Category Archives: Analysis

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.

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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.

Rebounding struggles have improved for Pacers since All-Star break

Rebound: undefined period following the break up of a romantic relationshi… oops wrong definition. Basketball Rebound: gain possession of a missed shot after it bounces off the backboard or basket rim.

Once known as a defensive-focused team who controlled the glass, rebounds are hard to come by for the Indiana Pacers this season. Currently the Pacers are 2nd to last in Defensive Rebound Percentage (Percentage of available rebounds grabbed, last place is NYK) and near the bottom (26 of 30) in total rebounds per game. In total rebounds, the first Pacer listed is Myles Turner at #32 overall with next listed being Paul George at #62. So… not good.

Many factors go into not being able to control the boards of course. Personnel, style of play, effort, opponent, etc. And for the Pacers there is no simple answer besides a little bit of all of these. Head Coach Nate McMillan knew this was a potential issue before the season even began with how the roster was set up.

“One of the concerns, or things we will have to improve on, is our rebounding,” McMillan told 1070 the Fan in early October. “We’ve played pretty much a big lineup the last couple of years; we’ve been able to rebound the ball. We’ve got to rebound the ball this year, that’s going to take a team effort.”

When the Pacers win or match the opponent in the rebounding battle, they tend to win games. But that hasn’t happened often enough this season.

This season the Pacers have won or tied in 26 of their 65 games so far and are 18-8 when they do so. When they lose the rebounding battle, they are 15-24. The Pacers magic number seems to be about 43 rebounds a game. Hit that, and they are almost guaranteed to win the rebounding battle.

“It’s got to be more of a collective effort, because we don’t have that big tree down there that takes up a lot of space,” CJ Miles told the Indy Star earlier this season. “Wings have to crash. And we have to help out our forwards like Thaddeus. I won’t call him undersized, but he’s not as big as some other guys and when you wrestle with guys like (the Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson), you gotta come help him.”

It is not the cure all though to win the rebounding battle though. If you can’t win on the boards, you need to make it up in other spots. Either from the 3-point line or Foul Line.

Recently things have been looking better on this end however. Since the All Star break, the Pacers have tied or out-rebounded their opponent in all but one of their games. (The outlier being that clunker of a game against the Charlotte Hornets).

Since the Pacers don’t seem to have the personnel to consistently win the rebounding battle (no 7-footers on the roster and their center still just 20 years old and growing into his body), they have to rely on effort play to get there and gang rebound or hope it’s a cold shooting night by their opponent.

“We don’t have a lot of world-beaters (in that area), so our team schemes have to be solid, our defensive shell has to be solid,” Assistant Coach Dan Burke told the Indy Star. “And we need everybody to crash. That gang mentality has to told steady every game.”

Effort on the glass is one of the reasons why players like Rakeem Christmas and Lavoy Allen have had so much of an impact in their limited time on the floor of late.

Since Christmas had his first large minutes game against the Grizzlies right after the All-Star break, the Pacers have only been out-rebounded only once. He’s averaging three rebounds a game in 11.5 mins per contest, with minutes coming when Albus Jefferson was out with Dental Work (shout-out to Joe Betz).

Same can be said of Lavoy Allen’s resurgence lately. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 18.2 minutes a game when he plays with 7.4 rebounds per contest. By comparison, that would be the best per game average on the season for the Pacers (Turner, 7.1 & George, 6.2).

Without the consistent personnel to win on the glass, the Pacers have to come with a sense of urgency and hustle to win the rebounding battles, end possessions, and start their offense on the break. Which a team run by Jeff Teague should love to execute (think end of the Atlanta game). The Pacers have shown improvement in this area since the All-Star break, and we’ll see if this trend continues or if it’s just a good couple of weeks that disappear into more inconsistency.

Let’s hope the Pacers can continue to play like they have since coming back from the All-Star break and attack each game with an attitude like one of the greatest hustle players in history:

“I’m hungrier than those other guys out there. Every rebound is a personal challenge,” Dennis Rodman famously said.

