Wednesday’s opening game marked the start of something new for the Indiana Pacers. For the last two offseasons, team president Larry Bird has been trying to overhaul the team to become a faster, smaller group, and now, the transformation looks complete.
Although it was an overtime affair against the Dallas Mavericks, the Pacers still scored 130 points, the most the team has scored in a game since 2010, and, more importantly, they won. Offense has clearly supplanted defense with Nate McMillan replacing Frank Vogel as head coach, and Jeff Teague replacing George Hill as the point guard and resident hometown hero. Paul George, now the team’s undisputed leader and star, is the only remaining member of Indiana’s conference finalist teams from a few seasons ago.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Indiana’s new era is George’s youngest supporting cast member, Myles Turner, who was a massive contributor to the Pacers’ 130-121 win over the Mavericks. To start his sophomore season, the 20-year-old Turner scored 30 points on 13-19 shooting, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots. It was the type of performance Indiana dreamed about when it selected him 11th overall last summer, and if it becomes typical for Turner, he could significantly alter expectations for this year’s Pacers.
Turner was probably the team’s MVP in game one, but he was just one part of an offense that functioned better overall. Obviously 130 points speaks for itself when compared to recent Indiana teams’ scoring totals, but it was refreshing to see the Pacers manage the feat with good efficiency: 50 percent shooting overall, 52 percent from three.
Teague and Monta Ellis helped set the tone in that regard. The pair had no problems coexisting in the backcourt, and each was aggressive with his opportunities. In transition, both guards pushed the ball effectively. Teague got to the line 13 times while Ellis found his shooting rhythm. Turner, meanwhile, provided them with an effective partner in the pick-and-roll:
In overtime, George began to take control of the team’s offense. He didn’t force anything, though, instead trusting Turner to take the shot in one of the game’s biggest moments:
Turner’s delivery on a clutch three-pointer gave the Pacers a four-point lead to help them seal the game in the micro. On a macro level, the development of a three-point threat from Turner could change the fundamental potency of Indiana’s offense.
The Pacers want to score more points and play a faster, smaller style that involves an uptempo game. While Indiana didn’t chuck as many threes as Dallas did, the team will need to space the floor well, and thus, shoot the ball well to garner that respect. Unfortunately, you can count the Pacers’ above-average three-point shooters on one hand: George, Teague, C.J. Miles and Aaron Brooks.
Adding Turner’s name to that list would obviously give the offense another weapon, but more significantly, that weapon would come at the center position. Turner’s outside shooting will drag opposing centers away from the rim, and if opposing coaches elect to try someone else on Turner, they would be remiss to stick a center on George, Teague, Ellis or Thad Young. Teams don’t typically have to deal with true stretch 5s, and as such, it’s a significant wrinkle.
They’ll have to deal with effects on offensive rebounding, but the Pacers will take the shooting for now. They don’t depend on the offensive glass the way they did in the Roy Hibbert days anyway. Scoring on the initial offering looks like something that will happen regularly nowadays in Indiana. While there were some second-half lulls — particularly with the bench units — the ball hummed crisply among the Pacers’ hands. Good ball movement plus a little bit of shooting — especially at the right positions — can go a long way.
Defensively, Turner looked great as well. His four blocks were obviously a plus, but his general rim protection was even more impressive. Turner diagnosed most of the Mavericks’ actions effectively and was rarely out of position. Dallas posted just an 88 offensive rating with Turner on the floor and shot 4-10 against him at the rim.
Turner had a block of Harrison Barnes that was particularly impressive, when Barnes tried to hesitate then blow past Turner on a switch, but he recovered in time to hammer Barnes’ shot against the backboard. Turner’s footwork and change of direction have come a long way since the start of his rookie year. He can actually switch a bit and looked very solid against the pick-and-roll against Dallas.
There was a lot to like about the Pacers’ opening night: George posted a 25/8/6 line on 50 percent shooting; Teague catalyzed the offense like he was supposed to; Ellis played probably his best game yet as a Pacer; Thad Young fit right in. And yet, Turner played so well that all of these events have been relegated to afterthoughts for right now.
Right now, the buzz surrounding Indiana is about Myles Turner, and rightfully so after posting a ridiculous line for a 20-year-old. He was one of the Pacers’ biggest variables coming into the season, but if Turner becomes a regular threat for this type of game, both he and this team will be bigger factors than people expected in the East.