Category Archives: Analysis

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?

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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.

 

Be patient with Ike Anigbogu who could be a steal

With the 47th pick of the 2017 NBA draft the Indiana Pacers selected, Ike Anigbogu a 6’10” 250 lb 18-year-old center from UCLA. 

“I wasn’t trying to think about where I was going to get picked,” said Anigbogu [AN-IG-BOW-GOO] after being selected. “It’s just the right program. I had a great workout with the Pacers, and I have TJ, so basically, this is the number one pick in my heart.”

Many mock drafts had Ike going much higher (ESPN’s Chad Ford had him at the Pacers #18 pick in his final mock) but fears of the knee injury being a future issue scared teams away. 

Ike (easier to type each time than Anigbogu) played in 29 games for UCLA as a freshman this past season, having missed some time due to issues with his knee. He had surgery to repair a right knee meniscus tear before the season and missed the team’s first five games. Knee issues plagued him through his senior year of high school and the concerns were enough for NBA teams for him to drop from middle of the first round to middle of the second. Will Ike overcome these injuries or follow the Jonathan Bender path? We shall see. 

Ike, who averaged 4.7 pts, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in only just over 13 minutes, is considered an elite defender with outstanding athleticism albeit extremely raw on offense. This isn’t a pick that will pay off right away, but the potential is there for Anigbogu to eventually become a starter in the NBA.

Ford had this to say about Anigbogu, a top-50 recruit going into college, in his draft profile, “He has a 7’6″ wingspan and built like a tank. An aggressive rebounder and shot-blocker. He already has an NBA motor, now just needs to add offensive skill.” 

All this at only 18 years old, the youngest in this year’s draft. He doesn’t turn 19 until October and already has an NBA body. You don’t see a kid this strong coming out of college very often.

“Just energy, just a guy who is willing to put it all on the floor,” said Anigbogu on what he brings to the Pacers. “Do all the dirty work, rim protection, rebounding, mobility on the perimeter, being able to switch some possessions, everything like that. Just a guy who’s going to continue to work on his game and evolve.”

Ike ranked third on the Bruins in blocked shots while his minutes were half that of the two players above him. His mix of elite shot blocking instincts, hard screens and toughness could make him an ideal enforcer type in a few years.

Weaknesses that he’ll need time to fix include his propensity to rack up fouls at an enormous rate (2.5 fouls per game in just 13 minutes) and picking up some offensive skills to make him less of a negative on that end. 

Consensus from most reviews after the draft on Ike: a steal if he can stay healthy. He’s a top-25 talent with great defensive skills, just needs to improve his offense. A potential player comparison I see right away: DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside.

One coach that knows Ike says he’s not afraid to disrespect another player which is something that’s perhaps very needed on this Pacers team. He’ll slam the ball on somebody and let em know about it. 

Side Note: Ike wore #13 at UCLA… wonder what he’ll wear as a Pacer…

The Pacers seem to be going younger at their big position. First round pick in TJ Leaf is 6’10” and looks to get minutes backing up Thad Young right away. While Ike will probably struggle to see the floor this year behind Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, Kevin Seraphin and Rakeem Christmas. With his youth and raw abilities, he may spend a lot of time with the Mad Ants early on before getting a chance to play. Don’t expect to see a lot of Anigbogu early in his career.

The Pacers did decline the team option on Lavoy Allen however making the path for playing time a little closer. Maybe Jermaine O’Neal can hand off some post play knowledge to Ike while he’s tutoring Myles Turner this summer.

Anigbogu, a California native, played AAU ball along with Leaf, then they went to college together at UCLA and now Ike joins him in the pros with the Pacers.

Draft Express highlights on Ike (“Enforcer”) Anigbogu:

Quick Player Profile:

Pros: Quick on his feet, fast off the floor, changes direction well, constant on the offensive glass and high energy. Definite defensive presence. Great in the pick and roll both defensively and offensively.

Cons: Touch around the rim, not as explosive in traffic, struggles with passes below the chest, jump shot needs work (only took eight jump shots the entire season), free throw percentage was 53.5%, post skills, maybe too eager to block shots leaving his teammates exposed, and fouls often. Many of these symptoms are common among young big men in the NBA.

 

Lance Stephenson made us all dance, perhaps none more than Kevin Seraphin

We continue our 2016-2017 player reviews with Lance Stephenson and Kevin Seraphin. If you’ve missed any of the previous reviews, you can find them here.

 Lance Stephenson

Season per-game statistics: 6.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 14 inspired teammates

Contract: Signed late in the 2016-2017 season to a 3-year, $12 million deal with a team option in 2018-2019. Lance played on three teams for six games each this past season (New Orleans, Minnesota, and Indiana). With injuries keeping him from sticking with the first two.

The Good: Lance being Lance and McMillan and the Pacers putting Lance in a position let Lance be Lance. A surprise signing right after Rodney Stuckey was waived due to injury. We even speculated who the Pacers could sign and take advantage of the opportunity to rid themselves of the final year of Stuckey’s contract. 

