Are the Indiana Pacers Really “Without Their Best Player”?

As the NBA tips off its Christmas Day games Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers are 21-10, sixth in the Eastern Conference, just one game behind second-place Boston in the standings, all “without their best player having played one second,” as just about all of Pacers Twitter has said in some form or fashion.

Indiana owns wins over the Celtics, Lakers, and Raptors in just the last two weeks alone. Sure, they’ve been thumped by double digits by the Bucks (twice) and Clippers, but c’mon, that just means they lost to the favorites to make up the 2020 NBA Finals. Of course they’re going to get whipped by those guys.

And indeed, all of this has come without their best player, as Malcolm Brogdon has been…

…healthy. Brogdon, and his .163 WS/48 that peaked as high as .188 and was at one point tied with Nikola Jokic and Kawhi Leonard, has played in 26 of Indiana’s 31 games.

OK, so that’s not Indiana’s best player? Oh, well, maybe you mean Domantas Sabonis? He’s struggled with injury and…

…missed only two games all season, all while putting up the same .163 WS/48 as Brogdon’s put up, tied for best on the team.

So if they’re not the best…

…oh, you mean Victor Oladipo. Of course! The two-time All-Star! How could we forget him?

Well, for starters, we could forget him because he’s never had a season where he posted advanced stats as good as Brogdon’s posting this year and Sabonis is posting for the second year in a row.

Sort of, anyway. Oladipo’s .155 WS/48 in 2017-18 would only be good for third-best on this year’s team. But his VORP of 4.5, prorated down to 31 games, would be sitting at 1.7, and that would be better than Brogdon (1.0) or Sabonis (1.3) are posting this year.

The point of all this is that the Pacers are frighteningly deep once their superstar comes back from injury, and with Oladipo, Brogdon, and Sabonis all locked up to multi-year contracts, Indiana could very well contend for an NBA championship in 2021, especially if (gods forbid) Giannis Antetokounmpo gets hurt in the playoffs.

There are legitimate, advanced, genuine arguments you can make that put Victor Freaking Oladipo as only the third-best player on the Indiana Pacers. And no, I wouldn’t go that far (maybe Brogdon OR Sabonis but not both of them!), but you start to see implications here, especially once Oladipo is truly back to full strength after this coming offseason no matter how much (or even if) he plays in 2019-20.

Show me an NBA team with three legit, no-BS All-Stars—Oladipo’s gone twice and Brogdon and Sabonis both absolutely deserve the nod in the East this year—and I’ll show you a team that can make the NBA Finals. That’s how this league works.

Throw in Myles Turner (third in Defensive Box Plus-Minus last year and clearly showing that he doesn’t need the ball on offense in order to be a contributor on the team, perfect for when Oladipo’s back and Turner is the fourth option) and it’s not quite the 2008 Celtics, but that’s one more All-Star and four bona fide plus NBA starters than the Lakers have.

Let’s face it. In a world where the Milwaukee Bucks (who have four players with at least 600 minutes who are better than even Brogdon and Sabonis have been this year in terms of WS/48 and nine players getting rotation minutes who top Turner, in case you wondered why they’re 27-4) exist, the Pacers’ ceiling is the Eastern Conference Finals.

That’s true with their third-best…er, their best player not playing a minute of NBA basketball this season.

Happy Holidays (Aaron and Justin are a story for another day), Pacers fans!