For years the Indiana Pacers have been nothing but a mediocre team that was happy with a first-round playoff thumping.
Since the 2019/20 season, the Pacers have placed 9th, 13th and 11th in the Eastern Conference with many wondering if they would launch into a full-blown rebuild or commit to being mired in the middle.
However, their answer came with a trade in February last year. Whilst on the face of it, the Pacers trading away their best player in Domantas Sabonis seemed like a questionable move. However, the return they got was worth it.
Whilst Buddy Hield has turned out to be a nice role player for Indiana, it was Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento’s heir apparent that proved to be the crowning jewel in this trade.
Now, in December 2023, Indiana has just booked themselves tickets to Las Vegas to participate in the first-ever semi-final for the NBA in-season tournament by slaying the NBA title favourite Boston Celtics in the process.
The Pacers have the best offence in the NBA right now, being first in effective field goal percentage at 59.4 per cent and first in points per 100 possessions at 124.1.
Yet, they have the worst defence in the league, so their main objective is to outscore you which becomes easier when you have the assists leader in Haliburton who appears to be one of the only floor generals to emerge in this new generation of NBA players.
Haliburton is also averaging 27 points 4 rebounds and 12 assists this season, all of these stats are in the top 20 in the league. Coming from a 24-year-old, he is showing signs ofbeing not only a perennial all-star but a super star in his own right.
It’s true that a great portion of the Pacers’ success this year has come from Haliburton but there have been some great moments from other pieces in the team such as the aforementioned Hield, 2023 NBA champion Bruce Brown, New York pickup Obi Toppin and Indiana veteran Myles Turner.
Amongst the young, up-and-coming teams, Indiana looks poised to be the first cab off the rank into contention having been impressive in the in-season tournament and sitting in the sixth seed in the East, a place that seems viable for them come playoff time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic have also been fantastic, placing as the second seed in the West and third seed in the East respectively.
Both teams look poised for their first playoff berths in some time but may not be as high in the standings as they are currently given the length of the season and lack of experience on their young rosters.
Meanwhile, I can see the Pacers causing some trouble with their fast and explosive offensive production in the playoffs possibly pulling off an upset in the opening rounds.
There is a feeling around the league that a change in the hierarchy is coming, especially with the retirements of all-time great players looming on the horizon.
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It seems that the Indiana Pacers are setting the pace for a crop of new and young teams to usurp the usual playoff favourites whilst changing the dynamic of power in the NBA for years to come.