But Lance brought to the team something that was lacking. A fire on the court and just a love of basketball.  You could tell he’s having a good time and extremely grateful to be back playing for the team that he knows he never should have left. His first game back in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse against the Toronto Raptors will be one many Pacers fans never forget. The Pacers were down large to start but Lance injected his energy with his flashy play and playmaking ability, even found his jump shot that rarely was around for outside of his Pacers playing days. Even typically reserved Jeff Teague got fired up that game! That’s why they call it the Lance Effect.

His signing to the team came at a point when most fans had written off the season as a lost cause. Win one lose one. Why go see a game in person bleh.. but then it changed to, I can’t wait to see what Lance will do next! Bonus: The Pacers never lost a game that wasn’t against LeBron James with Lance on the team, going 5-0 down the stretch. It seems his time bouncing around the league had humbled him and taught him he had a good thing going in Indiana. Who wants to buy a Lance T-shirt for next season?

A little side bonus. Paul George and Lance are close. Perhaps the Lance signing can help convince Paul to stay in Indiana? If nothing else, it can’t hurt the Pacers chances.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2702273

The Bad: Lance being Lance. Most fans were wondering when/if the love fest would wear off. But to close the season it hadn’t. How will he play, though, when there are hard times? When the pressure is on?

For one, he’s got to improve his 3-point shooting. Teams were daring him to take the open three and to his credit he did a decent job of hitting those shots enough. He did seem to bring one of his legs oddly forward when going up for a jump shot, which made it look awkward but it was often successful in those limited chances. He still has a tendency to settle for far too many midrange shots and everyone knows Lance is at times going to dribble too much rather than just keep moving the ball on offense, but there was far more good than bad this year. 

Next season, the Pacers will need him to get and stay healthy. Injuries plagued his 2016-2017 campaign and if he can stay on the court, he can be a huge boast to this Pacers squad as a backup point guard running the bench. 

And honestly, to close the season there wasn’t a whole lot of bad to deal with in the second honeymoon. He only played six regular season games and four playoff games and for many of them, he was the Pacers’ 2nd best player behind Paul George. Let’s see if that can continue and the Pacers have re-found their diamond in the rough.

Kevin Seraphin

Season per-game statistics: 4.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists

Contract: Signed before the start of the season to a 2-year deal, reportedly $1.8 million per year.

The Good: Backup big man minutes. Signed as more of an after thought flier once free agency was essentially over to shore up the big position, Kevin showed why he was drafted with the 17th pick back in the 2010 draft. Injuries to Al Jefferson and Lavoy Allen gave him an opportunity and Kevin took advantage. A sneaky good finisher around the rim but his best attribute was running the pick and roll with Lance Stephenson. The two seemed to hit it off, off the court as friends that transferred on the court. Seraphin picked up his play more than any other Pacers player once Lance joined the team as the two found instant chemistry on and off the court.

With Stephenson in April, Seraphin nearly doubled with season average for points, putting up 8.5 per game in the final six games in only 14 minutes. Seraphin took more free throws in that 6-game stretch (12) than he had in the entire season before Stephenson joined the team (10) and gave him a serious boost of confidence.

Keep that rolling for the second unit please and Kevin has a chance at locking down the backup big rotation minutes. Side note: keep the fun Social Media posts coming!

The Bad: Assists and guarding more athletic 5s. Assists are sometimes hard to come by for a big man but with him running the PNR with Lance so well, there would be many opportunities for those two to create for each other and others. Currently Kevin looks to score first once he catches the ball.

With the majority of the NBA going away from a traditional center, the ability to contest and keep up with smaller more agile 5s is a must. If Kevin could show he can handle chasing guys like Anthony Davis while bodying Demarcus Cousin types in the post he could see his minutes increase.

Seraphin was often played out of position as a backup power forward with Al Jefferson at the center off the bench but they really just seemed to get in each other’s way. Dubbed the double plodders lineup by C. Cooper of Indy Cornrows, the Pacers struggled mightily with that duo on the floor. Seraphin and Jefferson were both far more successful when they were the lone big roaming in the paint area and need to be surrounded by as many shooters as possible. If both are still on the team next year, the Pacers can’t continue to make that same mistake again.

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.

CJ Miles was the Pacers best floor spacer, while Lavoy Allen was a space eater

We continue our 2016-2017 player reviews with CJ Miles and Lavoy Allen. If you’ve missed any of the previous reviews, you can find them here.

CJ Miles

Season per-game statistics: 10.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists

Contract: Miles has a player option for 2017-18 that he will reportedly opt out of to become a free agent. He was making roughly $4.5 million and his next contract will be much more lucrative. Perhaps more than the Pacers can afford this offseason. In July 2014, the Pacers signed CJ to a 4-year deal after he played two seasons in Cleveland. This was his 12th year in the league after making the jump from high school.

The Good: Before the season started, Miles read a scouting report on himself that he’s only a shooter and made it a point to drive more and improve his weaknesses according to that report. But even with that emphasis, CJ still shot a career high from three (41.3%) and the Free-Throw line (90.3%). He was a valuable asset for the Pacers this season at the wing position be it off the bench or in the starting lineup as his numbers were nearly identical either way. When he did start however, he completed one of the best 5-man lineups in the league that outscored opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions.

This season did not have a repeat of last year’s problem of Miles guarding the power forward and getting beat up physically as he played in all but six games this season. But most importantly, outside Paul George, CJ was the player you wanted taking the three point shot and he lead the team in percentage this season.

