Category Archives: Analysis

The Indiana Pacers no-point lineup key to comeback victory

With 3:51 remaining in the game, the Indiana Pacers were down by eight points as Nate McMillan called timeout and went to a lineup that had played only a single minute together all season: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner.

“Nate called a timeout,” said Oladipo, who was named  Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season, “and all I said was, ‘There’s a lot of time left. We just gotta take it one possession at a time,’ and we did a great job.”

Almost no previous time together. No point guard. No problem. Oladipo took care of the offense to the tune of 47 points and the defense took care of the rest down the stretch.

Continue reading The Indiana Pacers no-point lineup key to comeback victory

Advertisements

Hot-Takebuster Part Two: Myles Turner’s Rebounding & Defense

Myles Turner has scored at least 15 points in each of his last four games while averaging just 11.8 shots per game. He continues to be efficient in his at times limited opportunities on offense. But with high expectations coming into this season, grumbling about Turner has reached an all-time high.

This is the second part of a column taking on the hot takes of Myles Turner. If you missed the first part, you can read about his offensive game here.

“Myles Turner is not a true big man” is quickly becoming this team’s “George Hill is not a true point guard.” Both claims pointless, perplexing and frustrating to see about players that add tremendous value to their team while playing their position in perhaps a non-traditional way.  Continue reading Hot-Takebuster Part Two: Myles Turner’s Rebounding & Defense

Hot-Takebuster Part One: Myles Turner’s Offense

Myles Turner hasn’t gotten off to the tremendous start to the season that many expected in his third year. Whether that’s due to his concussion in the opener or a smaller offensive role than expected, this has caused many to air their grievances about the Pacers young big man. Even in a game against the Boston Celtics where he led the Indiana Pacers in scoring while taking only nine shot attempts, the noise for much of the game was all about what Turner can’t do or won’t do.

“Myles Turner is not a true big man” is quickly becoming this team’s “George Hill is not a true point guard.” Both claims pointless, perplexing and frustrating to see about players that add tremendous value to their team while playing their position in perhaps a non-traditional way.  Continue reading Hot-Takebuster Part One: Myles Turner’s Offense

Stray Pacervations: Odds and Ends of the Indiana Pacers winning streak

Stray Pacervations is intended to shed light on the odds and ends, the small things and possible trends that happen during Indiana Pacers games. Some good. Some bad. Some neither.

The Pacers have won four games in a row, four road games in a row, five out of six overall, and just won all three games in a 4-night stretch. It’s been fun. Let’s dive right in.  Continue reading Stray Pacervations: Odds and Ends of the Indiana Pacers winning streak

Why everybody loves playing with Domantas Sabonis

Game after game, it seems like there are more and more reasons to gush over the performance of Domantas Sabonis.

He’s been called the quarterback of the offense by Thaddeus Young. Nate McMillan said early in the year that they like to run the offense through him while he’s out there. He’s played two games while battling an illness only to produce a couple of his best performances of the season in those contests.  Continue reading Why everybody loves playing with Domantas Sabonis

Lance Stephenson makes ’em dance their way to a comeback victory

INDIANAPOLIS — After being down by 22 points with less than six minutes left in the third quarter, the Indiana Pacers outscored the Detroit Pistons 51-22 the remainder of the game to win in impressive fashion by a final of 107-100 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers were kick-started by none other than the infectious energy of Lance Stephenson in the fourth quarter as he scored all 13 of his points and grabbed six rebounds in the final 12 minutes.  Continue reading Lance Stephenson makes ’em dance their way to a comeback victory

The Indiana Pacers pick-and-roll coverage on James Harden was doomed from the start

The Indiana Pacers got off to a slow start last night against the Houston Rockets and never recovered. After a first quarter where they were outscored 35-18, the Pacers ended up being beat by a final score of 118-95.

The Pacers biggest problem was dealing with the Houston Rockets best player in James Harden.  Continue reading The Indiana Pacers pick-and-roll coverage on James Harden was doomed from the start

For Myles Turner to grow, more opportunities are necessary

Should Myles Turner be considered in the NBA’s group of future frontcourt stars along with Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid?