 

 

Should Rakeem Christmas remain in the rotation?

With a 31-30 record, the Indiana Pacers currently occupy 7th place in the Eastern Conference standings.  If the team wants to make a push for a higher seed in the playoffs, these remaining 21 games are of the utmost importance.  

As the playoffs get closer, the Pacers and other teams will be looking to solidify their rotations.  Since the All-Star break, Rakeem Christmas has provided a nice boost of energy as the backup center, his effort has been contagious for the bench, and his last name has only added to Pacers’ lore with wonderful (or terrible) Christmas puns.  

Christmas, who was drafted in the 2015 draft by the Timberwolves, traded to the Cavaliers on draft night, and then later traded to the Pacers during the summer for a future 2019 second-round pick that can be traced all the way back to when the Pacers drafted Dale Davis, had yet to receive meaningful minutes on the big stage in his career until now.

The Pacers matchup versus the Memphis Grizzlies on February 24th provided Christmas, who averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his senior season at Syracuse, his biggest opportunity to date in just his ninth career game played, and he did not disappoint.

“I’m really proud of Rakeem being called up and he sparked us and played huge minutes,” said 4-time All-Star Paul George after the Christmas debut.  “It’s a tough task playing against Zach (Randolph) and Marc (Gasol), but he did an unbelievable job.  I thought he could have helped us a lot earlier.”

With veteran Al Jefferson unable to suit up due to dental pain, Christmas filled in. The athletic center played 14 solid minutes while posting four points, five rebounds and a block.  These are not eye-popping numbers, but the energy Christmas provided off the bench would help lift his teammates to victory over the Grizzlies, ending a then 6-game losing streak.

“I’ve been waiting on him,” said Glenn Robinson III, the newly minted NBA Slam Dunk Champion. “I think the whole team has been waiting on him to make the move.  I don’t know why they don’t play him.  He screens, he rebounds.  It’s crazy, like signing a dude for (two) years and don’t play him.  I’m just happy he did his thing.”

Since joining the rotation against the Grizzlies, Christmas, who was a D-League All-Star last season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, has appeared in four consecutive games. Christmas has averaged the following stats per game in this stretch:

15.8 minutes – 58% FG made – 4.8 points 

4 rebounds – 0.75 blocks – 3.5 fouls

While fresh off his inspiring play in his debut, Christmas elaborated, “I just wanted to come out and do what I do.  That’s what I did and that boosted everyone’s confidence, and we started enjoying the game and getting after it.  My team has been great, very encouraging for me.  They kept telling me to wait my turn.  Tonight came and it’s been great so far.”

While Christmas struggled in his last game against the San Antonio Spurs with four fouls, three turnovers and only a single point, rebound and block, his first three games were impressive for a player in his first meaningful time on the court. Against the Houston Rockets, Christmas put up a career-high 10 points, three rebounds, and was +19 while on the court.

While playing limited minutes, the talent and desire are there for Christmas.  The biggest hindrance for him receiving more playing time seems to be himself.  If he cannot limit his fouls, then McMillan may not keep him in the rotation.  This has been an issue through his time with the Mad Ants as well.

If Christmas can keep up his tenacity while not fouling as much, he should become a solid staple in the Pacers’ rotation.  The Pacers bench has looked much better without Al Jefferson on the court since Christmas joined the rotation as Rodney Stuckey and Monta Ellis have both played well since the All-Star break as well. This may have something to do with having more of a roll threat in the pick and roll than the slow, plodding Jefferson. The upside for Indiana to play Christmas over Jefferson is clear; by giving Christmas more experience, the Pacers will be better off in the long run.  

Larry’s team + Rakeem’s dream = Larry Christmas!

The Paul George Situation: Should the Pacers be worried?