Here is an example of what having a true threat from three does for your team.

The Bad: There’s not a ton of bad from CJ this season. He gave you what you expected and then some. Timely 3-point shooting that sometimes can come and go, but most of the time you could count on him to knock it down this season with that career high percentage. (Not counting that playoff Game 1….) Only major negative is that he most likely will move onto a new team next year. The Pacers will miss his shooting if they are unable to find a way to keep him. Other negatives have been issues his entire career but were mostly minimized this season: injuries weren’t an issue and his streakiness wasn’t nearly as pronounced as in the past. While his defense isn’t superb, he has shown the ability in the past to be a solid scheme defender.

He should have started more and perhaps been given the opportunity to play as the power forward with the bench more often but these are all coaching and roster construction issues rather than problems that Miles had. 

Lavoy Allen

Season per-game statistics: 2.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists

Contract: Team option for 2017-18. The Pacers will have to decide whether or not they want to keep Allen at his cheap $3.5 million or add that amount to the team’s cap space. This was Allen’s sixth year in the league. The Pacers acquired Lavoy in February 2014 as part of the Danny Granger / Evan Turner trade.

The Good: Hustle and offensive rebounds come to mind. A player in the same mold as Pacer cult hero Jeff Foster, who prides himself on going after offensive rebounds. This season saw the return of Lavoy’s jump shot as well though only after a horrendous shooting slump to start the season that had him making only 18% of his midrange attempts about halfway through the year. Plenty of ‘no no no yes’ moments with his offensive game.

It was mostly fun to watch Lavoy have fun. He farted in a game while on the bench and his birthday hangout with Pacers sideline reporter Jeremiah Johnson at Tapper’s Barcade after he best game of the year with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bad: Health and offensive game. Lavoy only played in 61 games this year either from injury or DNP-CD. But the biggest drawback to Lavoy’s game is his lack of offensive skill set. Teams know he isn’t looking to score and have no reason to fear a jump shot from Allen. And Lavoy around the rim (especially for a big guy) leaves a lot to be desired. 

Because of this, he often served as a space eater on offense that clogged the lanes, making it more difficult for drivers like Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey to do what they do best and Al Jefferson found it more difficult to score in the post without shooters surrounding him as well. When the Pacers tried to avoid the double-plodder lineups and paired Allen with Turner as much as possible (while Al Jefferson played more with Thad Young), it seemed to be more effective. While Allen did what he was best at, he was often a poor fit with the players around him like many players on this year’s version of the Pacers.

Stay tuned for the rest of the team to come.

GR3 soared, while Monta went down in flames: 2016-2017 Player Reviews

The 2016-2017 season has come and gone with an up and down year for the Blue and Gold and an interesting, highly important offseason to come with the Paul George situation looming. Here’s the start of our player season reviews with a look at Glenn Robinson III and Monta Ellis.

Glenn Robinson III

Season Per-Game Statistics: 6.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists

Contract – Under Contract through 2017/18 for $1,090,500 in the last year of his deal. This was his third year in the league. July 2015 the Pacers signed GR3 to a 3-year deal after the 76ers opted to not give a qualifying offer.

The Good – So much good here in Robinson’s mini-breakout season. A player acquired during the summer of 2015 based of potential only who most thought as a fringe rotational player, finally started to show some promise of his skills from his game winner against Atlanta to his NBA Slam Dunk championship. Glenn’s athleticism has always been his strength but this season he added shooting (39% from 3-point territory) and a little bit of defense to go along with it. A 3&D wing the Pacers desperately needed and even filled in adequately for a brief period while Paul George was hurt.

If he can continue to develop his all around game (shooting / defense) and keep his confidence up, he can be an asset in the rotation going forward, perhaps even starting some at the 2-4 spots. His injury late in the season caused Nate McMillan to (mistakenly) start Monta Ellis again so the bench could still have some shooting with CJ moving to the reserves. His importance to the team was never more clear.

The Bad – Confidence. Glenn needs to keep playing like he belongs. Too often he can drift and disappear on the court. When he’s out there, he needs to be noticed. Either by his athleticism on offense or hustle on defense. Especially when he’s playing with the second unit. When he’s starting, the team needs him to fill up the boxes by doing the little things. Blocks, hustle, etc. You wonder how much of him disappearing at times is because of who the ball was typically given to when he was in the game. The bench was typically run by ball dominant players like Rodney Stuckey or Ellis. Perhaps we’ll see a larger role for Robinson next year and a willing passer like Lance could lead to more opportunities for Sky Dog.

The injury that sidelined him near the end of the season (right when he was hitting his stride) is not chronic (calf strain). But hopefully those injuries do not become a habit.

Monta Ellis

Season Per-Game Statistics: 8.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists

Contract – Under Contract for 2017/18. $11,227,000, two more years on his deal with the last year (2018-19) a player option (The Pacers can terminate the player option by releasing Monta Ellis anytime before the end of next year’s regular season like they did with Rodney Stuckey this season). This was his 13th year in the league. In July 2015, the Pacers signed Monta to a 4-year deal worth $44 million after he opted out of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks.