If the Indiana Pacers want to find out, they’re going to need to give Myles Turner the ball. With a lot more consistency and frequency.  Continue reading For Myles Turner to grow, more opportunities are necessary

Stray Pacervations: The Good, The Bad and the In-Between

Stray Pacervations is intended to shed light on small things and possible trends that happen during Indiana Pacers games. Some good. Some bad. Some in between.

1. Domas Sabonis rebounding and pushing the pace. There are so many things to love about Sabonis’s game already, but this might be my current favorite. When Sabonis grabs a defensive rebound and no defender is near, instead of pausing and finding the outlet pass, Sabonis will immediately turn into a dribble while looking for an open man. It’s a small thing but it helps the Pacers gain a little bit of extra time for their budding transition offense.  Continue reading Stray Pacervations: The Good, The Bad and the In-Between

Final Roster Cuts: Who will the Pacers keep around?

After finishing the preseason 3-1 after a victory over Maccabi Haifa, the Pacers have a week of practices before having to decide on their final roster for opening night of the 2017-2018 season.

Most of the 15 NBA-contract spots are already locked down. The following players will be on the team, barring something unexpected happening:  Continue reading Final Roster Cuts: Who will the Pacers keep around?

Leaf leads comeback with 18 points in the fourth quarter

Pacers first-round draft pick TJ Leaf scored 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Pacers overcame a 10-point deficit with six minutes remaining to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-102. The Pacers are now 2-0 in the preseason.

“This is my second NBA game,” Leaf said after the victory. “It definitely gives me some confidence knowing if I play my role I can be successful.”

Leaf did most of his damage from beyond the arc as the rookie hit four 3-pointers in the quarter. During Summer League, Leaf had not yet adjusted to the longer above-the-break NBA 3-pointer and missed every non-corner three he took, but he seems used to the distance now. Three of his long balls were near the top of the key.

“It was good to see him knock down some shots and stay aggressive,” said Nate McMillan, “We drew up a play for him and he came off and nailed that three, so that was a big shot. A very confident kid, and that’s how we want him to play, don’t worry about mistakes, stay aggressive and play the game, and I thought he did that.”

When Leaf hits his 3-point shot, he can then use his drive game as defenders have to close out hard on his shot attempts. Leaf took advantage on a couple of drives in the fourth as he earned a trip to the foul line on the first and scored on a layup on the second.

While he did his damage against Cavaliers bench guys like Derrick Williams and Channing Frye, it’s encouraging to see the rookie take advantage of these kinds of matchups. This is where Leaf can make his mark early in his career on the offensive end. He’ll struggle on defense as he’s slow on the perimeter and needs to add strength inside. This was a good sign for Leaf to show he can contribute early, as increased struggles may have led the Pacers to go back to Al Jefferson as the backup center and move Domantas Sabonis to backup power forward.

Sabonis was another bright spot in game two of the season as he scored 17 points in only 18 minutes, making six of his eight shot attempts and adding seven rebounds. Sabonis shot under 40% in his rookie season, primarily because he was limited to the perimeter. With the Pacers, his post game should be utilized much more, which should lead to a higher field goal percentage for Sabonis.

Other notes from game two:
Glenn Robinson III’s injury is a missed opportunity. Bojan Bogdanovic has struggled with his shot in his first two games as a Pacer. Bogdanovic has only one made 3-point shot in nine attempts and it was banked in. If GR3 was healthy and playing well, he might be making some noise to move into the starting lineup. Instead, he’s only able to watch and rehab as he awaits his ankle to heal up. Hopefully, he can return at full strength and still have a breakout season that he seemed poised for before the injury.

Damien Wilkins is going to make the team. McMillan played the 37-year-old for 24 minutes, more than just about anyone in the second preseason game. Alex Poythress played only four minutes, while Ben Moore and Jarrod Uthoff have still yet to see the floor. You have to question McMillan’s decision making here as there’s little to be gained by playing Wilkins that much instead of the young guys that could gain tremendous experience playing at an NBA pace. It would be beneficial to the Pacers to see what they have in Moore, Uthoff, and Poythress in these next two games in an actual game setting.

Myles Turner continues to look awesome. Early in the game the Pacers were struggling to keep up with the LeBron James-less Cavs, but Turner was a bright spot. This may be a common occurrence when the Pacers play contenders this season. In one short two-minute stretch, Turner scored a basket on a fadeaway in the post, made a great recovery on defense to block a Kevin Love layup attempt, made a perfect pass for an assist to wide open Oladipo for a layup, and then hit another jump shot on the Pacers next offensive possession. He finished with 12 points in 21 minutes.

