The Indiana Pacers are coming off their worst season since 1989. Finishing with a 25-57 record, Indiana chose a path they haven’t taken in decades.
By Christmas, the Pacers were in Eastern Conference no-man’s land sitting at 14-19. The frontline pairing of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner still worked on occasion, but they didn’t make a difference as a true contender. Malcolm Brogdon was supposed to be Indiana’s long-term answer as a first floor general, but he could barely stay on the field due to injuries. Speaking of injuries, Orlando Bubble superstar TJ Warren hasn’t played in a game this season due to a lingering foot injury. four games in total over two full seasons for the former Phoenix Suns wing.
Indiana’s vision for a sustainable contender just wasn’t working. Sluggish with a roster just competitive enough to squeeze into the playoffs, the Pacers finally pressed the rebuild button this holiday season. As of December 25, Indiana finished with an 11-38 record.
After trading Sabonis and Caris LeVert, Indiana is now in a long-term advantageous position, even despite not carrying the first-round pick acquired via the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Cleveland will retain its first-round pick due to the loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night as the team misses the NBA Playoffs.)
The closet is anything but bare. Sending Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings brought back a potential face of the franchise in Tyrese Haliburton. The second-year Iowa State point guard continued to flourish in a more featured role away from De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento. Haliburton averaged 17.5 points, 9.6 assists and 1.8 steals for Indiana, immediately positioning himself as a mainstay for the Pacers’ next big team.
Chris Duarte also made noise during his rookie campaign for Indiana before a nagging toe problem hampered his availability after the All-Star break. Showing the mindset of a true goalscorer, Duarte showed why he’s another key piece in the Pacers’ puzzle.
Outside of couple Haliburton and Duarte, plus the exciting upcoming unknown, the Pacers have another young prospect who is so intriguing to project.
Isaiah Jackson, the No. 22 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, has all the potential to make a massive leap to sophomore in 2022-23.
Always a raw prospect, Jackson showed tantalizing talent back and forth on various occasions throughout the Pacers’ midseason downturn. The sample size for Jackson was small — 36 total games and 15 starts — but it’s hard to ignore what the cap might look like for the former Kentucky Wildcat big man.
In Jackson’s final 18 games of the season, Indiana has glimpsed real two-way success. In just 21.6 minutes per game, Jackson averaged 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.2 blocks on an impressive 62.6 percent true shooting percentage. By stretching these minutes to thresholds by 36, the Indiana rookie was exceptional: 20.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 3.6 blocks.
The reason Jackson is such a moldable piece of clay for Indiana is because of the uncertain future that revolves around Myles Turner. After being the subject of trade rumors for several years now, which raged again in February, Turner is now entering the final year of his contract. If the Pacers decide to leave Turner this offseason, it would be the perfect time if it wasn’t at the trade deadline, as it would allow Jackson to fully blossom.
Jackson has already shown for the Pacers that he can fill Turner’s role seamlessly. Not only can Jackson run the rim and block shots above average, but the floor spacing potential is definitely there too. Also, unlike Sabonis and Turner, Jackson provides the Pacers with an athletic lob threat that hasn’t been present in the organization for years now.
Sheesh Isaiah Jackson 😳 pic.twitter.com/MxOHikwsXL
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA)
April 10, 2022
Indiana is in a great place to pick any direction for Jackson’s immediate future. Whether he’s moved into a starting role as a replacement for Turner or slows his development behind Turner one more season, Jackson’s early trajectory is so promising. Jackson checks the rim protection box emphatically, as well as the perfect near-rim pick-and-roll partner Haliburton can perform with.
Entering arguably the most important offseason in franchise history, Indiana can continue to blow everything up and reset around an exciting core of young players. Haliburton, Duarte and Jackson are locked up. The future top-seven draft pick is also cemented. Other than that, anything is possible for the Pacers’ roster building avenues.
In place for years at this point, the Pacers’ fresh start was much needed. Now is the time to see how all the new parts work together over a long period of time. As for the most interesting topics for the Pacers, Jackson’s potential jump to 2nd year could possibly change everything in Indianapolis.