The Good – Most fans would say, is there any? While there were many negative Monta moments and themes over the season, 6th-man Monta was a positive at times when Coach McMillan played him there instead of with the starting unit. His ability with the second unit to create and set up teammates was something the Pacers were missing before the acquisition of Lance Stephenson.  If he would accept the role of the bench, facilitating and attacking the rim (not shooting), he has a shot at being a top 6th man in the league. The problem is that if Stephenson continues to come off the bench, there’s really no role for good role for Ellis on this team.

The Bad – Now time for what fans want. Monta shooting threes = bad. Monta dribbling out the clock / ball stop = bad. Monta on defense (especially when Jeff Teague is on the floor too) = bad. Mostly, Monta on the floor with other players who need the ball to be successful (Teague, Lance, Stuckey, Brooks). Thanks for all the ball dominant guards that also aren’t great shooters, Larry! Trying not to kick a guy when he had a down year (lowest PPG of his career since his rookie season with 8.5ppg), but he’s getting older (31 wait, that’s old!?) and a wing who can’t guard anyone (remember the LeBron fast break dunk in the playoffs? ya, I’d rather not) or shoot threes, is a liability.

Best case this offseason is the Pacers somehow find a taker for Monta’s contract that they can sell as an expiring, but they still might need to sweeten the deal with a draft pick just to rid themselves of Ellis (and potentially Al Jefferson, but that’s another player review).

 

Paul George didn’t make an All-NBA team, so now what?

Earlier today, the All-NBA teams were announced. This was an important event for the Pacers franchise as they found out whether Paul George would qualify for the new Designated Player Extension that would allow the Pacers to extend George to a significantly larger contract than he would be able to get from any other team if he chose to leave in free agency after next season.

Unfortunately for George and the Pacers, George didn’t even come close to making one of the three All-NBA teams. George finished with 40 points from the voting, while Jimmy Butler grabbed the final forward spot with 102 points. Draymond Green was the other third-team forward and finished with 134 points as he was boosted by his positional versatility that garnered him many votes as a center.

So, now that the Pacers have lost this key tool to potentially convince George to stick around by signing an extension this summer, what do they do now?

Meet with Paul George and his agent and have the most important conversation in franchise history. According to the Indy Star, George is expected to mull over his options this weekend before meeting with the Pacers, so this is already in the works.

Pritchard should start with the obvious question when the meeting takes place: are you really hellbent on joining the Los Angeles Lakers? George’s agent spread the rumors that it was Lakers or bust to NBA GMs near the deadline this season, but this could have just been a tactic to prevent his client from being traded and losing any possibility of the super-max contract through the DPE. This kills the Pacers leverage in any potential deal if true as teams will be very reluctant to offer much in a trade for George if it’s just a single season rental and if you’re the Lakers, you don’t want to give up much if you think he’s just going to join your team as a free agent anyway.

Sidenote: I’ve never fully bought the Lakers narrative despite the rumors, the heavy recruitment from Jimmy Kimmel and the winks from Magic Johnson. Sure, George is a guy from California and a huge Kobe Bryant fan, but he’s also said multiple times in the past that he grew up a big fan of the Clippers. The Lakers are also a very bad team right now. George has said repeatedly that he wants to win and get back to those days of competing in the conference finals and presumably farther than that. His path to contention with the current makeup of the Lakers doesn’t scream instant success.

The Lakers in that loaded western conference would still be a star player or two away from having a shot at contending with George added to the roster. There’s no guarantees that any of their young guys or whoever they take at the number two pick will eventually be a star, and does George really want to wait for them to grow up during the prime years of his career? It would make a lot more sense for George to want to go to a team that is already in contention.

Kevin Durant didn’t leave the Thunder to join a rebuilding effort. He left to create perhaps the most talented super team of all time with the Golden State Warriors. LeBron James didn’t abandon Cleveland to start from scratch; he teamed up with his Team USA friends to win championships. Does he really want to go to Los Angeles just to sell more shoes and visit Kimmel’s late night show on the regular? It’s hard to see him wanting to go to LA if he wants to win in the near future.

Anyway, if George wants to leave and it actually is only to the Lakers, the Pacers are screwed as long as his agent keeps letting everyone know about it. A team desperate for a star may still make an offer thinking that they can woo him to stay in that one season (Sixers, Hawks, Nuggets and Suns all either made offers at the deadline and/or have been trying to get a star player for awhile), but it’s unlikely to garner much in return for the Pacers compared to a situation where George was open to re-signing to a team that traded for him other than the Lakers.

George tweeted and deleted this reply with no text to a Bleacher Report article earlier today that mentions that the Celtics should trade the number one pick for someone like George or Butler if they can according to Paul Pierce. It likely means nothing besides George reads Bleacher Report articles sometimes, but it nevertheless caused a frenzy of freak outs on Twitter. If this really was a signal that George was ready to leave, it would at least say he was open to other teams besides the Lakers.

I don’t think George wants to leave Indiana empty-handed. George does keep saying how he loves Indiana and that it’s a great place to play basketball. He has to know that he’ll be vilified if he simply walks away in free agency, leaving the Pacers with nothing but memories.

If George does want to go, hopefully he’ll be upfront about it and give the Pacers an opportunity to get something in return. If he’s actually open to signing with other teams than the Lakers, and as long as the agent stops telling NBA GMs otherwise now that he didn’t qualify for the DPE, the Pacers have the opportunity to create a bidding war among teams to get as good of a deal as possible.

