See, I Told You So About Malcolm Brogdon and the Pacers

Last week, in this weekly Indiana basketball portion of your Pace and Space program, I spoke at some length about the importance of Malcolm Brogdon to the well-being of the Indiana Pacers.

And it just so happens that I tend to decide on an angle for this column around the time the Pacers play a game on a Sunday or Monday night before this feature runs.

And this Monday, against the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers, your President and mine showed out to the tune of 21 points (despite 5-of-15 shooting, thanks to an 8-of-9 night at the line and 3-of-6 from long range, a James Harden-like demonstration of generating points something other than two at a time), nine assists, seven rebounds, and not only his own plus-2 performance, but relieving Aaron Holiday of starting duties so the natural-born second-unit leader role player could go plus-17 coming off the bench.

That’s the beautiful thing about Brogdon summarized. Not only is he a great starter in his own right, when he starts, the Pacers can use their depth in a way other than “next man up because everyone who could possibly suit up is injured tonight and someone has to play!”

Speaking of the Pacers’ bench, it always seems like Aaron plays better when his brother Justin Holiday (14 points on 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc) is on the floor with him. Justin posted a plus-11 and the brothers posted the two best individual plus-minus marks in the Pacers’ six-point win against a team they now hold a playoff tiebreaker over.

The Pacers are 10th in the league in Defensive Rating this year, but it always seems like Brogdon, despite modest individual defensive stats, is on the floor when the Pacers are playing their best when the other team has the ball.

As a teammate, in addition to letting the Holiday brothers and guys like Doug McDermott and Goga Bitadze defend the other team’s worst offensive players (Goga in particular eats up opposing benchwarmers like Boban Marjanovic has so often done with bench players in his otherwise-inimitable NBA career), Brogdon’s ability to defend the perimeter acts like a dash of MSG on the defensive plates of the likes of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

All of this was on display against Philadelphia, where Sabonis feasted on 16 rebounds, Turner added 10, and despite the slow pace proving a bit deceptive (93.7, may the gods forever bless the snail that is Nate McMillan), the Pacers still posted a pretty good for 2020 101.4 Defensive Rating on the night.

Even the electric Milwaukee Bucks, whose 101.9 Defensive Rating leads the NBA by 2.4 points per 100 possessions over the second-place Raptors and whose 93.31 Defensive Percentage (DefRtg/LgAvgDefRtg*100) puts them among the best defenses in NBA history adjusted for pace and league-wide offense, haven’t achieved over the season what the Pacers did against the Sixers.

Indiana is 25-15, on pace by winning percentage to snag 51 wins, which would be the most the franchise has put up since they made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014.

By Net Rating, they’re a bit less robust, on pace for just 49 wins, but that’s still the most since 2014—two straight years at the 48-win plateau see to that.

And oh by the way, as literally every article about the Pacers points out every time the subject of winning in April comes up, there’s that little statistical thingamajig that is Victor Oladipo being a massive upgrade on Jeremy Lamb once Oladipo is healthy.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Oladipo somehow misses the entire season with that ruptured quadriceps tendon.

This is still a Pacers team that could grab a 4 seed without him (Milwaukee, Miami, and Boston are just too good), and if they lose in the first round and that’s enough to finally convince Kevin Pritchard to fire Nate (please, Kevin, fire Nate!), the Pacers could have Brogdon, a healthy Oladipo, the rest of their starting lineup (Sabonis, Turner, and T.J. Warren) under contract…and a real NBA coach.

We are learning this season what the seeds of greatness look like thanks to one superstar in street clothes and another star in the making not only holding down the fort but helping his team actually get better despite the loss of their two-time All-Star leader from the post-Paul George resurgence.

If that game against Philly didn’t teach you a thing or two about listening to me about the President, nothing will.

Brogdon and Sabonis should be All-Stars…and the Pacers are better than even their own fans are inclined to think.