All posts by Joe Betz

Assistant Professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College. @Joe_Betz_

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #6: Even a Loss Brings Hope

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. This week, I wanted to think about losing.

First, let me add a note right away: this short column will not be a paean to the (dubious) benefits of tanking that you might find in a certain article not to be named regarding the Pacers.  Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #6: Even a Loss Brings Hope

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A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #5: Chemistry is Cooking

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of big (like, HUGE) wins, I thought it best to focus on something that is all too rare in the NBA: noticeable chemistry.

Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #5: Chemistry is Cooking

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #4: The Value of Bojan Threepointovic

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of lost big leads, we need some positivity.  Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #4: The Value of Bojan Threepointovic

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #3: Captain Thaddeus

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of lost big leads, we need some positivity.  Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #3: Captain Thaddeus

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Postivity #2: Darren Collison is new and improved

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. This week’s topic: Darren Collison.  Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Postivity #2: Darren Collison is new and improved

iPacers Discuss: Grading Every Off-Season Transaction

The Indiana Pacers have been in a major state of transition since Paul George declared his intentions to depart the franchise. So how has Kevin Pritchard fared with his moves this off-season? 

The iPacers team offers their thoughts on each of the moves here.

The Draft: TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Edmond Sumner

Joe Betz: B

Drafting T.J. Leaf in the first round was a safe pick. It wasn’t exciting, but as the Pacers front court depth dwindles after releasing Rakeem Christmas and Lavoy Allen into free agency, and with Al Jefferson likely waived at the end of this upcoming season with the last year of his contract only partially guaranteed. Leaf as a skilled big man with developing range is solid. Passing on John Collins and Caleb Swanigan might come back to haunt Indiana, though…(same with O.G. Anunody). No pressure, T.J.!

Adding Ike Anigbogu and Edmond Sumner in the second round elevates this draft grade from a C to a B for me.  Both Anigbogu and Sumner were pegged as first round talents going into last season, with Ike even picked to go to the Pacers in the first round by a few mocks leading up to the draft. Sumner’s ACL injury pushed him out of first round discussions almost immediately, whereas many were surprised that Ike slid as far as he did because of his knee ailments.

Anigbogu and Sumner have potential to be steals with starting-caliber talent, and Leaf could become a contributing member off the bench as early as mid-season, though it’s likely he will not play much until 2018-2019.

Ross Blauvelt: B+

Tough to give it a grade now. I’m more the wait and see in 2-3 years how they develop. But off the cuff. B+ for the Pacers. Tough drafting at 18. No real game changers so you have to go for upside. Leaf at 6’10” is a floor stretcher and will play multiple positions. Young and skinny, and maybe not the guy most wanted but his Summer League play intrigued. I expect him to get some solid minutes this year as the 9th or 10th man in the rotation. Maybe an Austin Croshere type? Anigbogu and Sumner are fantastic 2nd round picks. Players with potential if they can stay healthy. That’s what a second-round pick is for. Sumner is the future at PG 6’6″ and athletic. Anigbogu is a beast already defensively, just wait if he develops an offensive game.

Derek Kramer: B-

I don’t love the TJ Leaf pick. Though he showed he has an array of offensive skills in the Summer League, he’s got a long way to go on the defensive end. Unless Thaddeus Young is traded, it’s hard to see Leaf finding many minutes on the court this season as McMillan is unlikely to trust a rookie with no defensive skills (i.e. Georges Niang last season). In the end if he can stretch his range out past the NBA 3-point line, the Pacers found an Austin Croshere-clone at 18 and that’s not bad for where they were picking.

Anigbogu and Sumner are perfect low-risk, high-reward picks for the second round and that raises the draft grade for me. Getting Sumner on a 2-way contract that allows the Pacers to keep his rights while he heals and then plays for the Mad Ants but not take up a NBA roster spot makes it even better. Anigbogu is worth the risk as he could potentially be the Pacers needed enforcer down the line.

Paul George traded for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis

Derek Kramer: C

Paul George and his agent did all they could to torpedo his trade value and this grade would be higher if Pritchard showed the patience that he was preaching after draft night. Ultimately the deal is fine as the Pacers get two contributors that should be starters either immediately or in the near future, but there’s simply no way OKC doesn’t still have this deal on the table a few days later once Gordon Hayward had decided where he was playing. Maybe Ainge still doesn’t make a good enough offer but better to at least hear it out. No draft picks, not even a second-round selection doesn’t help either.

Joe Betz: B-

Paul George, through his agent, deliberately tanked his trade value to make the Lakers offer more appealing. That factor has to be considered when evaluating this trade.

Returning two starters, each lottery picks beginning to enter their prime or several years from their prime, is a solid return for Indiana. Victor Oladipo will begin to enter his prime through his current contract, and Domantas Sabonis started 66 games as a rookie for a playoff team in the West. Both can play and both have room to become better. No trade was going to return a player of Paul George’s caliber—this trade swung for talent and upside, and I think it connected.

