It is not exactly a well-kept secret around here that I am a Pacers fan first and foremost, and even though Pace and Space is proudly a national-media sort of publication (as the Breakfast Special and most of the features pretty soundly prove), I devote a weekly “Tuesday” (or Wednesday, I know, shut up) column to my favorite team and can be found on Pacers Twitter during games. Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner are my homeboys, the folks at 8 Points 9 Seconds and Indy Cornrows my Internet friends, and I’m even Twitter pals with folks around the Indianapolis metropolitan area for reasons not strictly related to basketball.
Which is kind of odd, since I’m from Boston, lived in Reno for a decade, and now live in Seattle, my sole tie to Indiana apart from sports being a relationship I had way back in 2012 with a girl from Elkhart, but such is a long story (which I’ll tell another day) of the Celtics being terrible, me needing a team to root for in the playoffs, and Reggie Miller capturing my sports-fan heart.
Anyway, the point is, I’m an Indiana guy through and through when it comes to professional basketball, yet I’ve never really talked at length about my affinity for specific guys on the team, who my favorites are and who I wish the Pacers would trade to some dumpster fire organization just so I wouldn’t have to watch them anymore.
Without further ado:
No. 1: Myles Turner
I’ve had a complicated relationship with Turner as a fan. I first started writing about the NBA in the 2015-16 season, Myles’ rookie year, and back then I said stuff like “the Pacers should send Turner to Fort Wayne so he has a place where he can dedicate all his court time to working on his position for rebounding.”
And after Myles averaged just 6.4 rebounds a game in 2017-18, I was ready to write him off as another Roy Hibbert type; great rim protector, but with him the Pacers would never be able to control the glass against stronger centers on other teams.
Then…well, Myles Turner learned to rebound. And he evolved a level defensively to the point where he is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and I am in love once again.
Now, if he evolves into the kind of three-point shooter Brook Lopez has become in Milwaukee..wait a minute, my sources tell me Myles has done exactly that, the only difference between the two players (besides Myles being a better shooter from out there) being that Mike Budenholzer knows how to design a stretch-5 offense and Nate McMillan wouldn’t know modern basketball if you beat him over the head with it.
You da man, Myles. Please do not ever leave Indiana.
No. 2: Victor Oladipo
Earlier this season, I stanned hard for Vic as MVP, calling him OladiMVPo on Twitter pretty much every time his name came up in connection with making a clutch shot down the stretch (that dagger against the Celtics, man…)
So to rank Oladipo below Turner comes with a massive “1A and 1B” type of disclaimer. Vic is second only because I love Turner’s defensive game that much…but it’s not like Vic isn’t an All-NBA-level defender himself!
Oladipo exudes a love for the game whenever he’s on the court, and when he comes back from injury, that first game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (or whatever they end up calling it when they get a new naming-rights sponsor) is going to be epic. Someone alert TNT and ESPN; you’re gonna want to be there for that one, guys. Send Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller over.
No. 3: Domantas Sabonis
I love big, goofy, European white dudes. Doesn’t matter if it’s Boban Marjanovic, Sabonis pere et fils (yeah, I was a big Arvydas Sabonis fan way back in the day, thanks in part to Dan Patrick on ESPN), or the OG goofy Euro white dude, the chain-smoking Stojko Vrankovic on the early-90s Celtics, I’m a fan of dudes with hometowns I’d previously only encountered when playing strategy games set in World War II.
Sabonis is genuinely likable, one of those guys who’s just plain fun to watch, and he’s got little quirks in his game that help the team in ways that sometimes go unnoticed.
Like how he’s entirely aware that Tyreke Evans can’t make a layup to save his life, so when the Pacers run a play that springs Evans to the basket, Sabonis will follow him like a car tailgating an ambulance in traffic, knowing that his reward will be an easy offensive rebound and dunk, almost like a layup line in warmups, never a designed play, just “yeah guys, I know he’s gonna miss, I got this.”
It’s little shows of basketball IQ like that which make me giddy as a fan, and that’s why I love that the Pacers have their very own big, goofy Euro white dude to call their own.
No. 4: Thaddeus Young
Or should I say “Thad The Impaler”, a nickname I first gave him back in 2017 when he drained a game-winner over the Washington Wizards to give the Pacers a crucial boost during a nightmare year where they didn’t even clinch a playoff berth until the last day of the season.
Young is just like that. Whenever the Pacers need him to be somewhere to make a big play, he tends to show up and make a big play. Could be a critical dagger three in the fourth quarter, could be a defensive stop (he, Turner, and Oladipo are three-fifths of a First Team All-Defensive by themselves), could be a back cut and a dunk.
Young is the ultimate utility man and role player, and he’s the glue that holds the team together.
He’s even shown himself capable of shutting down Giannis Antetokounmpo (even though as the next Milwaukee-Indiana game showed right before the All-Star break, shooting a bear with a .22 will only make it angry; Giannis shredded the Pacers like tissue paper in that last matchup.)
Every team needs a guy like Thad, and every fan needs to appreciate a guy like Thad.
No. 5: Bojan Bogdanovic
Goofy Euro dude? Check. (Well, OK, Croatian, not Czech.)
Shoots the lights out from three? Check.
Emerged as the team’s genuine scoring threat with Oladipo injured? Check and mate.
Bojan should’ve been in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend. It was a travesty that he wasn’t. Seriously, Devin Booker, who’s barely a better three-point shooter than Charles Barkley out there? C’mon, man.
