The Pacers May be the Bucks’ Greatest Threat in the East

The 2019-20 season didn’t begin well for the Pacers. They started without star Victor Oladipo, defensive anchor Myles Turner got hurt soon after, and Indiana lost its first three games -– one to the lowly Cavaliers. After a dramatic summer makeover, the Pacers were a pedestrian 7-6 three weeks into the season.

Then Indiana started winning, and winning a lot, with few noticing. But after beating the red-hot Lakers this week, the Pacers (19-9) are a game out of the No. 2 seed in the East. They’re still in sixth place because of how tightly packed the non-Bucks contenders are, keeping the Pacers further under the radar. But they have virtually the same record as the much more ballyhooed 76ers and Celtics. If the winning continues, and Oladipo makes it back from a knee injury (the timetable is unclear), the Pacers will be ignored all the way to the conference finals.

Keep an eye over your shoulders, Bucks.

In the off-season, Indiana was aggressive because several of its players hit free agency. Bojan Bogdanovic left for Utah, Thaddeus Young went to the Bulls, Tyreke Evans got a two-year ban for drug abuse, and Darren Collison retired to commit himself to his Jehovah’s Witness faith. In all, the Pacers had to replace over 60% of last season’s minutes, and they did so with a series of bold moves, all of which are starting to pay off.

The biggest move was prying Malcolm Brogdon, a 6-foot-5 sharpshooter who can play both guard spots, from Milwaukee. He joined the 40-50-90 club last season by shooting 50.5% from the field, 42.6% from three and a league-leading 92.8% from the free-throw line. The Bucks decided they’d rather have a few draft picks than Brogdon, a gritty defender whose 6-foot-11 wingspan lets him switch onto much bigger players and disrupt passes. Maybe they didn’t believe in Brogdon, who recently turned 27, but the more likely reason is that they didn’t want to pay the luxury tax this year, possibly because one of their owners bought a casino.