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In rare twist, Indiana Pacers are NBA free agency winners for once  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

The Indiana Pacers' long, underwhelming free agency history didn't dampen fans' hopes of a busy summer. It also didn't deter this year's free agent crop from looking at the Pacers.

Being one of the few teams with salary cap space didn't hurt, but don't discount the appeal of playing for a winner — one with a young, likable core.

Pritchard is treating the offseason like a Kroger run. He has checked off needs of bench scoring (Tyreke Evans), 3-point shooting (Doug McDermott; Evans is also capable) a bruising backup big willing to rebound/defend (Kyle O'Quinn) and a future point guard (Aaron Holiday).

All while maintaining longterm flexibility.

Oh, and did we mention key pieces Thad Young and Cory Joseph decided to pick up their options, and out-of-nowhere fire-starter Bojan Bogdanovic and starting point guard Darren Collison are back, too. 

LeBron's Map of the Stars tour has the East open for business for the first time since "OMG" was No. 1. So, excuse Pacers fans if they're a bit excited.

They're not alone.

► Yahoo! Sports' Dan Devine included the Pacers among his winners with the likes of the Lakers (LeBron), Thunder (kept Paul George) and Golden State (added Boogie Cousins). Not bad company to keep.

"After a rocky few seasons following his Rookie of the Year debut in Sacramento, Evans bounced back with a brilliant campaign in Memphis last season, stroking a career-best 39.9 percent of his 3s while also turning in a career-low turnover rate as an efficient playmaker for the Grizzlies. He could be a central-casting backup to and sometimes partner for All-Star lead guard Victor Oladipo.

"McDermott has struggled guarding either forward position in the pros and doesn’t offer much beyond shooting and floor-spacing, but he does offer that, drilling 40 percent of his 3-pointers over four NBA seasons. If Nate McMillan can find as much success in rounding out his game as he had with Bogdanovic last season, they could form a quietly quality one-two punch at the three spot.

"O’Quinn can be foul-happy on the interior and a bit too audacious trying to make plays out of the high post, but in short doses, he’s a voracious rebounder, a dynamic facilitator and a quality rim protector who should slot in well behind (and perhaps, at times, alongside) incumbent bigs Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

"As was the case last season, the Pacers will go as Oladipo goes, especially on offense. But if Turner can fulfill his promise as a stretch-five in the making, if rookie guard Aaron Holiday can earn a role in the backcourt, and if rising sophomore big man T.J. Leaf can take a step forward into the second-unit void, Indiana looks like the rare Eastern Conference team that’s just sort of pretty good everywhere. The names don’t blow your hair back, but the fits seem solid and the depth looks strong. In a remixed East, that could be enough for 50-plus wins and a nice long postseason run — not only this year, but for the next few, too."

► The Sporting News' Sean Deveney also included the Pacers among his free agency winners.

"Indiana was the No. 5 seed in the East least year, with 48 wins, and took Cleveland to seven games in the first round — same as Boston, and three more than the Raptors. They haven’t made headline-grabbing signings, but they addressed weaknesses by signing shooter Doug McDermott and wing Tyreke Evans, plus adding point-guard depth with Aaron Holiday in the draft.

"They did all this while maintaining flexibility in the short and long terms, making for a nice Pacers summer so far."

► Bleacher Report's Dan Favale was also impressed by the Pacers' offseason so far.

"Noticeably upgrading the roster without jeopardizing future flexibility is difficult. The after-LeBron Lakers are proof.

"The Indiana Pacers have done a better job on the margins. Granted, they didn't land a GOAT candidate. And they don't have to plan around Luol Deng's salary dreck. But they picked up Doug McDermott at a tidy price (three years, $22 million) and are paying Tyreke Evans above-market money ($12 million) to re-enter free agency next summer.

"Signing both will make a difference. So too will Kyle O'Quinn. The Pacers offense lazed through a post-All-Star slump, placing 23rd in points scored per 100 possessions — a far cry from their top-six showing over the first leg of the season and the symptom of a larger problem: shot selection.

"Indiana leaned on long mid-rangers more than any other team, according to Cleaning the Glass. Even with half the rotation lighting it up from awkward distances, that distribution is untenable when trying to crack the upper echelon of efficiency. Last year's Minnesota Timberwolves were the exception, and they're due to rediscover solid ground next season.