As the trade deadline was approaching, most Pacers fans expected some smaller moves to be made by the team. Some bench help to keep Paul George happy perhaps.

The Pacers were shopping around their 1st-round pick since it will be in the late teens, early twenties range, and the expectation was that maybe they’d do a similar deal like last year’s draft day acquisition of Thad Young from the Brooklyn Nets.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, the quiet rumblings of Paul George being traded started to become loud shouts. Pacer and NBA fans were glued to Twitter to see what would happen at the Deadline.

This was shocking to the Pacers fan base that has consistently been told that Paul George was not on the market and essentially untouchable. But now the Pacers may trade him? Why would they even consider this? And are some Pacers fans actually on board with getting rid of the superstar?

Let’s break it down the situation and bear with me, this is a bit long.

The Contract:

Paul George’s current contract runs through the 2018-2019 season, but that last season is a player option for George. PG is making $18.1 million this season, and $19.3 million for next year.  Because of the huge increase in the salary cap in the past few seasons (from $70 million in 2015-2016 season to $94 million currently), Paul George will definitely opt out of his current deal after next season and become a free agent as the cap continues to rise.

If for some reason he did keep his player option for that last year, it’d be $20.7 million. Luol Deng and Evan Turner are making more than $18 million per season in this cap climate. It would be a complete shocker if he opted in.

For his new contract (wherever it will be) Paul will fall under the 7-9 year player max bracket or 30% of the cap. So for instance in 2018 he could make $30.6 million for that season. (Up from the 20.7 million he’d make if he doesn’t opt out) Also there is the Designated Player Exception in the new CBA for star players drafted by their teams trying to re-sign them and prevent them leaving like a few stars have in recent years (Durant). Players can sign a 5-year extension on their current deal with their original team, while all other teams have only a max of four years to offer a player in free agency. So the Pacers would get to offer another year of security and $30+ million more than any other team.

(Here comes the math) Per Nat Newell of the IndyStar on Dec 15 2016 in his article entitled What does the new CBA mean to the Pacers and Paul George? The league calculates max salaries from a slightly lower figure, roughly $96 million off the cap of $102 million (2018-2019). Another team would be able to start an offer to George at 30 percent of that figure – $28.8 million. The other team can offer a 4.5 percent raise each season: $30.1 million, $31.4 million, $32.7 million for a total of $123 million over four seasons.

The Pacers can offer an extension on George’s $19.3 million contract for 2017-18. If George qualifies for the DPE: The 35 percent offer would be $33.6 million in year one of the new deal (3.5 million more than another team). They can offer 7.5 percent raises over five years: $36.1 million, $38.6 million, $41.1 million and $43.6 million for a total contract of six years, $212.3 million.

In other words, the Pacers can pay George more in year one than another team can pay him in year four. The Pacers would be able to offer $26.4 million more over four years and $70 million more total over 4.5 seasons. More in raises and more each year if he stays. But, PG needs to qualify for the DPE first.

For Paul to qualify for the new DPE he has to have on his resume either a MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or one of three All-NBA teams the previous season he signs. OR been on All NBA/DPOY in two of the previous three seasons, or MVP once. We all know he has never been MVP or DPOY but he has made All-NBA teams. All-NBA 3rd team in 2013, 2o14, and 2016. 2015 being the season lost due to the broken leg injury.

That leg injury could end up costing PG a lot of money since he needs two All-NBA teams in three seasons. So two of three in these years: 2015, 2016, or 2017. Paul has to make an All-NBA team this year to qualify and chances right now are slim. Go through the Forwards in the NBA right now LeBron/Kawhi, Durant/Green, Butler/Hayward, along with guys like Millsap, Anthony Davis now at the four spot because of the Boogie trade, Melo? The top six spots will be tough to crack for George this season. Even with an injury to a top player like Durant, it’s going to be a challenge.