This would be higher if the Pacers were able to also return a draft pick, which would at least give the Pacers another asset. Who knows what offers were truly on the table, and who knows if the Pacers might have been able to squeeze out a better deal if they had waited? We can only really judge what the Pacers returned within the context of PG’s desire to be traded—specifically his desire to be traded to LA.

Ross Blauvelt: A-

All those rumors were just that. Rumors. His value was torpedoed by the LA rumors since everyone knew he had to be moved. To get back two former lottery picks. One just a second-year guy who Pritchard sees as a future “Davis” brother enforcer type and the other an athletic SG who most of Indiana already knew. Just like Pritchard said, young, energetic and trending toward upside and surprise type players. You weren’t getting a PG-type player back in the trade and draft picks are even more of a hit or miss thing. This year’s draft felt like everyone in the top 10 were can’t miss prospects but that’s not always the case. A known commodity player is sometimes better than an unknown draft pick. A surprise trade for sure but after it sank in, I’m happy with it. Oh, and bonus keeping PG out west. That OKC vs IND game will be very interesting.

Darren Collison signs 2-year, $20-million deal (Partially guaranteed second season)

Joe Betz: C-

DC’s return shows the Pacers have engaged in a holding pattern in order to find a long-term point guard. His contract allows the Pacers to move away from Collison easily next season, so that is terrific, but Collison’s recent off-court issues cloud my perception of his value in this trade. He is a middle-of-the-pack starting point guard who will not win you many games, but he also won’t lose you many.

Ross Blauvelt: D+

Not sure the thought here. Collison has already be on the team in the past, has off court issues, then with the Joseph signing…. i guess it shores up that position but wouldn’t it be just as good to let Joe Young finally have a crack at the lineup?

Derek Kramer: C

I’m surprised to be the highest grade here. Collison is fine as the placeholder point guard until Cory Joseph or another future becomes the future starter next year, but signing a guy that has pleaded guilty of domestic violence is interesting after waiving Monta Ellis for smoking weed. I’d rather the Pacers have taken a chance on a young point guard like Tyler Ennis or Pierre Jackson, but Collison will be fine for the year or two that he’s here and his deal keeps future cap space open. He shoots much better than last time he was here which will be helpful for the starting unit’s spacing. 

Bojan Bogdanovic signs 2-year, $21-million deal (Partial guarantee on second season)

Joe Betz: C+

I like Bojan’s game, but his impact on the floor diminishes greatly if his shot cools. He struggles to defend more athletic wings and bang with more physical fours, so positionally, he is almost always targeted on defense. In some ways, he reminds me of Al Jefferson regarding his potential impact on a game: if he is on, he will sustain your lead or build it, but if he is off, he becomes catastrophically bad. This was the second “holding pattern” signing of the summer. The Pacers will seek long-term point guard and wing options moving forward…you know, just the two positions on the court that make or break your ability to win in the modern NBA.

Derek Kramer: B

Another veteran signing that likely won’t be here long, another fine addition to the team. My only issue with it is if he takes away minutes that should be going to Glenn Robinson III after McMillan said the starting job was Bojan’s to start off when training camp begins. Hopefully this was just a way to motivate GR3. Bogdanovic can shoot and will add spacing. I’d like this move more if he would play small ball four more often than it seems this roster will allow. If not for the CJ sign-and-trade, I’d rather the Pacers have kept Miles instead, but Bojan’s deal is short and very small guarantee on the second season will allow the Pacers to move on if they choose to after just one season.

Ross Blauvelt: B

Losing a shooter in CJ you need a new shooter with this bunch. Bojan is that albeit weaker all around compared to CJ Miles. Only other issue I see is it may take minutes away from Glenn and I really want him to have his shot this year.

CJ Miles sign-and-trade for Cory Joseph 

Joe Betz: A

This is potentially the best move of the Pacers off-season so far. Joseph provides a potential long-term option at point guard whose skillset compliments both Turner and Oladipo. He can defend his position, and though he is not a great shooter, teams do have to respect his ability to score. It will be interesting to note if the Pacers like what they see and then bite by offering a multi-year deal, as Joseph does have a player option for the 2018-2019 season. Is Joseph more of a “system” player whose skillset is improved by excellent coaching, or is he talented enough to thrive in multiple environments and roles?

Going into next year, I want Glenn Robinson to earn starting minutes. Is he a starter in this league? Let’s find out. Come on, Nate!

Ross Blauvelt: A

Love this. Would love to still have CJ though too. But seems the Pacers and he were going in different directions. Plus sending him to a winning opportunity is nice for him. Now Joseph, a perennial backup, gives the PG position some stability and possible starter. Definite improvement in the backup PG minutes if that is where he goes.

Derek Kramer: A-

Getting Joseph for CJ Miles is a great deal for the Pacers as they didn’t seem interested in bringing him back. Only an A- because it ends the dream of Lance Stephenson playing point guard.

Bonus Round: Waiving Monta Ellis

Grade: A+ from Everybody

Is Victor Oladipo’s contract really that bad? 

