Tag Archives: Domantas Sabonis

Having Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis a luxury for Indiana Pacers

While the NBA as a whole may be getting smaller, the Indiana Pacers have the rare luxury of two superb options at the center position in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

“The dynamic duo of bigs that we have is phenomenal,” Victor Oladipo told reporters after the win against the Chicago Bulls. “It just goes to show you. … Myles protecting the rim like he did today, Domantas carrying us the way he did the other day coming off the bench and doing a great job like he always does, there’s no drop-off. That’s hard to find in this league.”

The Pacers pair of centers have come up huge at different points in the last three games thanks to their varying strengths.

On Wednesday, it was Sabonis and his rolling to the basket and rebounding that led the way as he scored 30 points with perfect shooting from the field at 12 for 12 in only 21 minutes before fouling out.

“He got in foul trouble and only played seven minutes in the first half,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said of Domas after the Knicks game. “In the second half, he continued to be aggressive and make plays for us. When we have a combination like that, guys playing well, we’re going to stay with them. He did an excellent job on both ends of the floor not only scoring for us but rebounding the ball.”

McMillan likes to roll with the hot hand and in the last three games it’s alternated between Sabonis and Turner down the stretch at the center position with each game coming down to the wire.

On Friday, it was Myles Turner’s turn as he made all of his 2-point attempts on his way to 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The spacing his jump shot added to the team was a big factor but his biggest contributions came on the defensive end as he protected the rim as well as he has all season and blocked six shots, including the Bulls final attempt at the buzzer to win it.

“Protect the rim and be the best shot blocker in the NBA that I know I am,” Myles Turner said of what he was trying to do when he came in during the fourth quarter against the Bulls on the post-game interview.

“That’s what we wanted him to do is to defend the basket,” McMillan said after that one. “Tonight, he had to come out and defend the perimeter. Their guards are scorers, and those guys have the ability to shoot behind that 3-point line and they were knocking down some shots. We stayed with our defense trying to pressure those guys, keeping our bigs up, and he had the game-winning block at the end there.”

On Saturday, both players had their moments as Turner played well in the first three quarters scoring 12 points on only six shot attempts, but Sabonis got himself going in the fourth quarter playing alongside Tyreke Evans. After Turner came in a little later than he normally does in the final quarter, things simply weren’t going his way on either end as he committed a double dribble, got called for an illegal screen (questionable) and missed a midrange attempt, and McMillan went back to Sabonis quickly for the rest of the game.

“It’s part of the game,” Turner told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com afterwards. “Coach goes with what he feels is working. It’s not my job to sit back and complain. Just because I get subbed out, I’m not going to hope for guys not to do well. That’s not the way I’m built and that’s not the way this team is built.”

And that’s an important factor for both of these players to the team’s chemistry and success, they’re always putting the team ahead of themselves. Neither sulks on the bench after they get replaced by the other in the game.

While it might eventually be an issue with both players wanting more time on the court than they are currently getting, neither center is complaining at this point. The easiest solution to this would be the pair playing together, but it’s been at best a very mixed bag so far this season.

To be blunt, the overall numbers when they share the floor are terrible. Turner and Sabonis play on average just under five minutes per game together. Those lineups have a net rating of negative 17.5. The offense has simply gone to a halt at a abysmal 83.8 offensive rating.

There are some glimmers of hope buried in the numbers however while looking at specific lineups. When Sabonis replaces Thad Young and is playing with the rest of the starters including Turner, the Pacers have a net rating of 26.3. It’s an extremely small sample size of only eight minutes on the season, but that’s the third highest net rating of any lineup that has played at least that long this season.

Sabonis’s perfect shooting night against the Knicks also began by him dominating against smaller defenders while playing as the power forward alongside Turner. He scored on his first five offensive possessions that night starting with some offensive rebounds and putbacks and ending by abusing Enes Kanter’s pick-and-roll defense.

All of the statistics this year are still small sample sizes but if the Pacers want to give their pair of young centers their best chance at success, they may want to find ways to use them together more effectively on offense. Right now, both players have much higher net ratings when they play without the other player (Turner 7.1 and Sabonis 10.2).

The good news is that there is plenty of time for both players to improve and we’re seeing a lot of improvement from both Sabonis and Turner already this season.

One of Turner’s biggest struggles at times has been letting himself get rushed in his eagerness when opportunities come his way on the offensive end.

“Players who play with each other a couple of years, they know where they’re going to be,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said at the beginning of this past offseason. “That makes the game come slower. Domas, the game already comes slow. He can make reads. Myles, he gets a little frantic. And that makes a difference. He’s got to calm down a little bit.”