It’s also possible, though no one in the NBA world seems to think so, that George wants to remain in Indiana, even after not making an All-NBA team. He’s got a signature shoe and a bunch of endorsement deals. He’s not really suffering by playing in a small market, and the Pacers so far have played LeBron James and the Cavs better than anyone else in the East to this point.

George could also still potentially qualify for the DPE after next season if he makes an All-NBA team, and if he plays like he did from the beginning of March through the playoffs throughout the next season, he’s easily making one of those teams. If George really does want to surpass Reggie Miller in terms of legacy in Indiana, have his number in the rafters like the press release for his Tamika Catchings PG1 colorways said and that big contract is something he wants an opportunity to earn, then the Pacers could take the huge risk of going into this season with that plan in mind.

If the wheels fall off during the season and the team is struggling or George can’t match his play from the end of last season, the Pacers could look to trade George at the deadline if it becomes clear he’s leaving. There are obvious risks here, and the Pacers would have little leverage in any potential deal at that late point, but this is also the only scenario that has the chance of a guaranteed star on the Pacers roster past next season.

 

 

Coroner’s Report: An Autopsy of the 2016-2017 Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers season died today after being swept by the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The sweep was the first in the franchise’s history in a 7-game series. Here’s the autopsy on what caused the Pacers demise in 2016-2017.

Date: 4/23/2017

Patient: 2016-2017 Indiana Pacers
Cause(s) of Death:

  • Larry Bird
  • Nate McMillan
  • Inconsistency
  • Thaddeus Young’s wrist
  • LeBron James

Summary of examination:

Larry Bird:

No better place to start than the top for why the Pacers season died. While Bird did well to add Thaddeus Young for the 20th pick in a weak draft class and the trade for Jeff Teague seems like it’ll work out for the Pacers as long as he re-signs this summer, the team’s various puzzle pieces just never fit together. The team was built with multiple ball-dominant, undersized guards with Teague joining Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey on the roster. Ellis and Stuckey make the fit worse by being woeful shooters from the outside. And because Bird thought he didn’t have enough of these ball dominant, undersized guards, he also added Aaron Brooks.

Al Jefferson was added after Bird couldn’t afford to spend the $16 million per year on Ian Mahinmi that he received from the Washington Wizards, but he was only effective on offense when surrounded by shooters which the Pacers were in desperate need of all season long, instead eating up Jefferson’s real estate to work in the post most of the season were Lavoy Allen or Kevin Seraphin. Jefferson also looked disinterested in anything resembling defense all season, adding to the team’s woes in that area.

By the end of the season, Bird has spent $27 million of the team’s salary cap on three players that gave the Pacers nothing in the playoff series against the Cavaliers. Stuckey was injured and released late in the season, Jefferson never saw a minute of playing time in the series, and I wish we saw that little of Ellis. Even as his playing time shrank to just five minutes played in game four, the Pacers were outscored by seven points in that stretch. They lost the game by four. This was Monta’s biggest highlight of the series.

Ellis and Jefferson still have multiple years left on their contracts though the Pacers can rid themselves of Ellis’s player option for the final season by waiving him before the end of the next season like they did with Stuckey this year. Bird’s spent a lot of precious cap space on players that have made the Pacers worse. The Pacers were outscored by 2 points per 100 possessions with Ellis on the court per NBA Wowy, despite spending much of that time with the starters (CJ Miles with the starters meanwhile was the 5th-best lineup in the NBA that played over 400 minutes together). The Pacers were outscored by 6 points per 100 possessions when Al Jefferson was on the court, and 3 points per 100 possessions with Stuckey. None of these players added anything on the defensive end either besides Ellis’s penchant for guessing correctly to get a steal or two per game. 

Bird’s poor roster construction the last two seasons has wasted two years of Paul George’s prime at the worst possible time as his contract comes another year closer to being up before George can hit free agency after next season.

All these additions led to a roster that had a nasty problem of both too little shooting and too little defense. After years of being in the upper echelon of team defense, the team struggled all season long to be consistent on that end of the court after losing George Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Solomon Hill and Frank Vogel, despite Bird’s confidence that assistant coach Dan Burke would take care of that end.

Bird allowed Vogel’s contract to expire (article had previously said Vogel was fired, but his contract simply wasn’t renewed) after the Pacers lost in the first round to the Raptors in seven games while saying that he wants a “new voice” in the locker room and for the team to play faster. Vogel led the teams to the playoffs every year except for one: the year Paul George recovered from his broken leg. They were one win away from getting the final playoff spot that season. Meanwhile, Bird quickly decided without interviewing any other candidates that his “new voice” to get the team to play faster was a coach that had been with the Pacers the previous three seasons and was notorious for his ultra slow-paced, but efficient offenses at Portland, Nate McMillan, which brings us to the next cause of death.