This should make the Pacers worried. They will no longer have that trump card to offer an extension to George this off-season and would have to hope that he qualified next season before he becomes a free agent.

If he doesn’t, then the field is more level between what Indiana can offer and what all the other teams can offer. I asked Steve Kyler from Basketball Insiders on Twitter what the Pacers can do if PG doesn’t land on an All-NBA team.

Basically the Pacers have some room to play. They can offer slightly larger annual raises and an extra contract year but that normally is minimal when we’re talking this kind of money with the cap on the rise each season. The same advantages home teams have wasn’t enough to get Durant to stay in OKC either.

The biggest card the Pacers have is to convince Paul to pick up his player option in 18-19 then they’ll increase his salary next year (renegotiate the team cap) in 17-18 by $11 million or the amount he would get if he signed a new contract under the new CBA cap.

Re-negotiation on this front by adding more years (up to the 2018-19 season) would also put Paul into the 10+ years veteran bracket when this new contact is done, which makes him entitled to 35% of the cap then and even more money. Paul was drafted in 2010 so his 2019-20 contract would fall under the 10+ year vet.

Kyler feels if the Pacers keep PG and are not able to re-sign due to the DPE requirements, it’s a Kevin Durant situation all over again. Not enough money in the end to matter when the situation for a finals run isn’t there.

The Pacers then have two options with George without the DPE:

  1. Trade him.
  2. Try and re-sign him, but risk him leaving for nothing.

Option 1: Trade Paul George. Many different times that this could potentially happen before he hits free agency. You could do it during off-season, closer to the draft once you know everyone’s draft order, or wait until next year’s trade deadline. There is the threat too however of teams knowing he won’t resign with the Pacers so they won’t offer very much to trade for him when they know they can just wait till he’s a free agent.

If Paul doesn’t want to stay, then the Pacers have to get something for him without seeing him walk for nothing. The argument though has been brought out that wouldn’t your star employee be more involved in how the business is run if he truly is your future? It didn’t seem to be the case during the deadline.

The Pacers would only trade Paul George if they KNEW he wouldn’t re-sign with them AND the deal for him was massive. Think more on the level of Carmelo Anthony trade than DeMarcus Cousins (thank goodness the Pacers are not the Kings). So maybe all these rumblings this deadline was to get a feel for PG’s market value?

Rumor is Pacers ownership wanted to test the waters to see PG’s value and Larry Bird swatted away any true offers. It was going to take a massive offer to make him pull the trigger this year.

The deadline revealed that the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston Celtics were all interested in Paul George. So many options out there but so long to go before any of them could happen that we’ll save the analyzation of potential deals for another time. But I’ll just leave this little tweet here that does not help the Pacers leverage situation if they do end up trading him down the line.

There are limited teams out there with the assets to trade for Paul let alone be in the mix for a championship as was discussed earlier. Paul is 26 and his prime is right now. He doesn’t have the time to sit through a 5-year rebuild (which makes the Lakers a curious choice for him). If the Pacers trade him, it needs to be a team he’ll want to re-sign with who he views as being in an immediate contending situation for the Pacers to get the best possible deal.

Option 2 – Re-sign PG. The Pacers preferred option, but one that also includes the risk of him leaving for nothing. Remember this is if Paul George doesn’t end up qualifying for the DPE and the money difference is minimal. The Pacers want to keep him obviously. It all comes down to the Pacers individual cap space and how much Paul does love the situation in Indiana. He could end up going to another team and leaving the Pacers with nothing in return, and after watching Kevin Durant do that to the Thunder last summer, the Pacers will do everything they can to prevent that from happening to this franchise.

The Pacers do have some things going in their favor: PG does want to bring a championship to Indiana and has said in the past that he wants to be bigger than Reggie Miller here. But George added the caveat that he wants to contend for a title like when they were in the Eastern Conference Finals two straight seasons. That’s the biggest key to this puzzle if the Pacers want to re-sign him without the DPE: building this team into a contender quickly. Bird will his work cut out for him this off-season as he tries to get this team out of mediocrity and back into the business of challenging LeBron in the East.