No. 6: Wesley Matthews
I’m debuting Wes in the 6 spot here because I love the potential he has to legit turn into a Lance Stephenson-type spark plug for the team’s energy. I miss having Lance in my life while I’m simultaneously glad he’s gone (as Kevin Pritchard put it, “some nights he was the best player on the other team.”)
Like, you’ve got a new girlfriend, you’re happy with her, but you still think about that old crazy chick and the wacky times you had before she, like, tried to set your house on fire because she thought you were cheating on her…
Wes is the new girlfriend. She’s still quirky and fun, but she’s a lot less crazy, like a better version of the girl you dumped.
No. 7: Aaron Holiday
I’m not as high on Holiday as some of Pacer Nation, but I recognize he’s got a ton of upside if he can get some consistent minutes to develop his game.
I’m just worried that McMillan, who is a veteran’s coach, is the worst possible situation for Holiday to find himself in when it comes to his development.
So maybe I don’t want to hang my hopes on Holiday quite yet, not as long as he’s shooting 38.2 percent from the field and 29.5 from three. That’s basically all of Russell Westbrook‘s downside and none of his upside.
No. 8: Darren Collison
I still like DC. It’s hard not to after he led the entire NBA in three-point percentage last year.
But all the same, Collison is 31, and even though his three-point shooting is still beyond solid (41.5 percent), it’s hard to trust his longevity.
The Pacers need a long-term solution at point guard, and it’s hard to see where that’s going to come from when the team is neither a high-profile free agent destination nor bad enough to simply draft a high-quality point guard for the future when they’ll be picking no better than 20th.
But DC is still anchoring that starting lineup, and I don’t feel any real sense of foreboding when he’s on the floor like I did earlier this season.
No. 9: Kyle O’Quinn
I was fully prepared to embrace the One True Beard as my favorite Pacer, but how can you really do that when he’s only played 223 minutes for the entire season?
I love O’Quinn’s nose for the rebound, I love his enthusiasm, but I can’t rank him higher than ninth when he only plays in garbage time or when Sabonis or Turner get hurt. Sorry, man. Great beard, though. Eat your heart out, James Harden.
Nos. 10-13: Davon Reed, Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson, T.J. Leaf
AKA “Every Pacer Fan’s Favorite Mad Ants.”
Can’t muster much more than a neutral opinion on these guys.
No. 14: Doug McDermott
McBuckets (or, the delightful recent nickname he’s acquired after an injury, McRibs) simply does not do enough with or without the ball to think of him as anything other than a kind of dollar-store knockoff version of Trevor Ariza.
Except Ariza actually plays defense.
McDermott’s 10.4 PER (even accompanied as it is by a .606 True Shooting%) simply doesn’t have enough upside to overcome the fact that (a) he can’t guard anyone and (b) if you’re going to live and die as a catch-and-shoot corner dweller, you need to hit more than 38.7 percent of your threes.
This is made all the more glaring by the fact that McDermott hits the corner three just fine (55 percent on the season, comprising 26.7 percent of his overall 3PA), which makes it all the more embarrassing that he can’t hit a three for beans above the break.
If you want Trevor Ariza offensively, you need to get Ariza defensively. McDermott is not that, and he’s more frustrating than fun to watch.
No. 15: Cory Joseph
Here’s another guy who is the classic example of what I don’t like an an NBA player (you’ve probably already guessed who No. 16 is, since I…well, mentioned him, but in another context way up the article here, and not in a flattering way.)
Put simply, if I’m watching you as a fan, and the shot leaves your hand headed toward the basket, and under my breath I’ve just spat out an expletive because I didn’t want you to shoot the ball and now I’m hoping for a minor miracle if it goes in…well, you see where this is going.
CoJo is a 33.6 percent three-point shooter. That’s horrific. Unlike Collison, who can shoot it whenever he wants because he’s earned the right to have fans believe in his shot, CoJo has done the opposite and turned every three he attempts into a groaner of a “really, you couldn’t have gotten a better shot on that possession?” exercise in abject frustration.
This is all the more true since he plays with Sabonis, whose shooting percentage at the rim rivals the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Every time Joseph shoots, he costs the Pacers points even if the shot goes in. Because making one means he’s more likely to shoot (and miss) five more.
It has gotten genuinely annoying to watch him. But not as annoying as…
No. 16: Tyreke Evans
Gods, what a dumpster fire.
Reke is shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three, good for an absolutely atrocious .452 eFG%.
He’s been so putrid this year that he’s putting up a negative VORP—at minus-0.2, playing any of those G-Leaguers mentioned above would, on a per-minute basis, be expected to generate better offensive chances—in 1,039 minutes.
Put simply, Evans’ rotation minutes are a massive net negative.
Why do you think Sabonis always follows him down the lane? Evans is a 48.9 percent shooter within three feet of the basket. That is massively awful. Over 38 percent of his overall FGA come from that range. If Sabonis doesn’t follow and dunk it, having a guard that deep in the paint where he can’t shoot is no better than just committing a 24-second violation, where the opponent at least has to reset to inbound the ball (dead-ball turnovers are far less costly than live ones and are even worth less on the ensuing possession than are defensive rebounds.)
I hate watching Tyreke play. Trade him, waive him, demote him, just get him off of my screen when I’m watching the game. I can’t flipping take it anymore.
So there you have it. One allegedly objective writer who is, at the end of it all, human and a fan. So at least if you’re going to accuse me of bias, you’ll have a basis on which to do it.
Did I completely honk this whole list? Is it sacrilege to put Oladipo behind Turner? Sound off on Twitter, and follow me @RealFoxD. Thanks for reading!