65 years, 33 teams.
That is how many years of NBA experience the Indiana Pacers’ nine rotation players have and the combined number of teams those guys have suited up for.
That equates to changing teams more than once every two years. To be precise, the players on the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers, who have as good of a shot as any in the competitively muddled Eastern conference, change employers, on average, every 23 months.
This roster reality is what glowed in front of many media members like a luminous Las Vegas billboard when they were doing their obligatory preseason predictions. Predictions that Myles Turner referred to Def Pen Hoops as a “gut punch” and the reason for his own prediction “retaliation” this offseason.
Turner was the one player in that locker room who had yet to experience the bitter taste of disrespect. Drafted 11th overall by the Pacers in 2015, Turner qualified for postseason play in his first two seasons and hadn’t been unceremoniously dumped by an NBA team, allowing for his career expectations to remain optimistic.
His teammates were not so lucky, as many faced the darker side of the association and had become hardened to its brutality.
Lance Stephenson wasn’t selected until the second round before becoming a contributor to the Heatles Era Indiana Pacers. Then when he left years of playoff bliss, his NBA voyage began. He was traded one year after being signed to a large contract, was traded again and then was finally waived. For 143 days, he was simply fighting just to get back on an NBA roster before signing with the Pacers last spring.
Trevor Booker has been both traded and waived this season; Bojan Bogdanovic was traded four different times in his career; Glenn Robinson III bounced between the NBA and G League (then D-League) for so long that his Basketball-Reference page may take two minutes to scroll down in a season or two.
Most Pacers players know what it feels like to have a large group of people predict a less than stellar future for them. So, when that same feeling was repackaged and given to all of them at the same time, it may have been what propelled them to where they stand today.
It certainly sent Victor Oladipo into the stratosphere. A player who most dubbed “no help” in a different uniform with Oklahoma City will now be given hardware at the end of the season and it seems his mindset simply is where it needs to be.
“My offensive skills came late,” he told Def Pen Hoops. “In order for me to play, I had to defend at a high level. I want to be a guy who’s great on both ends, not just one end. I want be one of those special players. I just try to do it every night. It’s not easy, obviously, but I’m built for it.”
This came after he not only grabbed five steals, en route to his 60th straight game with a steal, but after putting up 30 points and a career-high 12 assists. It also came after his head coach, Nate Mcmillan, called upon him to diagnose the opposing defense while in control of the offense.
“I want him to make reads,” McMillan said. “He has to make reads (in certain) situations. [The Los Angeles Clippers] were switching their [center on] to Victor and that is a matchup we will take. And when they tried to double team and he needed to get the ball out, he did.”
He has become the player he visualized he could be, the one no one thought he could, and has been one of the main reasons the Pacers sit where they do today.
A position, that Cory Joseph noted exclusively to Def Pen Hoops, has the “same” atmosphere as some of the other successful teams he has been a part of in the past.
“We had a lot of underrated players,” he said. “They did a lot for teams, but didn’t maybe get as much credit as they maybe should have, so we have a lot of players on this team (like that). I think we play with a chip on our shoulders every night.”
The outcome of sporting events is determined much more by mental and emotional differences than we likely understand. There is a reason a sports trope as strange as “chip on your shoulder” has lasted through the years. It is noticeable when a team is playing above its perceived capabilities or players are performing above theirs.
The Pacers have done that this season. Everyone had an idea of what the players on this team were and for at least one season, they were all wrong.
They’ll hope to continue this streak of proving doubters wrong in the playoffs. If they fall short, however, don’t expect them to mope around. Disrespect is what sparked their success, more would just stoke the flames.
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