After seeing reports/tweets almost daily from outlets like The Ringer, and even some subtle pokes from those at Indy Cornrows, I wanted to dive into the current contract miasma for NBA talent and see where Oladipo finds himself.  

Why do writers flaunt Oladipo’s $84 million price tag or use “20% of the cap” for next season like it’s a bad thing rather than place his contract in context? Did OKC really give him that terrible of a contract extension? Is it really that bad?

No, it’s not. Really. And when Oladipo is at the crest of his prime, it might even look good instead of just fine. Oladipo will make $21 million next season. And the season after that, he will make $21 million. After that, another $21 million.  Finally, he will play in one more $21 million year, collecting his last paycheck with this current contract near his 29th birthday.

There are three main reasons this contract is fine (not good, not bad), and two relate to simple math.

  1. Paying the person you believe will be the number one or number two option most plays places Oladipo in the same pay range as guys like Lamarcus Aldridge ($21.5 mil), Harrison Barnes ($23.1 mil), Dwight Howard ($23.5), Brook Lopez ($22.6), and Nicolas Batum ($22.4 mil). An obvious superior player in Paul George would have made only $19.3 million for the Pacers next season, so the $21 million to Oladipo stings a little, until you remember that George will earn the max in 2018-19 (30% of the cap, or roughly $30 million, for a player with his experience).
  2. The salary cap historically goes up. This means the Oladipo contract over time continues to look better. In 2017-18, the salary cap will be at $99 million, an increase of about five million dollars from the previous season. This raise was smaller than expected, with earlier projections closer to $103 million, but it did rise, and it’s projected to continue to rise in the next few seasons. Though there will not be a dramatic $24 million raise coming like we saw entering last season, a conservative raise from 99 million to 102 million is projected for the 2018-2019 season. For 2019-2020, we can expect a similarly small bump–the cap is not expected to stall completely, like it did from 2010 to 2012. So that 20% of the cap that Oladipo takes up will get smaller as time goes on.
  3. Victor Oladipo is entering his prime. He should improve with his increased opportunity in Indiana, and he is already a good player. Is he great? No, but he also isn’t paid like a great player. Can he get better? All signs, historical and commonsensical, point to yes, he can. And the more he improves, the better the deal becomes.

Victor Oladipo is not a superstar. He is also not getting paid like a superstar in the long-term with a max contract and his deal will continue to look better comparatively after the now-budget deals for players like George, Kawhi Leonard (18.8), Jimmy Butler (18.7) and John Wall (16.7) dry up in the next couple of seasons.

Look at some of the middling, average wings that hit free agency in the last two years: Tim Hardaway, Jr. just got a deal worth over $17.5 million per year; Kent Bazemore makes an average of $17.5 million per year at the end of his deal; Allen Crabbe will make $19.3 million this season. Wings get paid in today’s NBA, and Oladipo will have plenty of opportunities to show he’s worth his $21 million as a featured player for the Pacers this season.

Attempting to inflate the OKC-IND trade in OKC’s favor by using next season’s contract number against Oladipo is unfair and a little lazy. Context matters. When players like Detroit’s KCP (18) or J. J. Redick (23) sign one year contracts at that value, it becomes a little easier to see the upside in locking down your starting shooting guard for the long-term, when the Pacers might be good again, at a flat rate, especially when only his deal and Myles Turner’s future extension will be taking up any real space on the Pacers books in just a couple seasons.

 

Cautiously Optimistic: Sabonis will be a bonus

If you are honest with yourself, you probably have to admit you have not seen much game footage of the Pacers newly-acquired lottery prospect Domantas Sabonis, whether in college or in the pros, and your perception of his value as a player may be shaped mostly by his end of the season statistics and the plethora of salty fans wishing for future draft picks.

That would put you in good company (I was there!). However, digging a little deeper into this player revealed why the Pacers wanted him and why you should be skeptically optimistic about what he might do in his second year and beyond in the NBA.

In college, Sabonis was one of the best low-post players in the country who showed a potential ability to stretch the floor with limited opportunities (>35% from 3; 22-45 on jump shots). He hustled, had a great feel for the game, and though he did not display elite athleticism, he did show his agility, strength, footwork and ability to finish through contact.

However, projecting him into the pros, scouts were concerned about his average physical tools (he’s got short arms, played below the rim in college) which would make him a liability on defense and offense, especially if that ability to hit jump shots did not continue to improve with more attempts.  Still, within his weaknesses, nothing was glaring. Mostly, the concern from scouts could be summed up like this: “He does X thing (slide his feet, challenge shots, etc.) okay, but he has to improve to be an effective NBA player and not just a hustling big off the bench.”

Oklahoma City decided they liked what they saw and drafted him (through Orlando) with the 11th pick of the 2016 NBA draft. He was an opening day starter and had his first double-figure game against Golden State eight days into his rookie season.

In fact, he was on fire through his first two months of the season until he hit the proverbial rookie wall and his consistency fell off a cliff.