Nate McMillan 

McMillan in his first year as head coach for the Pacers was dealt a flawed roster from the start (see above) but did little to find ways to put some of these mismatched pieces in a position to succeed. Bird wanted the team to play faster on offense, but they were only 18th in pace this season. Most perplexing of all was McMillan’s decision to start Ellis for 33 games of the season and then two more in the playoffs, even though it was obvious as soon as Teague was acquired that Ellis and Teague would never fit together. Pacers were outscored by nearly eight points per game when Teague and Ellis shared the court in the playoffs. Even after realizing that finally pulling the plug on starting Ellis after the first two games against the Cavaliers, McMillan somehow decided that he should attempt to finish the game with Ellis as he played six minutes in the fourth quarter of game three during the Pacers historic collapse.

Meanwhile, the Pacers starting lineup with either Glenn Robinson III (+6 per 100 possessions) or CJ Miles (+7.7 points per 100 possessions) was one of the better 5-man lineups in the league. When Robinson got hurt, McMillan made the mistake of making the starters worse for the sake of the fit of the bench by going back to Ellis over Miles. It didn’t hurt the Pacers in the regular season as they ended the season with five straight wins, but we saw the effects of it in the playoffs.

He chose to bog down bench lineups with double plodders (pairing Jefferson and Allen or Jefferson and Seraphin or Allen and Seraphin) for much of the season while never giving Georges Niang an opportunity to play as a power forward to see if he could help the spacing issues and stay with a stretch big better than the other bigs that came off the bench. Driving players like Stuckey and Ellis could never find any space in the lane and spent a lot of time bricking jump shots from the outside and Jefferson was short on room to operate from the post in the paint.

The Pacers were very much a team that was living in the past under McMillan with a general a lack of awareness of the 3-point line. The Pacers were tied with the 4th-best 3-point shooting team in the league by percentage at 37.6%, but were a lowly 27th in the league in attempts per game. On the other end of the court, the Pacers gave up the 5th-most 3-point attempts and were 13th in the league in opponent’s shooting percentage from long range (35.5%).

Another of the more puzzling moves from McMillan was his coaching of second-year player Myles Turner. Turner’s usage percentage mysteriously dropped after the All-Star break from 21% to just 16% with McMillan on record of saying that he wanted Turner to not shoot it every time and “distribute more,” but this made Turner hesitant to shoot when opportunities were there as he was stuck thinking too much instead of just playing with instinct. A finger injury in March didn’t help, but the drop in usage started before the injury. Turner got better as a passer throughout the season, but that’s a waste of Turner’s talents when he’s passing out to players like Ellis in the corner. Turner was called the Pacers best shooter and potentially the best Pacers player ever down the line at different times by Bird in the last two years, but Turner went from being the 2nd or 3rd offensive option to only the 4th or 5th for reasons unknown. Turner still has plenty of room to grow by adding strength and gaining more of a low-post game, but there’s no reason that his jump shot shouldn’t have been utilized more in the offense this year.

Too often this team seemed undisciplined and unorganized on defense, and at some point, the team’s inconsistency of play from one night to another comes down to the coach as well, which brings up the next cause of death.

Inconsistency

The Pacers at home this season were one of the best teams in the league with a record of 29-12 that was tied for 7th-best in the league, but on the road, the Pacers record of 13-28 was the 8th-worst in the league. The road woes came even against the bottom-feeders of the league as the Pacers lost to the following non-playoff teams on the road: Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks (twice), Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets (twice) and Miami Heat (twice).

All of these bad losses become even more frustrating when just one more win this season would have avoided the first-round matchup against LeBron James, and the Pacers had a much better shot of challenging the Toronto Raptors or any other team in the East than James and the Cavaliers. By winning only two of these 11 games, the Pacers would have been the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Pacers effort on defense came and went all year. Scott Agness reported after today’s game that the general feeling was that they were “horrendous” on defense all season and that communication was the biggest thing that they lacked.

Some of this inconsistency from early in the season can be blamed on a lack of familiarity with each other as the team was overhauled from the previous season, but they never seemed to find much chemistry until Lance Stephenson arrived on the scene.

Thaddeus Young’s Wrist

Thad Young showed how important he was to the Pacers when he suffered his wrist injury and missed eight games. The Pacers would the first two, but then lost the next six going into the All-Star break. Young came back after the All-Star break and still helped the Pacers with his hustle, effort and array of lefty floaters in the lane, but his wrist was clearly still injured and his improved shooting stroke from outside was unable to make a return in the second half of the season. For a stretch early in his return, he struggled to even catch passes from his teammates.

Young shot 39.6% from 3-point range on 111 attempts before the All-Star break and only 14% after on just seven attempts. Young was unable to even consider shooting from the outside as his wrist recovered. The Pacers were 27-22 before Young’s injury and 15-18 after the injury.

LeBron James

James delivered the final death blow to the Pacers season by being the best player in the world throughout the first-round series. Every time Paul George had an amazing game in the series, James answered. James averaged 32.8 points, 9.0 assists, 9.8 rebounds and 3 steals per game and was the catalyst to the Pacers historic collapse in game three as he was unstoppable while surrounded by four shooters in that fourth quarter and the Pacers had no answer for the lineup. The Pacers could have avoided facing James by taking care of business in the regular season though as talked about above.

Drugs in system at time of death

Abnormal levels of hype and adrenaline

Lance Stephenson, Born Ready, briefly brought this team back from the dead when it looked like the team would fail to make the playoffs as they went 5-1 after he was signed to a 3-year, $12-million deal after Stuckey suffered a season-ending injury. His energy and passion was infectious for the Pacers as the team finally were consistently showing up night after night with their season on the line. The Pacers outscored opponents by 10 points per game with Stephenson on the court in the regular season and look like they have a steal at just $4 million for next season.

