Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks begin the 72-game 2020–21 NBA season with a trip to Indiana to face off with Victor Oladipo and the Pacers.
After a fun preseason where the New York Knicks finished 3-1, it’s time to leave those emotions at the door and see how they do when the regular season tips off on Wednesday.
Although it was exciting to see the Knicks finish their preseason slate with a lopsided rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers—at one moment leading by as high as 49 points—the regular season is where it truly counts. They’re beginning their tentatively scheduled 72-game journey with the Indiana Pacers.
Last year, the Pacers compiled a 45-28 record, even with Victor Oladipo out for a majority of the time. They won two out of three games with the Knicks. On Wednesday, the Knicks’ NBA odds are set against Indiana at +270, per DraftKings sportsbook.
Despite a solid regular-season showing that extended into the bubble, Indiana disappeared in the playoffs. The fourth-seeded Pacers were swept by eventual NBA runner-up, the Miami Heat.
Tom Thibodeau won’t be the only head coach making his official debut with a new team. After a less-than-stellar showing in the postseason over the last few years, the bubble was the last straw, and the Pacers decided to fire Nate McMillan after four seasons as head coach.
They hired former Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as his replacement. It will be his first-ever NBA head coaching gig.
The preseason offered a little glimpse of what the Pacers’ new scheme looks like under Bjorkgren. Unsurprisingly, he carried a lot of the same philosophies and ideas over from Toronto. For starters, he wants to push the pace on the floor and let his players be comfortable with shooting from beyond the arc.
Last year, the Pacers were the sixth-slowest team in the NBA in regards to tempo, and they took the fewest amount of three-pointers in the league, averaging just 28.0 long-range shots per game, via NBA.com.
In the preseason, not only did we see a more uptempo style, but also a persistent green light from the perimeter. Although the Pacers were inconsistent at the three-point line over their four games, only hitting 34.1% of them, they took over 40 three-point attempts in every preseason game. For comparison, only two teams averaged 40 or more three-point shots per game last year, Houston and Dallas.
Whether that high number continues or not into the regular season remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Bjorkgren is drastically changing things on the court.
Although they were limited during the preseason due to injuries, Bjorkgren expects T.J. Warren and Myles Turner to play in Wednesday’s season opener, per the Indianapolis Star.
Warren was Indiana’s top scorer last year, scoring just under 20 points per game. He caught fire in the bubble, where he averaged 31 points per game during his time there. He’ll be a big part of the Pacers’ offense. As for Turner, his stretch big capability has been shown previously, and under Bjorkgren this should be further explored. Big men in Toronto were a key part of the Raptors’ offense, so he should be ready to see the ball more offensively while remaining a tough presence inside.
Then there’s Domantas Sabonis, who carved up the Knicks in all three meetings last season (22.7 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, 61.9% from the field). While he will remain a threat on the floor, it appears that Bjorkgren is using him in a role that’s similar to Pascal Siakam. If he’s up to the billing, this will expand his game exponentially, making him more than just another double-double, big-bodied threat inside.
In the backcourt, Malcolm Brogdon and Oladipo, as well as the Holiday brothers, Aaron and Justin, should be key cogs for the Pacers.
It’ll be interesting to see what Thibodeau’s final rotation looks like. With some guys out or resting during the last bits of the preseason, how will his rotation look on opening night? Maybe it’s still a work in progress, and it will be fine-tuned over the next few weeks, but what will he go with to start?
One thing’s for sure, it’ll be great to see how rookies look making their NBA debuts. Immanuel Quickley has been a fun preseason surprise, impressing through four games to the point where he’s challenging for a solid amount of minutes.
🗣 PG1 @IQ_GodSon 🔥
– 22 points (7-12 FG, 3-5 3PT, 5-7 FT)
– 5 assists
– 5 steals
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 19, 2020
Eighth overall pick Obi Toppin didn’t put up crazy numbers during the preseason, but he looked solid overall coming off the bench, especially in the preseason opener against Detroit and his first outing at Madison Square Garden against Cleveland. It might have been lost, but aside from his athleticism, he’s shown that he’s got great passing ability for a big man.
Then there’s R.J. Barrett—what kind of strides will he take in year two? He looked great in preseason, but without putting too much stock into his numbers and seemingly all-around improved play, will it translate over to the regular season?
Lastly, the Pacers have a formidable frontcourt. Experienced players like Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, and Nerlens Noel will have to be ready for the challenge.