In November, he shot 46% from the field and 45% from 3; in December, he shot 39% from the field and 32% from 3. From there, his averages ebb and flow, ultimately ending the season shooting a shade under 40% at 39.9% for the year, which is concerning for any player that is 6’10”. For someone who ranked 3rd in true shooting percentage (66%) in the DraftExpress top 100, this was surprising and disappointing.

If you are interested in checking out his full strengths/weaknesses as a pro prospect coming out of Gonzaga, check out this link and this link…oh and this link (see bottom for scouting chart).

However, a dive into those numbers show he has the ability to develop into a strong jump shooter for a big man. According to Basketball Reference from 16ft to a step inside the 3pt line, Sabonis shot 47% on 55 shots (By comparison, Thaddeus Young shot 35% on 49 attempts). From 3, he only shot 32% on 160 attempts (Thaddeus Young shot 38% on 123 attempts). Sabonis needs to get comfortable one more step away from the basket, and I believe he will, especially when considering this was the first season where he was asked to shoot that deep of a shot.

Beyond the expectation that Sabonis will improve as a shooter, growing through his time in the NBA and his time with the Lithuanian national team, his motor, which I loosely define as a player’s give-a-damn-ness, is unquestioned.

He ran the floor, finished through contact, and made hustle plays, and this kept him in the starting lineup for 66 games despite his poor shooting. In a modern NBA power forward, you need someone who can shoot and someone who will not quit in-game—someone who will battle for rebounds and fight for position in the post.  Also, if they can dribble and get to the rim, that’s a plus, and that is his skill that intrigues me most.

At 6’ 10”, Sabonis deploys pump-fakes and hesitation moves to get to the rim. Though he lacks elite speed at his position, if he creates an angle, his strength allows him to keep his driving lane to the basket once the defender recovers. Looking through his top 50 plays, you will find examples again and again of creating angles and attacking the rim. Discount the dunks in this video and focus on what might make Sabonis special: his jump shot, his power on the drive, and his positioning in transition.

In OKC, he didn’t see a lot of opportunities in the post, which was his bread and butter at Gonzaga. While he won’t be able to overpower opponents in the post like he did in college, his shooting percentage may rise with more opportunities down low.

Now, I have been very positive here, so let’s pause to be really, really negative for a moment and think worst-case scenario that does not involve injury or scandal, based on what one season has shown us: if Sabonis does not follow a standard rookie progression and improve elements of his game, he becomes a reserve big man joining the contingent and borrowing the combined skillsets of Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes, Luis Scola, and Taj Gibson to become a poor man’s version of these players.

If he is able to improve his consistency and become the starting power forward counterpart to Myles Turner, the Pacers could have a formidable front court for the next ten years (both players are 21). The Pacers are hoping the ~4 million dollars a year bet on Sabonis over the next three seasons returns a promising starting power forward—and you should too.

It is easy to dream about the potential of draft picks outside the lottery who might develop into starting-level talent and get upset with Sabonis, but avoid dreaming and realize he was last year’s 11th pick and the Pacers now have two lottery-level talents in their frontcourt.

Al Jefferson was out of shape and the Pacers had Christmas in February

Our latest player reviews come in a couple of the Pacers backup centers: Al Jefferson and Rakeem Christmas. If you missed any of the previous reviews, you can find them all here

First up, the Professor of Post-Moves himself, Al “Albus Dumbleboards” Jefferson

The Good

26: The number of times he scored in double-figures. Jefferson supplied an offensive antidote to anemic second units. Whenever a play was busted, a post entry to the big man was always a safety blanket and a near guarantee of a good shot.

2: The number of games Jefferson scored 20 points. In under 20 minutes, on two occasions, Jefferson put on an offensive clinic and was exactly what the Pacers were hoping for when they signed Jefferson to anchor the second unit. He might have done his damage against two of the worst teams in the league (LAL, SAC), but that was the role this team has for him: punish terrible second unit bigs. When he performed, he made things look effortless, which is why these next few paragraphs are so frustrating.

The Bad

20: The number of games missed. Jefferson’s sprained ankle late in the season gave way to Kevin Seraphin as the backup center and gave us the budding on-court friendship of Lance Stephenson and Kevin Seraphin. Seraphin stepped up in his place. Earlier in the year, Jefferson sat out with dental pain and Rakeem Christmas played in his first meaningful time as a pro.

-3.1: His box +/-. This season Al tied his career low in box plus/minus, the box score estimate a player contributed compared to a league-average player on a league-average team. Ultimately, this means whenever Al was on the floor, most of the time the Pacers lead dwindled or deficit expanded.

0: Jefferson played zero minutes in the playoff series against the Cavaliers. For a player in the first year of a 3-year deal that pays him $10 million per season, that’s bad news. His effort on defense was often non-existent as he tended to lazily foul driving guards or watch them blow right past on the pick and roll. Even on offense, Jefferson struggled to be at his best throughout the year with the cramped spacing from the second unit as he was surrounded by non-shooting guards and another big that occupies the same space on offense like Kevin Seraphin or Lavoy Allen. It’s why Pacers fans are hoping they can find someone to take him a trade this off-season though it seems unlikely without the Pacers including a pick in the deal.