For the love of the basketball gods, don’t keep starting Monta & other thoughts

Tell me if you’ve heard this before? Monta Ellis shouldn’t be in the starting lineup.

I’m not sure there’s anyone left on that lonely island (if it were ever inhabited at all) that’s hoping to see Ellis listed among the Indiana Pacers starting five when the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers resumes for game three tomorrow evening.

The Pacers are down 2-0, but they’ve lost these pair of games by a measly seven points combined despite many issues including choosing not to start the game with their best 5-man unit.

Per NBA Wowy (with a h/t to C. Cooper of Indy Cornrows), in the 44 minutes that Teague and Ellis have played together in this series, the Pacers have been outscored by 10 points in 92 possessions (which is greater than the difference in the scoreboard in the first two games).

The problems with Ellis and Teague playing together have been unsurprising as they are what many predicted as soon as Teague was acquired this offseason. Both need the ball to be their best selves on offense, both are undersized, if Ellis doesn’t have the ball he provides zero shooting from the outside to space the floor and while Ellis is a master at getting steals by correctly predicting which way his opponent will go off the dribble, he’s good at little else on the defensive end. The pairing didn’t play well together in the regular season and hasn’t in the playoffs either.

In this series, the Cavaliers have been eager to leave Ellis open on the 3-point line and force the ball out of Paul George and the rest of the starters’ hands. LeBron James has often been the one guarding Ellis, but he’s essentially allowed to roam free with no fear of Ellis making him pay. While Ellis has been aggressive a few times a game off the dribble, you don’t really want him challenging James when you have Paul George on the court being guarded by JR Smith or Iman Shumpert.

Even when Ellis hits a jump shot these days, it feels like a victory for the Cavs, because it’s unlikely that Ellis will hit the next one he takes, but it’s more likely that he’s given himself the confidence to take more anyway. And once again, you’d rather have anybody else on the court take that jump shot with the starters instead of Ellis.

Meanwhile with the return of Glenn Robinson III, the Pacers have three legitimate candidates that could supplant Ellis in the starting lineup: CJ Miles, Lance Stephenson, and Glenn Robinson III.

Mark Montieth said that based on practice jerseys, he thinks Miles may get the start for game three, so that’s a good sign that McMillan is looking for other options.

The Pacers starting lineup with Miles is also one with a proven track record of success: the 5th-best lineup in the NBA that’s played more than 400 minutes together this season. It outscored opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions in the regular season (research per Cooper).

The biggest thing that Miles brings is shooting that demands to be guarded. The Cavs can’t leave Miles, who shot 41% from 3-point territory, open on the perimeter like they can with Ellis.

Glenn Robinson III came back with limited minutes in his first game back but hit an open three and didn’t show much rust in his return to action. He’s another guy that the Cavs would have to respect more than Ellis on the outside.

Both Robinson and Miles also provide a bigger body defender than Ellis that while they still can’t check LeBron on an emergency switch, they at least stand a better chance.

The issue with Miles and Robinson starting then becomes what to do about the Stephenson and Ellis pairing that has all the same problems that Ellis/Teague pairing has, but with even less shooting. Per NBA Wowy, they haven’t faired too badly so far in the series but in limited minutes. The Pacers were outscored by just two points in 23 possessions over 10 minutes (8.7 points per 100 possessions) with Ellis and Stephenson both playing.

My personal solution to this problem would be to not play Ellis at all. Either go to an 8-man rotation that features Paul George, Myles Turner, Teague, Thaddeus Young, Miles, Robinson, Stephenson and Seraphin or play Aaron Brooks in very limited minutes as the ninth man. Brooks has had some offensive success playing off the ball with Stephenson and can make an outside shot. In game one, Brooks and the rest of the Pacers looked loss defensively in the first half and he hasn’t seen the court in the series since. In seven minutes, the Pacers were outscored by two points (over 14 points per 100 possessions) with Brooks and Stephenson sharing the court.

Stephenson could also end up starting. While McMillan, George and Stephenson all said that he lost his composure in the third quarter while attempting to guard Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, he’s been a solid addition to the Pacers since returning from his three years in the desert. He’s often been one of the five guys that’s been closing the games final minutes. He’s paired well with Teague so far this series as well. The Pacers have outscored the Cavs by seven points in 54 possessions (13 points per 100 possessions) over 28 minutes while Stephenson and Teague have shared the court.

Other thoughts from the series:

Resident Hot Takes, Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star, even thinks the Paul George hates his teammates, is throwing them under the bus and wants to get out of Indiana as soon as possible narrative that many in the national media have been throwing around is nonsense. If Doyel thinks you’ve gone too far with a hot take, well…

It’s interesting that after losing two road playoff games by only seven points to the defending NBA champions that there would be so much negativity surrounding the team. Perhaps it’s because other lower seeds have won some games or because it feels like the Pacers should have at least won one of these games, but the Pacers were god awful on the road all season and one of the league’s best home teams. If they can get a win at home in Game 3, there’s no reason to think they can’t at least push this series to six games.

