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An Indiana Pacers Q&A with Tony East

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Learning more about a potential playoff opponent...

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the Sixers heading to Indiana to face the Pacers tonight, I chatted with Tony East about one of the Sixers’ biggest competitors in the Eastern Conference.

Tony covers the Pacers for the West Indianapolis Community News in addition to his work at 8points9seconds.com and bball-index.com.

Question #1: We’re only a few weeks away from the Trade Deadline. What specific needs do the Pacers have that they could try to remedy with an acquisition of some sort?

I think a great trade for the Pacers would be swapping 2018-19 Tyreke Evans for 2017-18 Tyreke Evans. A second round pick for a time machine would also work for similar reasons.

To actually answer the question, it’s hard to start off that answer seriously because the Pacers don’t necessarily have needs at this moment in time. The guards (sans Evans) are all performing well enough in their roles, the center rotation is rock solid, and the forwards are all playing at career-best levels (or close to it).

In theory if you were dealing with robots instead of human beings, perhaps you could try to get some asset for one of the squad’s various expiring contracts, but that would worsen the team that currently has a top-5 record in the league, which seems like a less than ideal choice. If the team did make a move, it would be to add forward depth behind Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Doug McDermott. Last season, they picked up Trevor Booker on the buyout market (thanks, Sixers!) to address this issue. Maybe a trade is the remedy this year. Maybe another buyout candidate will be the move. But it’s hard to find a good match.

Question #2: Many Sixers fans think of Thaddeus Young as a likable piece of a largely unlikable period in Sixers history. And now, he’s become a staple in the rotation of what is now one of the best teams in all of basketball. How valuable is Thad to the Pacers?

I’m both the perfect guy to answer the question and the worst guy to answer this question. I’ve been on the record as saying that Thaddeus Young is the second-best player on the Pacers for two years running. Better than 16-point per game scorer Bogdanovic, better than 6th Man of the Year candidate Sabonis, better than Defensive Player of the Year candidate Turner. He’s awesome. He probably isn’t as awesome as I think he is, but who cares.

He does everything this team needs. He can guard wings inside and out, he hustles like he’s being chased by something, and he understands the angles of both offense and defense. “Glue guy” is a perfect term for him – the Pacers offense deteriorates by nearly 7 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, and their net rating more than doubles with him on versus off. He is a crucial part of the team and an overwhelmingly large reason for their success.

Question #3: If the Boston Celtics figure out some of the problems they’re dealing with right now and heat up in the second half of the season, it’s likely that we’ll see Sixers-Pacers as a playoff series. Knowing what you know now about both teams, who would you pick to win a hypothetical series between them?

That’s a hard question. When the Pacers beat the Sixers, they beat them with depth (don’t most teams, honestly?). A team with a starting lineup of Corey Joseph, Evans, McDermott, Young and Sabonis would make the playoffs in the East, and the is the Pacers’ second unit. But Joel Embiid gives Turner fits (16 FTA last time these teams played), Jimmy Butler always does damage against Indy, and Ben Simmons’ positional versatility makes him a matchup nightmare for any team.

If the Indiana starters can hang with the Philly starters in a slowed down playoff setting (the Pacers already play with a slow pace, so I’m not worried about that), then I think they can win the bench minutes by enough to win that series. At the same time, depth becomes vastly less important in the postseason, which does cater to Philly’s roster construction (especially since they will almost certainly do something to add some depth before the postseason). I think it would be a grueling seven-gamer, and could be a coin flip result. I’m sure Sixers fans are thinking the same way as Pacers fans, but avoiding the 4-5 matchup is HUGE in the East.

A really good team is going to lose in the first round, and that has franchise altering implications. That will be a really fascinating storyline down the stretch run.

Big thanks to Tony for answering our questions!