th and 5th. The team is winning games it should and pushing the opponents who shouldn’t, but what has changed?
Myles Turner seems to have the answer in an interview with Indiana Fox Sports:
The one thing I love about this team is we compete
I love this team!
— Myl3s Turn3r (@Original_Turner) November 28, 2017
Now, these two quotes from Turner don’t prove anything, but it appears this team has gelled in a way that the past few Pacers team haven’t. A change in culture can be the difference between a lottery team and a team on the rise. The Pacers look the part of the latter.
Culture is one thing that needed to change within the Pacers locker room, but perhaps the most important change for the Pacers this year is their new star, Victor Oladipo. Before the season started, referring to Oladipo as a start would have had you laughed right out the door. However, the season he is having is no laughing matter. Oladipo is averaging 23.1 ppg, 4 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.2 bpg, all while shooting 44% from 3. If those aren’t All-Star numbers then I don’t know what is.
Many believed the Pacers were the losers in the OKC trade, but Oladipo is proving to be a worthy star in the deal and Sabonis has been a valued backup big man. Regardless of your feelings towards Paul George, it is clear that Oladipo is a fantastic fit with the Pacers and has seemingly found a home where he can reach his true potential. Besides, Oladipo already had more than a few fans in the state of Indiana.
And unlike a certain former member of the Pacers, he is hitting game-winners:
Lance is Back!
This last point means a lot to Indy fans. It’s hard to explain the relationship Lance has with Indiana, but he loves it there and the fans love him back. Through thick and thin, Pacers fans have demanded to bring Lance home. Late last season they got their wish and he is paying off big time. Not only is he playing well, but he got his swagger back! The goofy and flashy Lance is back and it’s working!
Stephenson has come on a little later than some of the other Pacers, but he is making a big impact off the bench. Recently he put up 18 and 16 points up against the Raptors and Celtics respectively. He is averaging the tune of 8.1 ppg, 4 rpg, and 2.6 apg off the bench. He’s gelling with this team and showing off the talent that had him a borderline All-Star back in 2014.
Never change Lance, never change:
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 5, 2017
The Indiana Pacers may not be championship contenders this season, but they are incredibly “watchable” by my mark. This team is young, up-tempo, and plays with a competitive fire. What more can you want?
Go watch them, you can thank me later.