The Indiana Pacers were full of surprises this season.
They won more games than expected. They proved more competitive than projected. Heck http://www.ravensauthorizedshops.com/authentic-anthony-averett-jersey , they even forced the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs into a decisive seventh game all while receiving the stamp of approval from the world’s best player.
Not bad for a team that was supposed to be sitting home and plotting draft strategy long ago.
”This was one of the most amazing seasons of my career,” forward Thaddeus Young said. ”We played for one another, not as individuals. It’s tough (being eliminated), but this is a great group of guys. We all gave our blood and sweat to the game and each other.”
And it could be just the start.
The Pacers’ future looks far brighter now than it did 12 months ago after they were swept out of the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Back then, there questions about Paul George’s future in Indiana loomed heavily over the franchise. By late June, new general manager Kevin Pritchard was forced into a difficult choice when George’s camp made his plans public: Take one more shot at winning a title with George and risk losing him in free agency or start rebuilding immediately.
Pritchard opted for a widely panned trade that netted Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
It all turned out just fine for Pritchard and the Pacers.
Oladipo emerged as the leader of this young group, earned his first All-Star trip, won the league’s steals title and eventually figured out how to deal with constant double teams, a familiar treatment for superstars.
”They obviously have the snake in Vic, unbelievable jump from last year to this year,” LeBron James said after scoring 45 points in a Game 7 victory. ”I mean, we all saw the improvement and why he is a franchise-caliber player and everybody on down http://www.broncosauthorizedshops.com/authentic-josey-jewell-jersey , they just got a well-rounded team and they definitely pushed us, pushed us to the brink.”
Sabonis, a lottery pick in 2016, became a key contributor off the bench. Point guard Darren Collison was the NBA’s most accurate 3-point shooter, and Young and Bojan Bogdanovic thrived in their roles, too.
Four of the starting five and Sabonis are already under contract for next season with Young being the lone exception. He and backup point guard Cory Joseph have player options and Pritchard likely will exercise the team option on Lance Stephenson.
If Young and Joseph opt in, the Pacers would have their top eight players back from a team that won 48 games, fell just short of finishing in the top four in the Eastern Conference and was within four points late in their final playoff game at Cleveland.
”We did an amazing job this year sticking together,” Stephenson said. ”This is one of the funnest teams I’ve been on. We left it on the floor every night, every game. Each and every one of us had a goal. Now, everyone in the world knows who we are.”
Now, they’re out to prove they can be dramatically better next season.
The key may be the continued development of Myles Turner Trent Brown Color Rush Jersey , Indiana’s 22-year-old center and one of the league’s leaders in blocks. The Pacers need him to get stronger and become a better rebounder.
At times this season, he showed just how dominant he could be.
Now, the Pacers are asking him to stay healthy, become a more consistent scorer and help Oladipo lead this team to greater successes.
”I wouldn’t trade this year or the men in that locker room for anyone. It’s been phenomenal,” Oladipo said. ”It’s the best locker room I’ve been a part of. It’s been an honor playing with those men and I look forward to growing with them in the future.”
— Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata is no longer an intriguing international prospect with unknown potential.
The native Nigerian, who learned American-style football as a college student in Canada, is entering his third NFL season as an established starter upon whom the Saints are increasingly comfortable relying to plug up rushing lanes or make quarterbacks uncomfortable when they drop back to pass.
“We certainly look at him that way,” Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said after practice on Monday evening. “He’s established himself as a starting caliber defensive lineman in our league and he’s certainly going to be a big part of what we’re trying to get accomplished this year.”
Onyemata, 25, always looked the part at 6-foot-4, 325 pounds. That’s a big reason the Saints decided it would be worthwhile to use a fourth-round draft choice on him in 2016.
But Onyemata never envisioned an NFL playing career when he went to college in western Canada. He was there to study, and took up football because he was looking for an interesting way to diversify his college experience outside the classroom. He’d played soccer growing up Clint Frazier New York Yankees Jersey , and was ready to try something new that perhaps suited his body type.
Ultimately, his academics-first approach to college — he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science — might have aided his adjustment to the NFL.
“For a guy that had played as little football as he had, there was some terminology things that he had to learn … but I wouldn’t say that was any slower than it was for maybe any other rookie that we’ve had,” Allen recalled. “So I think that’s one of the things that’s allowed him to be maybe as productive for us as he has, is that he is smart and learns really well. He’s not a repeat-mistake offender.”
Onyemata played in all 16 regular season games in 2017, starting the last six. He had 40 tackles, two sacks and one batted pass.
This past offseason, Onyemata took some time to return home in March to see family and friends in Africa, but also spent a lot of time in Baton Rouge, working with long-time defensive line coach Pete Jenkins on more nuanced aspect of his position, such as his initial movements at the snap and how to use his hands to improve leverage.
“Just having the mindset to get better and work on things you’re not good at — that has been the goal,” Onyemata said http://www.seahawksauthorizedshops.com/authentic-ed-dickson-jersey , adding that he now has a strong command of New Orleans’ defensive scheme and the terminology used to call it. “You know what they’re asking you to do and you know what they’re expecting you to do, so you just go out there and do your job.”
Saints center Max Unger was in his second season in New Orleans in 2016 and has witnessed Onyemata’s evolution as a football player up close.
“The accent’s still there,” Unger said, but quickly added, “He’s becoming, I think, the player that a lot of people thought that he was going to be and it’s impressive to see his development, especially coming down from Canada and not having a lot of football under his belt.
“It’s tough to go against, honestly,” Unger continued. “I mean, look at him. He’s a big, fast Lamar Jackson Jersey Elite , physical guy that just needs to play as much football as he can. Again, it’s a big jump to come into this league and I think that he has progressed pretty rapidly.”
Unger said Onyemata’s growth is evident in his awareness of what offenses are trying to do and how to defend it.
“You can be fast, you can be physical, but not knowing where the ball is, as a D-lineman, I guess is half the battle,” Unger said, adding the Onyemata is also better at disguising his own intentions before the snap. “All of those things, he’s showing pretty rapid improvement in.”
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