In an interview with Dan Dakich, KP mentioned Al’s fitness, explaining that the Pacers didn’t do a good enough job keeping Al in good game shape and that next season things would be different. Whenever one of your bosses tells the world that you weren’t in shape when you should have been, that’s bad news. This would be like if you worked at a Dairy Queen and your manager told local Fox13 after a bad banana split scandal that your ability to make banana splits would have improved if you would have just gotten more bananas like you were asked. Bad analogies aside, Al’s professionalism took a ding, and I’m nervous for next season and what big man might show up.

Time to go get some ice cream (but none for you, Albus!)

Rakeem Christmas

The Good

29: The number of games played. Christmas earned minutes, quality or garbage, in more than a quarter of games played last season. For a second round pick entering his second season, that progression is promising. Immediately following the All-Star break, Christmas showed he can have value as a rebounding/screening/hustling big off the bench. He would likely be best served as a center in a stretch lineup, however, which the Pacers haven’t figured out how to accomplish off the bench to this point.

4.3: The number of offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. When Christmas was in the game, his gift was finding offensive rebounds and creating new possessions. For a player with limited offensive talent, he has to provide an impact on the glass, and he showed he can do that consistently this year. He was a sparkplug at times during his brief stint in the rotation.

 

The Bad

6.1: His fouls per 36 minutes. Christmas’s inability to avoid bad fouls has largely been what has kept him out of the rotation. It’s a general rule that young big men struggle with foul issues and Christmas is the poster child. The hope is that their defensive basketball IQ grows, the player learns how to use his body in space and fouls become less frequent. For Christmas, he has not shown his ability to play fundamental defense to this point in his career and he’s not the youngest player. The Pacers can pick up his ~1 million dollar option for next season, or decide to drop him. Unless they believe he can play without fouling, Christmas may be making a move to Europe or back to the DLeague.

25: Christmas is already 25 years old this season at the front edge of most players’ primes. His upside is very limited at this stage in his career, and the front office will have to decide if his familiarity with the team and his ability to provide energy off the bench is enough to pick up his option this offseason.

 

Player Review: Jeff Teague had one of his best seasons

Our latest player reviews for the season brings us to Jeff Teague, who had one of his best seasons in the NBA during his first (and hopefully not only) year as an Indiana Pacer. Here’s link to our reviews on CJ Miles and Lavoy Allen and Glenn Robinson III and Monta Ellis.

The Good:

82: Number of games started. The Pacers have sorely needed a playmaking point guard, but more importantly, they needed someone to show up to each game and produce. Teague’s durability is highly valuable, and the Pacers will need to open their checkbook to keep that. In the debate of George Hill vs. Jeff Teague, durability is one area that seems to tip the scales to Teague, because as valuable as Hill’s defense and shooting are, he’s also been prone to miss a lot of games.

150: Shooting fouls drawn. Teague’s ability to punish defenders accelerating over picks or sticking their hands “in the cookie jar” was one of the most enjoyable things to watch. If you grew up watching Reggie Miller kick his way to the free throw line, you enjoyed Teague exploiting the whistle this season. It was the most shooting fouls drawn in his career, but with so many players drawing those 3-point fouls, the NBA will likely make a rule that’s similar to the “rip-through” rule that makes those type of plays non-shooting fouls. It’s unlikely he’ll ever match his free throw numbers from this season again.

22.1%: Teague’s usage percentage was lower than his previous four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. His last three seasons had all been over 25%. Even with less usage, Teague’s season was perhaps the best of his career. He averaged a career high in assists at 7.8 per game and rebounds at 4.0 per game. His scoring was only less than a point lower per game than the past two seasons.

The Bad:

154: Lost ball turnovers. Teague had the most turnovers of this variety in his career, and though his turnovers per game remained near his career average, he lost the ball when attempting to drive or reposition on the court too often.

.238: percentage of shots taken between 0-3 feet. Teague took the fewest shots of this type (read, driving lay-ups and short floaters) in his career. A larger percentage need to be taken closer to the rim since he does not have elite range to maximize his offensive value, but as he gets older, expect this percentage, more than 100 points lower than his previous season, to stay below thirty percent.

0: Years left on his contract. The Pacers will likely have to pay somewhere close to $20 million per season to retain Teague, unless he takes a hometown discount. The good news is that it seems both sides are interested in re-signing.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.

What we learned about Kevin Pritchard during his press conference

Larry Bird officially stepped down as President of Basketball Operations in his press conference earlier today, and Kevin Pritchard was officially promoted to take over Bird’s position.