The Pacers are intent on shooting more 3-pointers. The Pacers had one of the highest percentages from distance last season but were at the bottom of the league in attempts. The Pacers are averaging 30 3-point attempts in the first two preseason games so far this year and while the results haven’t been great, it’s good to see the Pacers embracing the long range game. Percentages should improve as Bojan finds his jumper again and Turner’s shot starts falling, but players like Lance Stephenson and Victor Oladipo will likely shoot plenty of threes, but remain inconsistent on results. This would still be better than Stephenson and Oladipo settling for midrange jumpers instead.

Pacers show encouraging signs in preseason win to start new era

The Indiana Pacers won their preseason opener in Milwaukee by a final score of 104-86. The Pacers ran away with the game in the third quarter where they outscored the Bucks 30-15. Myles Turner and Lance Stephenson led the team in scoring with 17 points each.

While the preseason results don’t matter, this was the new-look Pacers first opportunity to play together outside of practice, and it was an interesting dive into what the Pacers will strive to be in the regular season. Here’s some takeaways from game one:

Myles Turner is going to shoot more threes. A third of Turner’s 12 shot attempts were from beyond the 3-point line. While Turner managed to make only one attempt of his four tonight, it was encouraging to see him look to shoot from distance with confidence. Turner’s defense was also impressive. Turner was active at the rim, looked to consistently be in the correct position, and grabbed nine rebounds. Turner showed some improvement in post defense, forcing multiple misses in the first half, while also showing his great rim protection on multiple occasions with three blocks. Turner’s development is the key for the Pacers to accelerate this rebuilding era, and it’s quite possible he’ll have an All-Star selection coming his way this season.

Victor Oladipo has the greenest of green lights. Oladipo shot it early and often, shooting 8 times in the first quarter. He finished with 15 points on 15 shot attempts (making six). It’s clear that Oladipo will be one of the Pacers first scoring options and may lead the team in scoring, efficiency probably won’t be great.

Lance will make us dance. Stephenson will serve as the sixth man this year and he looked much like the player that he only seems to be in a Pacers uniform. Stephenson was the main ball handler for the second unit and set up Domantas Sabonis numerous times with nifty passes as they’ve seemed to gain some chemistry over the summer as both have spent the offseason in Indianapolis. Stephenson is going to flirt with triple doubles, get hyped, take maddening mid-range jump shots, bully his way to the rim, make some occasional threes. Stephenson finished with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds.

Damien Wilkins looks alright. Old Man Wilkins, complete with gray facial hair, was a questionable free agent signee at 37 years old and being out of the NBA for the past four seasons. Tonight, Wilkins led the Pacers in scoring in the first half with 10 points and finished with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting. He looks like he’ll adequately serve as the backup small forward while Glenn Robinson III is out with his severe ankle injury. While you could still argue that the Pacers would be better served giving those minutes to a young player like Alex Poythress or Ben Moore that need the development time, Wilkins won’t be a liability on the court and should be a good veteran presence while with the second unit. His situation seems reminiscent of Rasual Butler from 2013-14.

He currently looks like a lock to make the roster. Alex Poythress may be a candidate for the final spot as he was the 12th player to enter the game tonight, which would open up one of the Pacers 2-way contract spots for either Jarrod Uthoff or Ben Moore, neither of whom played tonight.

Al Jefferson is going to have to earn his way back on the court. At least for tonight’s game, the Pacers played Sabonis at the backup five and rookie TJ Leaf as the backup power forward. While Less Big Al lost 40 pounds over the offseason and seems more intent on a better season this year, he’s currently the third-string center. It’s possible the Pacers end up deciding that Leaf isn’t quite ready for minutes yet, but at least to start the season (and in training camp practices), Jefferson will be mainly on the bench.

It’s perilous to make many judgments based on the first preseason game (the Pacers showed encouraging signs last year in the first preseason game too), but the Pacers seemed committed to the running style that they’ve been talking about pursuing for years, and Wilkins praised the team chemistry after the game, which has been a struggle for the Pacers for the past couple of seasons as well.