You don’t need to be in a major market to have a ‘brand’ and George has proven that already. Paul has his PG1 shoe coming out from Nike. He’s one of only four players to have a signature shoe deal with Nike (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving). His other partners include Gatorade, Papa John’s, Fanatics, FanDuel, NewEra, Bass Pro Shops, and 2K Sports. All from little ole Indiana.

Salary cap space won’t be an issue that they have to worry about. Right now, the Pacers team payroll is around $87 million (cap at $94 million and rising for next year). With Free Agents Aaron Brooks and Jeff Teague (re-sign please). A few players have team options: Lavoy Allen, Joe Young and Glenn Robinson III. Some have player options: Stuckey and CJ Miles. You will have to watch a few of those guys walk but you’ll still have the space left to sign both Teague this off-season and PG next season if need be.

It should be a very interesting next year in Naptown as Bird tries to build a roster to that can convince George to stay or trades away his superstar as a new era begins for the Pacers.

The Buyout Market: Should the Pacers make a move?

It’s the post-trade-deadline buyout season in the NBA and many recently-released veterans are now looking to join playoff teams. Players like Terrence Jones, Andrew Bogut, Luis Scola, Mike Scott, and Brandon Jennings have all been bought out of their deals and are now free agents.

Should the Pacers be looking to add someone after being unable to add depth at the deadline? The Pacers went this route last year with Ty Lawson, who gave Pacers hope in his brief debut, but spent most of his time in Indiana injured during the regular season and mostly ineffective during the playoff series against the Raptors.

The Pacers do currently have a full roster of 15 players and all have guaranteed deals, so they can’t just sign any free agent without either waiving or buying out another player on the roster. If the Pacers go after one of these players, they’ll have to part with a young player like Joe Young, Georges Niang, or Rakeem Christmas, or they could look to buy out Aaron Brooks, who is now out of the rotation, much like they did with Chase Budinger last season. Kevin Seraphin could also be a possibility.

Of the young players, Christmas is probably the least likely to be waived now that he’s played fairly well in his first opportunity to play meaningful minutes with Al Jefferson out the last two games with a dental issue. It’d be surprising if the Pacers gave up so soon on rookie Georges Niang, who might be an offensive asset as a playmaking four with a high basketball IQ if he ever gets a chance to play.

Young hasn’t shown much promise since his last season’s West-Coast road trip and has struggled to find his shooting stroke without consistent minutes. He’s shooting just 21.7% from 3-point range in both seasons of his career to this point and still seems like a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He’s the most likely of any of the young players to be let go at this point.

Brooks is a possibility if he’s unhappy with his current role with the team and wants an opportunity to play elsewhere. The problem with getting rid of Brooks is that if Rodney Stuckey or Monta Ellis get hurt again, which has been an issue for Stuckey throughout his time with the Pacers and for Ellis this season, then Brooks would be needed back in the rotation. Young has yet to show that he’s capable of being a quality rotation player as a point guard in the NBA.

The Pacers also have to consider how this will effect team chemistry. Joe Young is a distant cousin of Paul George, so it might not be a good idea to cut his relative after he’s already dealt with being unexpectedly in trade rumors during the deadline. It might not be a big deal, but it could be. With anyone on the roster, it depends what they mean to the rest of the team behind the scenes. Before the All-Star break, there did seem to be some rumblings about poor team chemistry but it seems unlikely that Brooks, Seraphin, or any of the young guys would have been the root of that issue.

Would letting go of any of these players and adding a new one hurt team chemistry even further or help it? It’s another factor that Larry Bird and the Pacers will have to consider before adding anyone. Lawson didn’t seem to have any negative effect last year, but another midseason free agent pickup in Andrew Bynum did not help the Pacers chemistry in the midst of The Struggle in 2014.