Here’s what we learned from today’s press conference:

  • Larry Bird decided that this season was going to be his final year as president last season. Bird said that he told Pritchard and another front office guy, Peter Dinwiddie, of his plans, but that only about four people were aware.
  • Bird said the increased budget that Herb Simon, Pacers owner, put in place for this season almost made him want to come back for another season.
  • Bird will remain on as a consultant to the organization, saying that he will help with the scouting department. Pritchard said that he wants Bird in every free agent meeting.
  • Pritchard retakes a lead organizational role similar to the his days in Portland that saw him draft and trade well, earning the reputation for “Pritch-slap” deals.
  • Paul George’s exit interview with Pritchard included only scenarios that would improve the Pacers. George wants to win. “We are on the same page.”
  • Two interesting statements about his philosophy: “You have to be bold in this position.” “I want to be aggressive.”
  • Asked if he would like to re-sign Jeff Teague, Pritchard highlighted how strong Teague had been, and said the Pacers are “open to negotiations” and a “fair deal.”
  • Pritchard highlighted Lance’s success and quipped,”We all know Lance is crazy.” The Pacers will ask more of him next season when he is fully healthy.
  • Asked about the direction for the team moving forward, Pritchard highlighted his desire to find “physical…tougher…and completely high energy” players. Later he mentioned that he wants “a tougher team.”
  • The Pacers want to develop and retain players, meaning they will need to be paid.
  • Rebuilding is a dirty word in Pritchard’s mind.
  • Asked about coaching, Pritchard highlighted Nate’s toughness and spoke highly of him.

Digesting these comments seem to show a front office that will aim to improve the team next year through finding players in free agency and through trades or the draft that are physical, tough, and have high energy. Pritchard did say that he learned how important continuity is from Bird as well. 

Teague will be given a “fair” deal but could pass that up to take big money elsewhere. The goal is to assemble a Pacers team that is competitive and centered around Paul George, with Pritchard believing if George ultimately shows a desire to leave he will be forthcoming.

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Pacers beat the Sixers, get closer to clinching playoff spot

The Pacers took care of business against the Sixers as they won by a final score of 120-111.

Paul George led the team in scoring with 27 as he continues to make the game look easy.

The Pacers were not playing games early. There was no (terrible-no-good-pun-alert) love for Philadelphia tonight, as Paul George nearly outscored the 76ers by himself in the first quarter with 17 to their 20. Pacers were rolling and up 15.

In the second, the bench needed to keep attacking. They did, and when a shot was missed, Allen and Seraphin gobbled offensive rebounds. The lead extended to 21. Quick shout to former Mad Ant Alex Poythress who hit two 3s for Philadelphia in the quarter (five in the game). Every NBA team has good players, so a run by the 76ers capitalizing on some sloppy play cut the Pacers lead to 9.  It became a game again. At halftime the Pacers led by 10.

10 quickly became five due to an ugly third quarter start. Three turnovers (two by Ellis) had Pacers Twitter in a tizzy. Remember what I said about not playing games? The Pacers responded (tizzy reduced), ending the quarter up 11 thanks to season-best performance by Kevin Seraphin with 17 points on the night and sharp team passing.

In the fourth, Nate rode the bench, playing Allen, Seraphin, CJ, Brooks, and Lance. It was a unit that could score and get rebounds, but not one that could stop much on defense. The 76ers took advantage and made it to the line with ease. With 9:15 to go, they were already in the penalty. Still, the Pacers just needed to tread water, and they did.

As the starters trickled back in, things settled. Philadelphia trapped, scrapped, and hustled (also hit a banked 3), but the Pacers made the right play more times than not and kept the 76ers at arms’ length. Huge games for Thad and Myles and **SPICE ALERT**

Gerald Henderson (literally) pulled Paul George into a feud. I was putting the final touches on that last paragraph when Henderson tried to take some teeth with an elbow to the face. PG had put an elbow in his back the play before, which was somehow reviewable? Garbage.

 

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Paul George and the Pacers light the Magic defense on fire, win third straight

The Pacers control their playoff destiny. Win all three games, and you are in. Lose, and you have to hope others lose. Tonight, the Pacers could not afford to play like they normally play on the road. They didn’t.

The Pacers shot a season-high 59% on their way to a 127-112 win over the Orlando Magic. 

Paul George had 37 points, 5 assists and 7 rebounds. Myles Turner had 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Paul George continues to resemble the Human Torch as he made 13 of his 21 shots and looked basically unstoppable all night.

The win puts the Pacers in great playoff position as they are in the 7th-seed currently with the Nets beating the Bulls. If Heat lose tonight, Pacers could clinch a playoff spot with just one more win.

Early, Terrance Ross was hot from 3, hitting three straight and scoring all of Orlando’s points. Jeff Teague defensively (you are reading this correctly) made a difference, forcing two Orlando turnovers, and the Pacers took an early lead. Orlando, though, couldn’t miss a shot from 3 (6-7). Still, the Pacers ended the quarter up 1 (39-38 which sounds like a halftime score during the Vogel era).   But, I feel like I need to do this now, with only a few games left (enters sidebar)

Monta Ellis is so often a negative on the court, I am flabbergasted. I cheered the Ellis signing when it happened, thinking he easily had several years left to play at a high level. He doesn’t. Without the ability to hit 3s consistently, shifting his game like Vince Carter, he cannot afford to miss layups and within 17 feet. He does. Often. Defensively, he is crafty, occasionally able to pilfer steals, but the majority of possessions he just cannot handle the opposing 2 (leaves sidebar).