 

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.

 

Who starts for the Indiana Pacers in 2017?

The Indiana Pacers roster is starting to take shape after many changes to the team in the first couple of weeks of the off-season.

Additions:

Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Darren Collison, TJ Leaf, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ike Anigbogu, Edmond Sumner

Subtractions:

Paul George, Monta Ellis, CJ Miles, Jeff Teague, Lavoy Allen, Rakeem Christmas 

As the Pacers begin their “rebirth,” who are the Pacers going to start next season?

After the press conference introducing Oladipo, Sabonis and Collison, Nate McMillan said the only starters that were for certain were Oladipo and Myles Turner. After that, “we’ll see.”

Today, McMillan said that Bogdanovic will start training camp as the starting small forward. “It’s his job to lose,” said McMillan.

Here’s some different options that TJ Pacers can look at with their current roster:

Start the Vets:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner

Currently, it seems this is the most likely starting lineup, though it’s surprising that McMillan didn’t list Young among his for-sure starters when he was among the most important players for the Pacers last season. This may mean the Pacers are looking to move Young before the season. If they move Young, Sabonis likely takes the starting power forward spot.

Start the Youth:
PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Domantas Sabonis
C: Myles Turner

If the Pacers look to move some of their added veterans at the deadline, this could be the lineup by the end of the season. Robinson seems like the most likely to earn his spot over the incoming veteran as the fourth-year player has consistently shown improvement from year to year and performed well starting in place of George last season. Even if the Pacers keep their roster intact this season, the lineup may end up like the next one before too long.

Middle Ground:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner

The Pacers would be wise to see if Robinson can handle a full-time starting role before he enters free agency next season. With the way young wings always get paid in free agency, the Pacers have to find out if Robinson is worth investing $15 million per season. If they don’t start him, he may be cheaper next season or he could look for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Let’s Get Weird:
PG: Lance Stephenson
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Bojan Bogdanovic
C: Myles Turner

Starting Point Lance seems to have completely died now that Collison and Joseph have joined the team, but this unit that surrounds Stephenson with shooters could score a lot of points. Oladipo could guard opposing point guards and Stephenson would run the offense. Even with Joseph, Stephenson should be running the second unit most of the time as the first man off the bench.

A Little Less Weird:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Lance Stephenson
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner

A Little More Weird Super Small Ball
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Lance Stepenson
PF: Glenn Robinson III
C: Myles Turner

Here’s a couple unconventional and unlikely options with Stephenson at small forward.

Kevin Pritchard found what he was looking for in Victor Oladipo

For a couple of weeks, we heard non-stop rumors about Paul George. Would it be Boston? Maybe some high draft picks, Bradley and plan for the future. Could it be Cleveland? Maybe a 3-team deal with Kevin Love for draft picks again. Maybe Denver? Gary Harris could come back to Indiana. How about Portland? Loads of mid-first-round picks and a role player? Or just ship him where he wants to go in Los Angeles? Late-round firsts and Julius Randle is all they’ll offer? Pass.

Fast forward to June 30th hours before free agency officially starts, and I bet not a single fan or NBA junkie was expecting to hear Oklahoma City and Paul George spoken in the same breath. But Ramona Shelburne tweeted it (Woj was waiting to start his new ESPN gig at midnight) and the madness became reality.

Paul George was going to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. No draft picks involved in the deal. The Pacers made the trade official today.

While we all have our opinions on Kevin Pritchard should have done or should have taken, we’ll never know what any of the other offers actually were. We’ll hear rumblings, especially from Boston, but only Pritchard knows what he had on the table and why he felt like he couldn’t wait another week before pulling the trigger on the OKC deal.

While the trade has been mostly panned by critics, there are a few things to consider.

First: The draft isn’t a sure fire thing. Sure a top-15 pick is more likely to warrant a higher caliber player, but busts outnumber the success stories in some drafts. A known commodity that has some NBA experience and still has room to grow is sometimes better than an unknown draft pick. Even most of the rumored offered didn’t include a top-15 pick anyway.

Second: The OKC front office is one of the most esteemed in the league. They viewed Oladipo and Sabonis as obviously valuable. They just gave Oladipo a 4-year, $84 million contract extension. You don’t give that to a player you don’t think is any good. And they spent a first-round pick on Sabonis last year and it’s unlikely they were ready to give up on him after just one season.

