It doesn’t take long to figure out why the Pacers valued Brogdon so high.
On the court, he’s a high-IQ off-ball player, especially proficient in shooting threes and finishing at the rim, as well as locking down the perimeter on the defensive end.
Off the court, however, is where Pacers fans will really fall in love with Brogdon. Nicknamed “The President,” Brogdon is a diplomatic, calming voice, whose steady stature never seems to waver.
Brogdon was Indiana’s big-ticket acquisition this summer, cashing in on a four-year, $85 million deal in free agency. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he was drafted 36th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and spent his first three seasons there.
The point guard started an organization, Hoops20, in October 2018 that recruits NBA players to help raise funds and awareness for clean-water initiatives in East Africa. Hoops20 is just a branch of a large tree of organizations helping to stop thirst in Africa. The organization partners with Waterboys, which tries to bring athletes and fans together in order to help communities in need of clean water.
Brogdon brought in fellow hoopsters Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Joe Harris, and Justin Anderson last season to help the cause. In total, the group has raised over $313,000. This year, the organization has upped its goal to $500,000.
“I’ve always had a passion for Africa, being able to travel there when I was young,” Brogdon said at Indiana’s Media Day. “After college, I got the opportunity to partner with [former NFL player] Chris Long to start my nonprofit. The NBA focused on fundraising to build clean water wells in Tanzania.”
Brogdon’s goal: to have a representative from every single NBA team involved with Hoops20.
Perhaps, through no fault of his own, the most notable thing Lamb has done in his career is be a part of the trade that landed James Harden in Houston. This speaks more to the seismic shift in talent the league felt, with a budding superstar leaving a team that had just appeared in the NBA Finals, than it does Lamb’s performance.
After a shaky tenure in Oklahoma City, Lamb found a comfortable home in Charlotte—improving upon his scoring, rebounding, and steal averages in his four years. The Hornets made the playoffs just once with Lamb on the roster, his first year there. Over time, though, Lamb built himself into the team’s second-leading scorer behind All-Star Kemba Walker.
When Victor Oladipo returns from injury, Lamb will be vying to be the spark plug off Indiana’s bench. Before then, though, he knows he has many different roles to fill.
“I feel like I have a lot of different roles—to put the ball in the basket, play defense, rebound, be a leader,” Lamb says. “Sometimes the ball’s not going in the hole, I got to play defense, get my teammates involved.”
Perhaps the best moment of Lamb’s NBA career to this point was the half-court, game-winning shot he hit in Toronto last season. With 3.1 seconds remaining, down two, Lamb collected an inbounds pass about 50 feet from the basket and heaved it up.
Lamb said he felt the odds of that shot going in were one in a “billion trillion.”
Pacers fans can’t expect 50-foot game-winners on a nightly basis from Lamb, but a solid two-way performance is a fair game-to-game floor for Lamb. With more shot creators around him than when he was in Charlotte, Lamb should have a much easier time putting the ball in the basket.
Good basketball players aren’t given away very often. When the Phoenix Suns decided they valued cap space more than TJ Warren’s production, however, they were willing to trade a pretty penny for it.
Before free agency began in June, Phoenix traded Warren along with the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft to Indiana for cash.
Since entering the league in 2014, Warren has been an efficient scorer who has ascended to average as much as 19.6 points per game (2017–18). Warren could always get to and score at the rim, but last season, he added a new wrinkle: 3-point shooting. Warren shot 42.8 percent from deep on 4.2 attempts in 43 games last season.
Last summer, Warren worked with his longtime friend and trainer Trevor West, the nephew of former Pacer David West, to improve his long-range shooting. West estimated that he put up about 42,000 shots. The shots went in last year, but he played just over half the season. Warren will have a chance to prove he can consistently knock down threes over 82 games this season.
With Bojan Bogdanovic leaving to join the Jazz in free agency, Warren will be stepping up in his place. Bogdanovic became Indiana’s go-to guy when Victor Oladipo went down last season, and Warren may have to do the same until Oladipo returns.
While their averages are similar, Bogdanovic and Warren are different players. Warren is a proficient scorer, but hasn’t proven to be a good defender or passer. He will be a sound offensive complement, and they don’t really need him to be much more than that.
Nearing 7 feet tall and 250 pounds, the 20-year-old center from the country of Georgia wasn’t supposed to fall to 18th in the 2019 NBA draft. With his good shot-blocking ability and a budding offensive game that extends out to the 3-point arc, Indiana had no other choice but to select Goga Bitadze.
Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard couldn’t believe Bitadze fell, as the team had him higher on their board.
Foreign big men have some stigma in today’s NBA. Despite success stories like Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis, failures of the past have given teams pause about drafting from overseas. But Pritchard said that Bitadze is more prepared than many American prospects.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can play next year,” Pritchard said. “The league he plays in is a league of men. That is a no-joke league. It’s better than a G League. It’s a higher level across the board than a good college team.”
Bitadze, who has been a professional hoopster since the age of 16, says there are off-court benefits to the European leagues as well.
“I got used to being by myself, to lead by myself,” Bitadze says. “You go to do it by yourself over there when you’re a pro. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”
Domantas Sabonis is the starting power forward now, but he still may have a role as a backup center. Besides that, Bitadze is Indiana’s lone backup to Myles Turner. That shows how much trust Pritchard and head coach Nate McMillan have in the young big man.
Bitadze doesn’t like to be the center of attention. He is focused so little on himself, in fact, that he forgot where he was for his 20th birthday in July before remembering that the team threw him a party.
Off the court, Bitadze is just like any other young athlete. He likes Fortnite, saying he was the best player in his country and now is on the Pacers. Goga also enjoys reading, studying up on Georgian history from many of the great writers he says the country has.
On the surface, Bitadze is a cool, calm, and collected kid just happy to be here. But when it’s time for tip-off, the Pacers hope their behemoth of a rookie can be a game-changer.
Going undrafted and sticking on an NBA roster is no easy task. Especially if you’re TJ McConnell, a 6-foot-2 guard with no discernible skills other than passing and effort (if that counts).
McConnell stuck, though. Signing with the Philadelphia 76ers after the 2015 draft, McConnell played well in Summer League and earned himself a role in the Sixers’ rotation.
Considering his utility as a high-energy, high-effort player, McConnell’s role has fluctuated throughout his time in Philly. Some nights, they needed that utility. Other nights, they needed the shooting and size other guards offered.
That will likely be the role McConnell plays in Indy as well. On nights where Aaron Holiday isn’t hitting shots, McConnell will be there to give the bench a boost. How often that is, though, is impossible to predict.
Indiana cornered the market on NBA players named “T.J.” in the offseason. They then made a run at another player market: the Holidays.
With Aaron Holiday joining the team through the 2018 draft, the Pacers were one-third of the way there. This summer, Indiana signed his oldest brother, Justin, to a one-year deal. As unlikely as it seems for Indiana to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans, the power of family is a magnetic force no one should interfere with.
Justin Holiday, who has played six seasons for six different NBA teams, will be the oldest player on his team for the first time in his career.
Being seven years older than his younger brother and teammate, Justin has never played organized basketball with Aaron before. This season, the two may get the chance. While Aaron is a lock to come off the bench, Justin will be competing for minutes.
Holiday, a career 34.9 percent 3-point shooter, has never been particularly consistent from deep, but does have his moments. With some ability to defend the perimeter, it would be surprising for Holiday to not stumble into at least a small role this season.