The first half ended with the Pacers up 68-59. PG, Turner, and Thad could not miss, and Lance’s ability to put pressure on Orlando’s defense was the difference.

The third quarter saw an early Magic timeout. The end of the quarter saw two 3s. From Lance. LANCE EFFECT! TOOT TOOO! Get on this train if you have been skeptical. Pacers entered the fourth in complete control and remained that way. 

Stephenson continued his strong play with the Pacers, finishing +12 while he was on the court with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.

 

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: #LanceEffect still in Full Effect vs Bucks

The Pacers are playing like a playoff team. Also, the #LanceEffect is real. Despite opening the game 0-5 from the field, the Pacers ended the quarter up four, weathering a double-digit scoring effort by The Alphabet. 

In the second, despite some haphazard play by both teams, the Pacers bench was able to provide some offense AND defense. The Bucks committed more than 10 turnovers in the first half. The Pacers know they have to win, and they played like it. They ended the half up six.

I had two questions: Will the Bucks start hitting open 3s (they had several)? Will the Pacers open just as cold in the third as they did in the first?  I was relieved on both fronts, through the first 9 minutes of the half, anyway. In the third, the Pacers shot 11-15 with 3 minutes to go, and Mirza Teletovic, the Bosnian bomber, hadn’t hit his fourth three of the game yet. Still, the Pacers ended the third up 12. When my daughter cried with 30 second to go and I had to soothe her back to sleep, I left the computer screen with a smile on face—not the usual “we’re all going to die” existentialist dread that has consumed by Pacers heart.  Thanks, this Pacers team.

The fourth quarter saw Lance continue his recent shooting success from three, but more importantly, his passing created opportunities for teammates. His shooting will come and go, but his playmaking ability is why he is here, and that should be there every night.  He finished with five assists tonight. 

The Pacers were humming. Brooks drew two fourth quarter charges (one that put Middleton out of the game) and hit a couple threes, PG got to the line, and the Bosnian bomber started to miss. Pacers win. It should be noted that Kevin Seraphin had his best game of the season. Kudos to KS. And shoutout to Nate McMillan for shortening the rotation to include just one big off the bench.

Final: 104-89 as they beat the Bucks for the first time this season after losing by an average of 16 points in the first three meetings.

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Raptors beat Pacers again behind DeRozan’s 40 points

The Pacers needed to find something. They needed to find their offense, their defense, their energy, and tonight, they fought in a way they did not fight in Memphis, but it all fell apart in the third quarter as the Pacers fell to the Raptors 111-100.

The first quarter had the Pacers playing with purpose. Teague was able to find his offense, and Toronto runs were matched. Halfway through the second, the Pacers had hit 5-9 from 3, and Lavoy Allen had pulled three offensive rebounds. When Lavoy plays like this—snagging offensive rebounds and screening well—he makes the trade that sent Granger to Philadelphia slightly more palatable (…nah, it still tastes bad). Toronto had their own second-chance luck that kept the game close, but the Pacers ended the half up two.

In the third, Toronto took the lead and things started to get away until a Myles Turner three. Derozan scored 16 in the quarter, once catching PG on a pump fake to head to the line (he caught most of the Pacers lineup with that move), but a Pacers run that included a capital D Dirty block by Turner put the Pacers ahead. But, by the end of the third, a Raptors run had the Pacers down 12.

That run was more like that scene in Jurassic Park where the jeep gets away from the T-Rex, except this time the T-Rex caught the Jeep, ate the tires, and somehow shot the body into a prehistoric tree-basket.

The fourth quarter had the Pacers bench stop the lead from ballooning, but things did not look great. Things more or less stayed that way, but the Pacers fought, I will give them that, but could not get stops. Derozan shot 20 free throws on his way to 40 points as they were fooled by his pump fake over and over again. Pacers lose their third straight and are just a half game ahead of the Bulls for the final playoff spot.

Is Lance here yet?

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Grizzlies maul Pacers

Before we walk through this game, you need to turn your head to the right and blow gently. Lance is back! Lance will make ’em dance. Lance should make you dance. If nothing else, an injured Stuckey is gone and some much needed energy will hopefully be injected into this team. Now to the game.

In the first quarter, Mike Conley and the Grizzlies went off. Conley missed one shot on his way to a 16 point quarter, and the Pacers could not answer. At one point, the Grizzlies led 30-10. PG made his way to the free throw line, which was nice, but it took Aaron Brooks—he is still on the team, I promise—hitting three 3s to keep the Pacers in the game.

In the second, Nate continued to roll with a bench lineup that, though it was worthless last night, was playing well on the road. CJ opened with a 3. Brooks hit his fourth of the game. Mike Conley didn’t care. I think just typing Mike Conley’s name might burn my fingers—he was that hot, hitting 6/7 from 3. The Pacers trailed by 19.