“We feel very strongly about the potential Victor and Domantas bring to our team and what they mean for the future of the franchise,” said Pritchard in the Pacers statement officially announcing the trade. “Both are highly competitive, highly skilled and both are winners. That is why both were lottery picks, that is why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”

Of the three big names traded in the offseason (Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler), Oladipo might be the best over Patrick Beverly and Zach LaVine.

So what are the Pacers getting in Oladipo and Sabonis?

You can read about why you should be cautiously optimistic about Sabonis here.

Victor Oladipo, 25, returns to Indiana where he spent three years collegiately down the road at Indiana University.

With a new era emerging for the Pacers organization, Pritchard has already told us what he wants the new identity for this Pacers team to look like.

“I think if you look at some of the teams that are successful, it gets a little position-less, and they just have flyers all over the court,” Pritchard said in his opening press conference as president of basketball operations. “It’s drive and kick and shoot a lot of threes, and then back on defense you can switch. I’d like to get more to that.”

He also emphasized physicality and toughness.

Let’s start with shooting, Oladipo, who averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, has been steadily improving his jump shot each year of his career as his shooting percentages have gone up after each season. He’s gone from shooting 41.9% in his rookie season to 44.2% overall and from 32.7% as a rookie to 36.1% from 3-point range.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, Oladipo can shoot the 3-pointer, he’s just incredibly inconsistent. He’s similar to CJ Miles in the past in that he’ll go through stretches where he can’t miss, but then it’ll seem like he hasn’t made a three for weeks right after. These are his monthly percentages splits from long range:

October: 25%
November: 44.2%
December: 25%
January: 35.8%
February: 25%
March: 49.2%
April: 18.2%
Playoffs: 34.4%

If he can find some consistency with his shot, he might push that 3-point percentage up to 38-40% where defensives will have to respect his outside shot. This will be paramount to his long-term success as a Pacer.

This past season spent alongside ball dominant Russell Westbrook gave him plenty of opportunity to play off the ball and spot up more, albeit at the detriment of his driving preference. His catch-and-shoot ability has definitely improved.

Oladipo is known for having a great work ethic, so if he never finds a consistent shot it won’t be from a lack of trying.

On defense, Oladipo definitely fits the bill as a player that can switch onto multiple positions and in the defensive-minded mold Pritchard wants. He receives a handful of votes each year for the all-defensive teams and he’ll be a definite improvement defensively for the Pacers at the shooting guard position. So long, Monta Ellis.

The fact that he can play both ends of the court is best part about his game. He won’t be a liability on either end though he has room to improve in both areas. Per NBAWowy, the Thunder were a net 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Oladipo on the court than off.

You just might not want him to be guarding any children.

If he spends time on the court with Lance Stephenson, Oladipo can guard point guards while Stephenson can run the offense on one end but guard bigger wings on the other.

Oladipo can also be a ferocious finisher at the rim as he won the Dunk of the Year at the first NBA Awards show and he’s competed in a slam dunk contest in the past.

As former Pacers player and current announcer Clark Kellogg once said, “Victor Oladipo is like a baby’s bottom, smooth and sometimes explosive.” At times, he does make poor decisions on his aggressive drives as he averaged nearly as many turnovers as assists (2.6 assists and 1.8 turnovers) last season. His assist numbers were career lows; however, that’s due to playing with Westbrook who ran everything in OKC.

But what is Oladipo’s ceiling? He’s now been in the league for four full seasons. Can he become more than a solid starter or rotation player? Is he just a great sixth man? The Pacers have him under contract for the next four years to figure out if he can become more. Time will tell if the Pacers bet on Oladipo was a good one.

Update: Pacers finish in 3rd at Orlando Summer League: A look at TJ Leaf, Joe Young, Jarnell Stokes and others

Update: Pacers finished in third in Orlando Summer League and played the final game without TJ Leaf and Joe Young. No major revelations stood out from the final game that changes the analysis given here for games 3 and 4.

Games 3 & 4:

The Indiana Pacers Summer League squad lost their first game in Orlando this week against the undefeated Dallas Mavericks while playing in their fourth game in four days. But once again, the results don’t matter as much as what the players are showing on the court.