The Pacers do have about $4 million in cap room if they look to add a player for the remainder of the season.

Here’s a look at top options for the Pacers on the market if Bird does look to add someone.

Terrence Jones: Jones was released by the Pelicans after they acquired DeMarcus Cousins in a heist from the Kings. They may be regretting it now that they’ve had to waive Omri Casspi, who is injured for the remainder of the season. Jones is a playmaking four that the Pacers could certainly use as a backup off the bench. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in nearly 25 minutes per game this season with the Pelicans. Jones could be a similar player to Thad Young, but with less outside shooting ability, and allow the Pacers to have the same type of player in at the four position for 48 minutes instead of the offensively-challenged Lavoy Allen or the playing-out-of-position Kevin Seraphin.

Mike Scott: Scott was let go by the Phoenix Suns after acquiring him in a trade from the Atlanta Hawks and is having a horrid year shooting the ball. He’s a stretch four shooting just 15% from 3-point land this season. The Pacers bench has been far better this season when they surround Al Jefferson with players that spread the floor and if Scott can re-find his stroke, he would help with the spacing of the second unit. You may remember him lighting it up against the Pacers in the first-round playoff series a few years ago. Scott was also arrested on drug charges over the summer of 2015 that may cause the Pacers to look elsewhere.

Luis Scola: The former Pacer was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets today. Scola averaged about 5 points and 4 rebounds in just 12 minutes per game for the lowly Nets. Scola has used the 3-point shot much more frequently since leaving the Pacers and shot 40% from 3-point range just last year. While his percentages are down to 34% this season, he could still help stretch the floor for the second unit. He’s always going to be playing as hard as he can, but he is slow and defense has never been a strength for the 36-year-old veteran.

A Good Problem: Finding minutes for Glenn Robinson III

With Paul George and C.J. Miles both out the past two games, Glenn Robinson III has stepped up in their absence and led the team in scoring each of the last two games for the Indiana Pacers.

First, GR3 put up 20 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block while making 4 of his 6 3-point attempts in a landslide victory against the Brooklyn Nets.

In his encore performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, Robinson made 7 of his 9 shots for a team-high 17 points and 6 rebounds.

https://twitter.com/ipacersblog/status/805405313448996866

Now as George and Miles are nearing a return to the lineup, the Pacers have a bit of a conundrum. How do they find minutes for their budding young player that seems to be growing in confidence the more he plays while also not creating a disgruntled veteran that gets pushed out of the rotation?

Putting Robinson back on the bench and out of the rotation is simply not an option at this point as he seems to be ready to take on a full-time role at minimum as a backup wing.

McMillan is surely eager to see if Robinson can build on this momentum and keep up his recent level of performance, and here are some options that may be considered by the Pacers coaching staff.

Option 1: Start GR3

One option the Pacers could look at is moving Robinson to the starting shooting guard while moving Monta Ellis to a sixth-man role.

The Pacers briefly had Ellis come off the bench in favor of a scorching Miles, but the experiment only last a single game. Ellis already plays a lot of time leading the second unit and his skill set has always seemed perfect for a sixth-man scorer that could attack opposing benches.

This would be the scenario that gives Robinson the biggest role. Ellis could still end up playing more minutes, but if Robinson can keep up his hot shooting from 3-point land of late he could bring a much needed boost in spacing to that starting lineup.

The challenge for Robinson in this option will be keeping his aggressiveness while playing alongside George. Too often in the past, Robinson has been too passive when given opportunities with the starters, but this has changed in the past two games with Robinson playing with extreme confidence and making quick decisions when he decides to attack. There hasn’t been any hesistation when he gets a chance to shoot.

He’s still picking his spots, but has been very efficient in the past two games, shooting 68% from the field (13 of 19). Obviously, this is not a sustainable percentage, but he can continue to build up his 44% shooting from the field and 34% shooting from deep, he’ll be valuable as a floor spacer for the starters.