The second half would require at least two sustained runs by the Pacers to get back in the game. They got half of one, then Memphis called time to squash it and their lead jumped to 23. PG hit two 3s to end the quarter, cutting the lead to 17 and breathing a small breath of hope, but I know better.

The fourth quarter happened, probably. PG led the team with 22 points and exited around the five minute mark. Is Lance here yet?

Pacers lose. By a lot. They are now under .500 for the season and in the 8th seed, only one and a half games ahead of the Bulls.

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Pacers lose a heartbreaker to Wolves

Remember, in Bankers Life, the Pacers usually resemble a playoff team. Tonight, they began the game passing well, attacking the basket, finding open shots (sometimes so open they air-balled two in the first quarter), and clamping down defensively. They looked good, and Paul George made sure Andrew Wiggins looked bad (2-9 for five points in the first half with two turnovers)—again. PG put up 25 and it looked easy. But, we know the story: the Pacers bench just cannot hold leads most nights, especially now with injuries to Albus and Stuckey affecting rotations, so a Minnesota comeback was inevitable.  The Wolves ended the half up two.

In the second half, the starters would have to create separation.  Unfortunately, they wanted to talk, but they forgot about Dieng, who with a three put the Wolves up nine with five to go in the third. After a Pacers timeout, the team locked in, and a 12-0 run had the Pacers humming: PG and Teague took over, making strong moves around the basket and sharp passes to it.

In the fourth, the Wolves attacked the Pacers bench, like any smart team would, and with nine minutes to go, Nate had no choice but to bring Teague back into the game with the Pacers up two. They pushed the lead to nine. PG put up 37 and had four steals. Teague dropped 20 and 10. Despite KAT’s huge numbers (37 points ), the Pacers should have won this game. But, Ricky Rubio had a chance to steal it, getting fouled behind the arc with the Wolves down two. Fans everywhere will have trouble accepting that call for awhile. He made all three. Wolves squeak out a win: Pacers one less point than the Wolves.

 

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Pacers late rally falls short against Nuggets

The last time the Pacers played the Nuggets, they were on the cusp of showing true grit, ready to abandon their inconsistent play and announce to the NBA they had gelled as a team and could beat the scrappy Nuggets with ease.  Then, they gave up 140 points and were publicly shamed on national television.  Tonight, at home, the Pacers would look for revenge.

But…by revenge, I mean the Nuggets would look every bit as deadly as their performance in the shadow of Big Ben, scoring 34 first quarter points, and the Pacers had to hold on to keep things close. The bench unit, without GR3, would have to respond.  If you just read this sentence and thought, “Jesus…” you would be surprised to learn the bench did well, cutting the Denver lead to three with 8 minutes to go in the half.  A mix of strong plays by Ellis and awful plays by Stuckey before the starters trickled back in saw the Pacers get close, but in the final minutes of the quarter,  a 17-4 run put the Nuggets up 64-53.

In the third, Mighty Aaron Brooks hit some threes to make things a little interesting, but poor defense leading to too many fouls had Denver in the bonus with more than half the quarter to go.  In the fourth, the Nuggets were in the bonus, again, with more than half the quarter to go, but the game became watchable. The difference: PG got HOT. The free throw differential was too much to overcome (Denver was +32…32…32!!!!!).  Pacers lose: 117-125

Two-Minute (Two-Ahh) Quick-Cap: Paul George scores 37, but Pacers fall to Celtics

At home, the Pacers play like a playoff team, but on the road they often play like my YMCA rec team.  To win in Boston, they would have to play better than a mix-match of professors and General Studies students.

Early, this was the case.  Teague was active, poaching a steal like a slick pick-pocket in a Masshole dive, making sharp passes for easy buckets, and even hitting from long range. Lavoy Allen made an appearance late in the first, pulling down offensive board after board, but the Pacers were never able to pull away due to cold shooting from anyone not named Teague or George, and Boston capitalized, mixing lineups to expose the Pacers bench. The Celtics, despite their sloppiness (six turnovers), ended the first up 21-19. The second quarter did not provide much relief for the Pacers, and a costly offensive foul on PG led to a last second 3 by Bradley to send the Pacers into the locker room down 7.

The third quarter saw both teams get hot, but the Celtics, despite shooting a little worse from the field than the Pacers, pushed the lead to 14 to enter the fourth after a wild end-of-quarter sequence that had Brooks fouling a falling Marcus Smart who converted the and-1.  Nate rode the 30+ point night from PG into the fourth, and once Teague joined him, the Pacers cut the lead to seven with five minutes to go to make it a real game.

They never got closer than six. Teague (25) and PG (37) were the only two in double figures, and GR3 and CJ didn’t see a minute in the fourth, inexplicably (CJ got in during the final minute with the Pacers down 10+). Ellis was 2-10 with 3 turnovers. The bench bright spot was Lavoy Allen, who pulled a season-high 14 rebounds.

Pacers lose: 100-109