If you missed games one & two, you can find a look at performances for those games here:

Here are some highlights from games three and four:

TJ Leaf: Leaf’s best game of the Summer League came against Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat. Leaf had 19 points and 10 rebounds, continuing to show an impressive array of ways to get the ball in the basket. Adebayo, who looked really good for the Heat with 29 points and 11 rebounds, guarded him at times throughout the game, which gave Leaf a good test against NBA length and athleticism. 

There were a couple of times were Leaf scored on Adebayo with drives to the basket, creating space before starting a drive on one and making a quick move to score after a rebound on another. Leaf’s shown a lot of prowess off the bounce in his three games, consistently getting to a spot where he can score.

Leaf didn’t guard Adebayo much on the other end, but this still has proven to be his weakness and what may keep him off the floor early in his career. Leaf doesn’t know how to hedge on the pick and roll yet and struggles guarding anyone in the post with his current lack of strength. His short arms also make it a harder for him to challenge jump shots where it affects the opponent. These are all known issues, however, so it’s not like Leaf is showing anything the Pacers weren’t aware of when they drafted him.

In the fourth game, Leaf looked tired and the broadcasters noted his fatigue at multiple times. He wasn’t running the court or finding putback opportunities near as often as he had in the previous two games. His jumper was often left short. Leaf got outplayed by Christian Wood, who has NBA experience, and finished with just seven points, four rebounds and three assists.

One positive note for this game, Leaf did show the ability to make the right pass within the offense. Many of the Pacers seemed fatigued on their fourth straight gameday and it seemed to bring down the performances of just about everyone not named Jarnell Stokes.

Leaf’s 3-point shooting looks like it still needs some work to get used to NBA range. He’s now 0 for 8 on threes attempted above the break and 2 for 2 on corner threes. Don’t be surprised if the Pacers limit him early in his career to the midrange as he adjusts to the longer 3-pointer.

Joe Young: Young showed impressive toughness after dislocating his finger (broadcasters said his bone broke through the skin) and returning to play in game three and playing without limitation in game four. 

Young had his best game of the Summer League in game three with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds. He continues to show improvement in being able to run an offense and set others up in positions to score. He’s consistently shown the ability to find the right player on the perimeter after driving into the lane, especially to set up corner threes.

He’s also shown ability to finish strong inside in traffic and through contact on multiple occasions. He’s still struggling with turnovers at times, sometimes he doesn’t make the easy pass early and ends up dribbling too much. He’s had a total of 14 turnovers in the four games, but he does have a total of 23 assists.

He also seemed to be affected by fatigue in the latest game and is also playing with two fingers taped together on his left hand. Young’s biggest issue remains on the defensive end, where most of his struggles involve getting through picks quickly on the pick and roll. Young needs to find ways to practice those type of plays in his early morning workouts if he wants to eventually get rotation minutes.

Georges Niang: Niang is out for all of Summer League with a sprained knee. He’ll also be getting an MRI to see if there’s further damage soon.

Rakeem Christmas: Christmas saw his first action in Orlando in these past two games as he recovered enough from a sprained ankle. He left Game four early, however, after reinjuring the ankle and did not return.

During his time on the court, Christmas showed skills at rebounding in traffic and made some nice blocks. He also showed some post moves with hook shots and running hook shots that he converted with ease.

He had nine points, five rebounds, and three blocks in his first game and followed that with four points, two rebounds, and one block in seven minutes before he left the game with the injury.

With all the bigs on the roster, it’s unclear if Christmas has done enough to show the Pacers that he shouldn’t be waived before his contract becomes guaranteed on 8/1.  Often during this week Jarnell Stokes has looked his equal, if not better than Christmas, which doesn’t bode well for him.

Jarnell Stokes: Stokes was the only Pacers player that seemed to have much energy against the Mavericks, scoring 15 points and adding seven rebounds and four blocks. Stokes finished his good looks inside more consistently in game four than he has been earlier in the week.

At one point, Stokes blocked a shot that he palmed and kept in his hand (sorry, no video on that one). He’s surprisingly nimble at times and has shown the ability to casually bring the ball to half court when necessary. Though I’m pretty sure if he did so as non-chalantly as he has this week for an NBA team, that he’d be taken out of the game immediately.