Robinson is also a better defense option for this lineup as it gives the Pacers more size to go against teams with bigger guards. This has been a problem with Ellis in certain matchups. A perfect example being the game against the Charlotte Hornets where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist destroyed Ellis in the post repeatedly to begin the game as the Hornets took advantage of that match up over and over again early.

The problem with Ellis coming off the bench is then what do the Pacers do with Aaron Brooks and Rodney Stuckey. Miles is locked in as the backup small forward once he’s healthy. So backup minutes at the guard positions would have to be split between three players: Ellis, Stuckey, and Brooks.

McMillan would likely end up benching Brooks, who is by far the best shooter of the group, and the Ellis, Stuckey combo would have many of the same issues that Ellis, Teague as a pair have (both need the ball, both aren’t great as floor spacers off the ball, small defenders).

Option 2: Glenn Robinson III, backup wing

Robinson gets a rotation spot while coming off the bench as a backup option at both the wing positions. C.J. Miles will likely still play more time in this scenario, especially if he comes back shooting as well as he has so far this season. The Pacers have been much better this season with Ellis on the floor than off so keeping him with starters isn’t a terrible option.

The problem that this creates is the same as the previous one. What does McMillan do with Stuckey and Brooks?

The only way to still play both of them would be to give Miles and Robinson some time as a small-ball power forward and eliminate some or all of Lavoy Allen’s minutes.

While this may sound appealing, Miles has serious durability issues already and playing the power forward spot wore him down quickly last season, and the Pacers do tend to rebound better with Allen on the floor, which has been a weakness of this team.

Once again, this will have to lead to benching of Stuckey or Brooks, who both have had some decent moments this season.

Option 3: Larry Bird finds a trade partner for Stuckey, Ellis, or Brooks.

If the Pacers truly believe that Robinson is ready for a permanent, contributing role, then Larry Bird should be searching for any takers for either Stuckey, Ellis, or Brooks.

None of these players are going to be hot commodities in the trade market. Hoping for some team to offer a first-round pick for one of these players is highly unlikely, but looking for a backup power forward (Omri Casspi, perhaps?) is possible or maybe the Pacers can get an offer of a second-round pick or two.

Trading away one of these players opens up an obvious spot for GR3 to slide right into and avoid having a veteran becoming disgruntled while spending all of his time on the bench.

The risk in trading one of these players away becomes an issue if Robinson can’t continue this level of performance and loses confidence.

If the Pacers think Robinson’s ready to roll, he needs to have consistent playing time, and McMillan will have to make changes to the rotation once everyone’s healthy to keep him on the court and off the bench.

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Breaking news: Myles Turner is pretty good at basketball

The Indiana Pacers opened the season with an overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks last night 130-121. Paul George had 25 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists. New point guard Jeff Teague had 20 points and 8 assists. But the real star in game one was the 20-year-old second-year big man from Texas, Myles Turner.

Turner put up monster numbers of 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. He hit 13 of his 19 shots, including a three-pointer in overtime that pushed the Pacers lead to four. He and Anthony Davis became only the third and fourth players since 1973 to put up 30 points and 16 rebounds in a season opener. Continue reading Breaking news: Myles Turner is pretty good at basketball

Myles Turner & Al Jefferson a perfect match

The Pacers signing of Al Jefferson to a 3-year, $30 million contract might be the best thing they could have done for their future star Myles Turner.

Professor Al meet your student.

“As far as helping younger players,” said Jefferson, “that’s just part of my DNA.” Like Turner, Jefferson came into the NBA as a 19-year-old rookie, and Jefferson’s always been eager to repay the favor of veterans teaching him at the beginning of his career.

“I’m really looking forward to working with some of these young guys,” said Jefferson. And later, “Turner’s got upside.”  Continue reading Myles Turner & Al Jefferson a perfect match