COBB: Indiana Pacers season preview and predictions

Derran Cobb is a third-year journalism major and writes for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

Bruce Brown gets a rebound off a deflection from Myles Turner and outlets the ball to Bennedict Mathurin. 

Mathurin lobs it up to Obi Toppin for the slam. 

“This is a new era, an official new era of Pacers basketball.” head coach Rick Carlisle described it best. 

With the 2023-24 campaign days away, here are some points of emphasis for the Indiana Pacers.

Tyrese Haliburton

The Indiana Pacers have spent the past year and a half rebuilding the roster after sending back-to-back NBA All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings for a trade package centered around a young guard in Feb. 2022. 

That young guard, Tyrese Haliburton, surged to stardom in Indy, averaging 20.7 points,10.4 assists and earning an NBA All-star nod. Haliburton is the focal point of the offense, and his presence is impactful, as the Pacers were 7-19 without him last season. 

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However, his impact goes beyond the court. His leadership and personality have positively impacted team chemistry and morale. Additionally, he loves Indianapolis as much as the city loves him. 

In July, Haliburton held his second basketball camp for Indy youth. 

"It's really important for me that I'm invested in this community moving forward," Haliburton said. "I want to pay back being able to be in this community and be in this environment."

After determining they have found their franchise player, the Pacers signed him to a five-year contract extension worth up to $260 million this summer. He’s in the 317 for the long haul. 

New additions/Young core

The summer of 2023 also saw Indiana draft forward Jarace Walker out of the University of Houston with the No. 8 pick and guard Ben Sheppard out of Belmont University at No. 26. 

The Pacers weren’t finished, as they signed free agent guard Bruce Brown to a two-year $45 million contract and traded for forward Obi Toppin from the New York Knicks. The off-season moves coupled with the return of longest-tenured Pacer Myles Turner shows the blue and gold are establishing a core.

Only Buddy Hield, T.J. McConnell, and Daniel Theis are above 30 years old. As one of the youngest teams in the NBA, with an average team age of 24.8, fans can expect this group to get out and run. 

Fast playstyle

Led by Haliburton, the Pacers debuted a new up-tempo offense last season that saw Indiana be known as one of the best in transition, averaging a league-high 27 transition points. Toppin and Brown were also among the most efficient transition scorers last season, and their additions give Haliburton more options on the break. 

However, Indiana will need to clean up some mistakes after finishing 23rd in the league with 14.9 turnovers per game in 2022. 

Defensive Enhancement

In the 2022-23 season, the Pacers finished 29th in the NBA in points allowed. It was clear that one of the goals in the offseason was to improve on the defensive end. In addition to the defensive acquisitions of Brown and Walker, Sheppard, who was a Missouri Valley Conference All-Defense team selection at Belmont, will add defensive depth to the guard position.

While the main attraction of this team is the offensive efficiency, the defense could look a lot different with the offseason additions and elite shot blocker Myles Turner anchoring the middle. 

Bennedict Mathurin

Indiana’s 2022 first round pick Bennedict Mathurin had a great rookie season. He averaged 16.7 points, second amongst all rookies, and 4.1 rebounds on 43 percent shooting. Mathurin was named to the NBA All-Rookie first team. After holding the number-two spot for nearly the entire season, he finished outside the top three in the Rookie of the Year ladder.

While Mathurin thrived on offense, he struggled on defense. He finished the season with a 121.0 defensive rating, the worst among all rookies. If Carlisle can get Mathurin to improve on that side of the ball, he will make a huge leap this season.

Last season, the Pacers finished with a 35-47 record and missed the playoffs. While it saw a slight increase, Gainbrige Fieldhouse finished 29th in the NBA in home attendance. However, this season looks to be different. 

In an Eastern Conference that is pretty locked down between Milwaukee, Boston and Miami, it is not the year for contention. Yet. 

I believe this is a playoff team and one without the play-in tournament.

I predict a four or five seed finish, with a 48-34 record, and with the weekend taking place in Indy, expect another All-Star appearance from Haliburton.

Indiana opens the season Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at Gainbridge Fieldhouse against the Washington Wizards.

Contact Derran Cobb with comments at derran.cobb@bsu.edu or on Twitter @Derran_cobb.

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