He gets out of position too often on the defensive end, probably due to chasing blocks and is very foul prone (had eight fouls in one of the games this week, takes 10 to foul out in SL). His matchup was an undersized center in 6’7″ Warney and Warney managed 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, adding three steals and two blocks to his stat sheet as well.

Ben Moore: Moore, the undrafted sleeper, had his most productive game in Orlando against the Mavs with seven points and five rebounds. He’s played limited minutes in two of the four games, but has been solid when he’s played.

Moore continues to make the right plays on offense, always moving the ball ahead and only taking his own shot when the offense dictates it. He made a perfectly placed post-entry pass to Stokes on one play that put him in perfect position to score. 

Moore hit all three of his shots against the Mavs and has hit five of his seven shots in the four games (once again he’s rarely looking for his own shot), but none were more important to his future outlook than a nailed corner three. Moore’s potential success is greatly increased with that in his arsenal.

Moore hedges on the pick and roll, can switch onto wings in a pinch and challenge their shot attempts well. There was one sequence against the Mavs where Moore hedged on a screen well past the 3-point line and managed to get the defensive rebound close to the rim a few seconds later.

Travis Leslie: Leslie has come back down to Earth after his impressive pair of 20-point games where he scored with relative ease. He went 2 of 10 for only four points in the third game, but bounced back with a respectable nine points on 4-of-8 shooting yesterday. 

Chris Johnson: Johnson showed the ability to hit the corner three in the first two games, but went cold against the Heat making just one of his six attempts. He still found ways to score, however, adding 12 points and five rebounds. He didn’t play in yesterday’s game, perhaps because he’s left to play for another team in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Trey McKinney-Jones: McKinney-Jones is not shy when it comes to putting up his shots. He’s second on the team with 20 shot attempts in the last two games, making eight (40%).

Victor Oladipo: Oladipo stopped by yesterday to watch some of his new teammates play in Summer League. It’s good to see two of the best players on the team both come out to support the young guys this week in Myles Turner and Oladipo.

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.

Free Agency Targets: Rebuild

Kevin Pritchard said in his post-draft press conference that the Pacers have options with Paul George trades that could put them in a position to rebuild around young players or could keep them in the playoff race with established veterans.

These two options also give two contrasting plans for free agency. Today, we’ll look at players that the Pacers should look at if they choose to go with a George trade that gives them youth and development. The Pacers won’t be going after free agent targets in “win-now” moves like Jrue Holiday and Danilo Gallinari that they were rumored to be interested in before the George news broke in this rebuilding scenario.

Those types of veterans aren’t going to be looking to join a rebuilding team, and the Pacers will be looking to give as many minutes as possible to their young players with little care about how many games they end up winning next season.

So what kind of targets should the Pacers be pursuing?

Players that are young and cheap. Players that haven’t been given much of an opportunity in the NBA so far in their careers, whether that’s a D-League (now G-League) All-Star or a young player that’s been riding the bench in the NBA. Players that are former high draft picks that fizzled out elsewhere. The Pacers should be looking for guys that you hope can turn into valuable assets or at least rotation-level players with more opportunity and playing time. Lots of low-risk, high-reward potential players, diamonds in the rough, sleepers, whatever you want to call them.

The Pacers have had success with taking fliers on these type of players in the past with Glenn Robinson III, who played briefly with both the Wolves and Sixers in his rookie season.

Here’s some options for the Pacers to consider that would fit the bill:

(Note: The Pacers generally avoid RFAs so I will too. Besides, if teams can match potential deals, it’s unlikely their current team will let them go on cheap deals anyway.)

Willie Reed:

Age: 27    Stats: 5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks in 15 minutes per game

Willie Reed was fighting to get into the NBA for years in the D-League before finally getting an opportunity with the Brooklyn Nets two seasons ago. He declined his $3 million player option with the Miami Heat after signing a 2-year deal last offseason. In five games as a starter, Reed averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Ian Clark:

Age: 26    Stats: 6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 15 minutes per game

Clark had his best season as a pro with the Warriors last year with his first consistent rotation spot. He shot 37% from 3-point range.