Yes, Myles Turner has struggled in his second career playoff series. He’s still protecting the rim well for the most part, but has missed some rotations and Tristan Thompson has done what numerous bigs have done to him all year: destroy him on the glass. He’s driven fans mad with his propensity to double clutch in the paint and needs to add strength this off-season. However, I think he’ll play better in these next two games at home and look more aggressive on the offensive end. Also, calling him soft will always be ridiculous, but probably always be a thing that some people say until he adds more strength on his still young body to not be pushed around down low.

Let’s hope with two days off, the Pacers have come up with a better strategy for guarding the 1/3 pick and roll that has absolutely destroyed them. Help Teague faster when you switch him onto LeBron or fight through those screens better so you don’t have to. And if Lance is going to guard Love again, let’s hope he at least tries to front him and force help from the weakside (like Lance said was the actual plan in the last game).

 

Myles Turner is in a Sophomore Slump

When Myles Turner started this season off with an impressive 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals in an overtime win against Dallas, it looked like Turner might be ready to make a leap to stardom quicker than expected.

But since that opening night, Turner hasn’t surpassed 30 points (closest is 26 points against the Pelicans in December) or 16 rebounds (his closest is 15 rebounds against the Nets in January). At the All-Star break, saying his season was a disappointment would still have been unfair as the 20-year-old second-year player out of Texas was averaging 15.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game (constantly adding to the ever-growing Myles High Club).

However, since the All-Star break and particularly during the month of March, Turner seems to have hit the proverbial wall and is in the midst of a sophomore slump offensively during an inopportune time for the Pacers as they look to secure a playoff spot. He’s averaging just 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in the Pacers first nine games of March. The signs of a decline in his play were evident in February as his shooting percentages dipped from well over 50% for the first few months of the season to only 46%, but they’ve plummeted all the way down to a lowly 40% so far in March.

Lately, it seems that Turner is reluctant to look for his shot in the offense, and you have to wonder if his confidence is dwindling as his shooting stroke from beyond the 3-point line has completely abandoned him. He’s made just 2 of his last 22 attempts from deep after starting the season shooting 40% (33 of 83), and he’s yet to make a 3-pointer in March on nine attempts.

Statistics seem to support the hypothesis that he’s passing up some shots that he would normally take as his usage percentage is down to just 16.2% since the All-Star break after being at 21.2% in the season’s first half.

The only positive from Turner turning down shot opportunities has been his improved passing making more appearances every game. Turner’s nearly doubled his assist average since the All-Star break with 1.9 per game after getting just 1.1 prior and has made many passes that he wouldn’t have even thought to attempt during his rookie season.

Turner’s become very adept at finding the open shooters at the 3-point line, but he’s also making some flashy passes. This assist is from January, but Myles has been making a lot of no-look passes like this one in February and March.

 

Based on comments to the Indy Star earlier this month, this may be a concerted effort for Turner to pass the ball more and find ways to contribute outside of scoring.

“The game has really gone to the five man being involved in pin-downs or pick-and-rolls and a lot of times that ball is thrown to him and he’s got to make reads,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan told the Indianapolis Star. “It’s not shooting every time, but it’s taking what the defense is giving you and making the right read. I thought last night was probably his best game of making those reads of the pick-and-rolls and the pin-downs.”

Still you wonder if the Pacers have gone too far with wanting Turner to pass and if it’s causing him to think too much about whether it’s okay for him to shoot. It’s not often that you see Turner catch the ball on a pick and pop and immediately be ready to shoot the ball in the midrange during this stretch. It’s also becoming increasingly rare to see Turner get the ball on the block while posting someone up (still looking forward to him working with Jermaine O’Neal in that area).

Fortunately for the Pacers, Turner’s still been very good defensively as the anchor down low as he’s led the Pacers to a 5th-best defensive rating since the All-Star break even after the Raptors torched them last night. While he struggles with blocking out as he tries continue to add strength to his young body, he’s still the most important player defensively for the Pacers.

Even in this awful offensive stretch, Turner’s been the Pacers second-best player in terms of Total Points Added with Paul George leading the way by a large margin. You can see how good Turner’s been defensively that he’s still about +5 overall in this metric and how much more value he’s added on defense than any other Pacer.

Last night’s brutal game against the Raptors was a perfect microcosm of everything that’s been going on with Turner for about a month and a half. He scored just three points while taking only four shots as he often passed away opportunities to score and managed three assists while looking for his teammates, but also had two turnovers. Besides the game against Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks where he put up 17 points and 11 rebounds, Turner has often seemed extremely passive in the offense since the All-Star break.

Turner continued to look skiddish when getting the opportunity to shoot in the first half tonight against the Jazz, but seemed much more intent on looking to score in the second. He finished with 16 points and made more than 50% of his shots. Hopefully, this will carry over to the next game for Turner.

Turner’s improvement in passing and uptick in his assists average is not worth all the points per game that the Pacers are losing by him not being as involved in the offense in terms of scoring. If the Pacers want to make the playoffs and perhaps challenge either the Wizards, Celtics, or Raptors in a 7-game series, they’ll need Turner to score, not to just get a couple of assists per game. Turner finding that balance between sharing the ball while still looking to score and regaining confidence in his shot will be key for the Pacers as they try to lock down their spot in the playoffs.