"Increasing 3-point attempts helps neutralize that potential variance. But you need the requisite shooters. The Pacers didn't have high-volume snipers before now. Bojan Bogdanovic and Victor Oladipo were the only players who averaged more than five deep-ball looks per 36 minutes.

"Evans and McDermott marry quantity to efficiency. McDermott canned 42.6 percent of his treys on modest volume last season, and Evans connected on 39.9 percent of his outside shots while attempting more than six per 36 minutes.

"He will be particularly crucial to the Pacers climbing the Eastern Conference totem pole. They have secondary ball-handlers in Darren Collison and Cory Joseph, but he is something more.

"Evans bent defenses as the de facto primary with Memphis, excelling more so as a central focus than an insurance policy. Curry, Durant and Kyrie Irving were the only other players to average at least 19 points and five assists per game while shooting 39 percent or better from beyond the arc.

"To gain so much value while maintaining access to around $50 million in space next summer, even after accounting for Myles Turner's restricted free-agency hold, is absurd. In doing so, the Pacers have struck the most delicate balance of all — especially for an overachiever like themselves. They've done a lot without doing too much."

► SI.com's Rob Mahoney graded the Pacers' signing of Tyreke Evans a B.

"In Evans, Indiana adds just the sort of secondary ball-handler it needs to take a step forward. Darren Collison and Cory Joseph can help a team maintain order. Evans shakes things loose. His offense is aggressive and unpredictable enough to throw opponents off-balance, particularly now that he's knocking down threes and long twos with regularity. If a fit is made, the Pacers can look into bringing Evans back next summer, when they'll be able to remake the majority of their roster around Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis. If not, there's no harm done beyond this season and a smart try."

► Rohan Nadkarni of SI.com's The Crossover graded the Doug McDermott signing a C+.

"The Pacers seemingly pivoted to McDermott once Will Barton committed to Denver. The player the Pacers signed is not your older brother’s Doug McDermott, however. The same guy who was a defensive liability for the Thunder and Bulls was actually a slight positive on that end for the Knicks and Mavs last season. Both of those teams had a better defensive rating with McDermott on the court, though it’s not quite time to call him a 3-and-D specialist. This isn’t a home-run signing for Indiana. The Pacers could still use more athleticism on the wing, and particularly after letting go of Lance Stephenson, Indy needs a secondary ball-handler to relieve pressure on Victor Oladipo. McBuckets should slide in nicely next to Oladipo in some lineups, providing good spacing alongside Bojan Bogdanovic. But those groups could eventually have a tough time defending consistently. Ultimately, McDermott won’t move the needle significantly in Indy, but his contract is manageable and the Pacers still have some cap space to play with."

► ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton was particularly impressed with the O'Quinn pickup.

"Long a standout by advanced metrics, O'Quinn has had a tougher time winning the trust of coaches because of his occasional tendency to try to do too much and unwillingness to serve as a dive man in the pick-and-roll. Last season's 18 minutes per game with the New York Knicks were a career high for O'Quinn.

"That's all Indiana should need from him, what with Myles Turner as the starter at center and Domantas Sabonis capable of playing both frontcourt spots. I tend to prefer Sabonis as a 5. Analysis of lineup data from NBA Advanced Stats shows the Pacers outscored opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions in the nearly 1,500 minutes Sabonis played at center last season, as compared to a minus-1.5 net rating in his 345 minutes at power forward.

"That said, Indiana was unlikely to find a power forward as effective as O'Quinn with the room midlevel, and an O'Quinn-Sabonis frontcourt should be more versatile and effective than Sabonis' pairing with Al Jefferson.

"With the Pacers' roster largely complete — they'll have 14 players under contract with O'Quinn, though Alex Poythress' salary is non-guaranteed at this point and Ike Anigbogu's only partially guaranteed -— they seem to have improved on the roster that pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the opening round.

"Complacency was the potential danger of Indiana's unexpected success last season, and give the Pacers credit for avoiding that. They've also maintained flexibility for the summer of 2019, when they could create nearly $60 million in cap space but also have the opportunity to stay over the cap and re-sign these players if they perform well."

 

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