The Indiana Pacers are .500 once again after defeating the Toronto Raptors by a final score of 118-104 after out-scoring them by 29 points after trailing by 15 points in opening minute of the third quarter through the end of the game.
If you missed part 1 of this palindrome-inspired column, you can find it here.
#3 Jalen Smith’s Roller Coaster start to the season
Jalen Smith’s season averages look decent for a guy playing about 24 minutes per game: 11 points and 7.6 rebounds.
But in his 12 games so far, Stix hasn’t scored 11 points in any individual game. He really hasn’t even been all that close to 11 in any single game. He’s scored 15 or more points seven times and 8 points or below five times. Just once this season has Smith scored closer than 4 points above or below his season average when he scored 8 points in the win against the Nets. It’s been quite the roller coaster of an early season for Smith.
Parts of this roller coaster can be explained by matchups where Smith played much less than normal like against the Heat or the game he got injured against the Spurs but he’s also played less in games that he simply didn’t play all that well in as even within the same game he can either feel like the best player on the floor or the worst. His sweet spot with minutes has been between 20 and 29. In seven games in that range at 26.4 minutes per game, he’s averaging 14.4 points, 8.9 rebounds while shooting above his season averages.
A further look at his numbers compared to his 22-game stretch with the team last season show that his shooting numbers early this year have suffered a major drop off. While his shooting form continues to look solid, his 3-point percentage has dropped from 37.3% to 32.7%. The bigger drop offs, however, has come from his 2-point percentage which has gone from 63.1% to 53.1% and his FT% is also down nearly 10% to 66.7%.
The strangest splits for him this season are his averages on the 3 games he’s played on a Friday–5.7 points, 3.3 rebounds–compared to Saturday’s 3 games so far–14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds.
As far as the eye test goes for Smith, he’s struggled with attacking closeouts and can often dribble himself into trouble and a charge. He’s only averaging 1.6 turnovers per game but that’s double his 0.8 average from last season. He’s got some nice chemistry with Myles Turner with the high, low passing game and they’ve been an overall positive for the team when they’ve shared the floor (7.6 net rating in 119 minutes together). Smith is a huge reason that the Pacers have been as good of a rebounding team this year as they have been.
It’s still a small sample size for Smith’s entire time with the Pacers, just 34 games, and it continues to be wild that the Suns gave up on after essentially one season when they declined his third-year option after taking him 10th overall. The fact that the Pacers got him along with a 2nd-round pick for Torrey Craig remains a fantastic deal but he’s got plenty left to prove.
In this game, Stix was on the upswing of his bounce and forth ride with 16 points and making 3 of 7 from deep in 25 minutes.
#4 Myles Turner’s on his way to earning himself a bag
Speaking of the Suns, have you compared Deandre Ayton’s statistics to Myles Turner’s this season?
Part of this could just be that Ayton really didn’t want to stay in Phoenix and perhaps isn’t at his best right now because of that. He certainly didn’t sound excited in his first talks with the media after the Suns had matched. And while Turner is playing with the NBA’s assist leader in Tyrese Haliburton, Ayton’s still got Chris Paul. The real question about these numbers is how does that impact any contract extension talks between Turner and the Pacers whether now or next summer if he’s not dealt before then.
The Pacers offered Ayton a max contract worth $33.4 million on average per season and Turner is now outplaying Ayton so far this year especially when you factor in his defense. You could certainly see Turner telling the Pacers if you were willing to pay Ayton that, that’s what I want. Obviously, the Pacers had to pay a premium to attempt to snare the Suns big man away from Phoenix and they were betting on further improvement from the former number one pick but I could see where Turner was coming from IF that ends up what being he and his agent’s approach to any talks with the organization.
Of course, I am not saying that Turner’s definitely going to demand that much money per year in free agency (latest rumors had the Texas center looking for at least $20 million per year) and it doesn’t seem like either side is in any particular rush to try and get an extension signed anyway with Turner likely excited to enter unrestricted free agency for the first time and Kevin Pritchard saying before the season that Myles “will be a free agent” which seemed to not leave much room for possibility of negotiating an extension during the year or that it could mean the two sides were too far apart to consider it an option.
This game featured the third straight double double for Turner with 19 points and 10 rebounds. It was another game where he earned numerous trips to the free throw line and made 7 for 8. He had an impressive drive where he held the ball up high like the Statue of Liberty and scooped it in. He and also continued the best 3-point shooting splits in wins and losses in NBA history. After going 2 for 3 on threes, Turner is now shooting 62.5% from deep (10 of 16) in four wins. In three losses, Turner is 0 for 11. So if you want to know if the Pacers are going to win, just pay attention to Turner’s 3-point attempts.
The most interesting development for Turner as the solo center for the first time since the Turbonis era started is how often he’s getting to the foul line. He’s averaging 6.6 attempts per game this season which is a career high by a mile. Previously, the best he had ever done was 3.7 attempts per game in his second season. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage all while playing 28 minutes per game. It’s only 7 games and Turner has a long way to go to prove he can do this consistently but he’s going to be given a very large bag this summer if he can keep this up and stay healthy.
- Oshae Brissett may have finally broken into the rotation permanently while being a huge part of the team’s fourth quarter run. He scored all 8 of his points in the fourth quarter including a pass that looked like a receiver getting just behind the safety on a post route from TJ McConnell and a dunk on the receiving end of a Haliburton alley oop. He’s struggled with converting his opportunities early this year, making only 1 of his 10 3-pointers but he’s a career 35.3% shooter and those are bound to start dropping more often once he’s able to find a rhythm with consistent playing time. He does enough good things elsewhere that you have to find some time for him on the court and once again the Pacers have no other options with wings that are his size.
- Isaiah Jackson is a human pogo stick. A name once reserved for one of my favorite what ifs in Jonathan Bender, Jackson’s quick twitch leaping is insanely impressive. He went 5 for 5 in this game, threw down yet another lob with ferocity, shot up for a slam after picking up a loose ball in the paint that felt like he had no chance at exploding towards the basket as quickly as he did. I continue to wonder if the Pacers believe he can play more than 18-24 minutes per game or if they think he’s better served in that limited energy big type of role. Even with Turner was out, Jackson’s minutes rarely went very high and he continues to play very little alongside Turner in what would be a very interesting developmental opportunity even if the pairing isn’t in the cards for the long term.
- Pacers win with shooting. The Pacers dominated the Raptors from the 3-point line, outscoring them by 36 on attempts from long range. The Pacers shot 44.2% (19 of 43) while the Raptors made just 20% (7 of 35). It was exactly the strategy that Assistant Coach Jenny Boucek mentioned on the broadcast after the first half that the Pacers wanted to employ: make them shoot more jump shots. Toronto built its lead on the back of bully drives and free throws but went 3 for 23 in the second half from deep.
- O.G. Anunoby continues to be a Pacers killer. This time with 26 points and elite defense with 2 blocks and 1 steal that felt like way more. I’m convinced the OG stands for original ghost because he’s been haunting Indiana since they took TJ Leaf over him in the draft all those years ago.
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