Tyler Ennis: 

Age: 22    Stats: 4.3 points, 0.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 11 minutes per game

The 6’3″ point guard Ennis found a 3-point shot for the first time in his career last year shooting 39% and played fairly well for the Lakers over 22 games to end the season. The former first-round pick shot 45% from the field with LA and scored in double figures in seven of his final 10 games.

Mike Muscala:

Age: 26    Stats: 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists in 18 minutes per game

Muscala shot 42% on his 3-point attempts last year while spending most of his time as a stretch 5 for the Atlanta Hawks.

Thomas Robinson:

Age: 25    Stats: 5.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.6 assists in 12 minutes per game

In just four seasons, Robinson, the former fifth overall pick, has played for six teams. He’s the type of power forward that has gone out of style in today’s NBA with his lack of outside shooting, but he put up a 17.3 PER last season with the Lakers in his limited minutes. He’s never averaged more than 15 minutes per game in any overall season. His free throw shooting of just 47% last year is a concern.

KJ McDaniels: 

Age: 24     Stats: 4.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists in 10.3 minutes per game

His team option was recently declined, but he could still be tendered a qualifying offer by the Nets that would make him a RFA instead of an unrestricted free agent. The wing still hasn’t found a consistent shooting stroke as he’s only shot 29% for his career from 3-point land, but he was able to get his overall shooting percentage to a respectable 45% this season.

Ben McLemore:

Age: 24    Stats: 8.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists in 19 minutes per game

 

McLemore is a late addition to this list as word comes that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent from Chris Haynes at ESPN (The Pacers don’t pursue restricted free agents per their owner’s rule). Perhaps no better choice on this list than McLemore, who could potentially end up being a starter for the Pacers at shooting guard. He’s struggled to find any consistency with the Kings, but perhaps a better environment could lead to more success for the former 7th overall pick. He’s steadily improved his 3-point shooting a couple percentage points per season to go from 32% in his rookie season to 38% this past year.

G-League players to take a chance on

The best part about giving any of these players a chance with a guaranteed contract would be that it’ll likely be at the minimum. These are the cheapest and lowest risk options the Pacers could take, but all of them could just be waiting for the right opportunity to show they belong in the NBA as a rotation player.

Pierre Jackson:

Age: 25    Stats: 22.5 points, 7.7 assists, 1.9 steals

Jackson is a short point guard, but that hasn’t stopped guys like Isaiah Thomas and many others from succeeding in the NBA. His efficiency was much improved this season in the D-League as his shooting percentages rose to 49% overall and 37% from 3-point distance. You have to think eventually some NBA team is going to give this scoring machine a chance. His PER this year was 22.7 while playing for the Texas Legends.

Jalen Jones:

Age: 24    Stats: 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game

Jones can play either forward position and put up big numbers for the Maine Red Claws in his rookie season, but perhaps his biggest strength is his defensive versatility. G-League expert Chris Reichert calls Jones a Draymond-lite and says he can guard the 1-4 positions. He shoots a respectable 35% from long range and searching for his D-League highlights on YouTube produce a multitude of monster games.

His teammate Marcus Georges-Hunt is also one to lookout for if the Magic end up cutting him after signing him to a non-guaranteed deal at the end of last season.

Cliff Alexander:

Age: 21   Stats: 15.8 points, 8.9 rebounds

Alexander was once a highly-touted high school prospect and looked at as a future NBA star, but after spending a season at Kansas unable to play due to NCAA investigation, Alexander went undrafted in 2015. He’s a power forward that fits the mold of the NBA’s past more than the current shooting bigs that are in vogue, but he did try out a 3-point shot with the Nets D-League team shooting 29.6% on 1.5 attempts per game. He can finish in the post with either hand and is a terrific rebounder. He averaged 22.6 points and 11.1 rebounds over his last 15 games while shooting 58% according to Reichert.

Anthony Brown:

Age: 24    Stats: 20.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists

Brown has earned a couple of NBA call ups in the past but has yet to take advantage, struggling with his shot in those chances. He’s a 6’7″ wing that’s recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, but before he got injured he shot a ridiculous 47% from 3-point range on five attempts per game.

Elgin Cook:

Age: 24    Stats: 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists in 23 minutes per game

Cook shot only 33% from 3-point range, but the athletic, strong wing scored in bunches for Santa Cruz before an injury ended his season early.