|Oladipo, Griffin out as Pacers open against Pistons|
Surprising overachievers each of the past two seasons, the Indiana Pacers tip off the 2019-20 season Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Detroit Pistons as contenders to win a wide-open Eastern Conference.
The loss of All-Star Paul George in the 2017 offseason elicited preseason projections of an Indiana team near the cellar in the Central division. But the emergence of swingman Victor Oladipo as an All-Star powered the Pacers to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18, a feat they duplicated last year.
Last season's run came with Oladipo sidelined for 46 games with a quadriceps injury. Despite a return to 5-on-5 practices on Oct. 18, the two-time All-Star -- who last played on Jan. 23 -- will not be available for the season opener.
"I know he's working hard to get himself back," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "I've been watching him all summer long, and I've never seen anyone attack the rehab as hard as he has."
The Pistons will also be missing a star, as the team announced Tuesday that six-time All-Star Blake Griffin will miss the start of the season due to hamstring and knee soreness. Griffin will likely miss several games, with the team saying he will be reevaluated in the first week of November.
Indiana opens with much of the young corps that kept things going down the stretch last season. The interior duo of center Myles Turner and forward Domantas Sabonis made considerable career strides in 2018-19.
Turner averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and an NBA-best 2.7 blocked shots per game. Sabonis, who just signed a contract extension on Monday, registered career highs of 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Both are just 23 years old.
The addition of steady 3-point shooting wing Malcolm Brogdon from divisional rival Milwaukee helps offset the Pacers' most noteworthy roster loss from a season ago, Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic signed with Utah in the offseason after putting up 18 points per game in Indiana.
Adding Brogdon, a career 40.8 percent 3-point shooter, promises to bolster an already-dangerous lineup from deep that ranked fifth in the NBA from behind the arc a season ago. That stands in stark contrast to opening-night opponent Detroit, which tied Oklahoma City for the worst 3-point shooting percentage among playoff teams in 2018-19.
The Pistons shot just 34.8 percent from behind the arc, with no one who attempted more than two 3s per game hitting the 40 percent threshold. Guard Luke Kennard came closest at 39.4 percent on 4.3 attempts a night.
Improved long-range shooting is crucial to Detroit building on sneaking into last year's playoffs as the No. 8 seed. One Piston who seems to have taken a proactive approach to buoying the team's outside game is center Andre Drummond, one of the premier interior players in the NBA.
Drummond led the league in rebounding a season ago at 15.6 per game, and his 17.3 points per game marked a career high.
"I'm still working on the 3-point shot, which everybody seems to not like for some reason, but who really cares?" Drummond told the Detroit Free-Press in August.
He shot just 13 percent from beyond the arc a season ago, and went without a make in four preseason games. Perhaps pulling the elite post presence out of the paint is not the best path forward for first-year coach Dwane Casey, who won the 2017-18 Coach of the Year award with the Toronto Raptors.
Regardless where it comes from, Detroit could use a more consistent long ball to help produce in the absence of Griffin and open the floor for him when he returns.
--Field Level Media