He’s started writing “TYT” (take your time) on his shoes and has made noticeable strides with his patience especially in the post where he has calmly made many moves with success that were rare last year.

He makes that dribble to the side often when a defender flashes towards him. Last season, he would have been much more likely to either take a quick shot or pick up his dribble and pass the ball at the first sign of a double team.

After struggling to finish inside after suffering a concussion early last season as he shot just 57% around the rim, he’s been very strong at that area this season at 72%. His patience a possible reason for that uptick in improvement this year as well.

While Turner’s rebounding numbers haven’t improved yet, his primary job on that end is to protect the rim. If he’s going to block a shot by helping on someone else’s man, that’s going to leave him out of position for a potential rebound. With how well he’s been defending at the basket, it’s not overly concerning that his rebound totals are stagnant as the team defense remains strong while he’s out there.

Most of the weaknesses for Sabonis are on the defensive end. While he’ll never be able to block shots like Turner, he’s been good on that end this season when playing at the center spot. According to NBA Math, Sabonis has the third-best DPS (Defensive Points Saved, Turner ranks first on the team in the same metric) on the Pacers and is actually the 17th-highest ranked player overall in TPA (Total Points Added) so far this season.

You’d still like to see Sabonis turn the ball over less (six turnovers in the same Knicks game where he didn’t miss a field goal) but he has improved in another area of his game that at times caused turnovers as defenses sat on his strong hand, especially in the post. You’re way more likely to see him use his right hand down low than in his first two seasons in the league where he earned the nickname Reverse Zoolander.

Both players have already dealt with foul trouble on a few occasions so far this season and have certainly committed a few fouls that they’d each like to have back, but that again showcases the value of having both players available when one is having issues with whistles.

The Indiana Pacers are very fortunate to have both of these dynamic, young big men in the present. With Turner locked up with his extension, the question will he whether they can afford to keep this luxury after next season when Sabonis’s rookie deal ends. For now, the Pacers get to enjoy the strengths of both players.

Advertisements

Notes & Numbers: Pacers have been up and down in first four games

The Indiana Pacers have been on a roller coaster start alternating between blowing opponents out and getting blown out in their first four games, winning twice easily at home and losing while not playing well twice on the road.

The most important thing to remember about these games: it’s early. It’s a long season. The Pacers will have good nights and bad ones. It’s important to not overreact to any single one of them in a negative or positive way.

Here are some interesting statistics and notes from the first four games in no particular order:

Myles Turner leads the league in screen assists per game:

In only 25 minutes per game (due to foul trouble and blowouts), Myles Turner leads the league in screen assists at 6.8 per game. The next four players coming right after him (Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Tristan Thompson, Enes Kanter) are all playing over 30 minutes per game. The next closest Pacer to Turner’s 6.8 is Domas Sabonis at 3 per game.  Continue reading Notes & Numbers: Pacers have been up and down in first four games

Tyreke Evans looks like exactly what the Pacers needed

Last season, the Indiana Pacers were in trouble at any point with Victor Oladipo on the bench. This year, that problem’s been solved by the addition of one player: Tyreke Evans.

The Indiana Pacers had a net rating of 6.0 last year with their All Star on the court. Without him, they had a net rating of -8.2.

In the season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, Oladipo was +9 in his 25 minutes. In the 23 minutes he was on the bench, the Pacers were even better at +19.

“If there’s no drop-off when they get in the game,” Oladipo said of the second unit, “we could be really special.”  Continue reading Tyreke Evans looks like exactly what the Pacers needed

Indiana Pacers impose their will on the glass in blowout season opener

Indiana Pacers Head Coach Nate McMillan’s focus all training camp was on rebounding. After one game, it appears that it’s already paying major dividends for the blue and gold.

“In training camp, it was a big penalty if you gave up rebounds in the paint,” McMillan said after the Pacers destruction of the Memphis Grizzlies by a final of 111-83. “I gave the other team three points every time you missed a rebound.  It was just a way to get our guys focused on this part of the game. I liked what we did tonight.”

Continue reading Indiana Pacers impose their will on the glass in blowout season opener

Season Preview: 3 Questions and 4 Predictions for the 2018-19 Indiana Pacers

The NBA is back and the Indiana Pacers return tonight in their season opener.

The Eastern Conference is more wide open than it has been in maybe a decade now that you-know-who has taken his talents to the West, but most of the pundits seem to point to the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors as the favorites to get to the NBA Finals.

While most expect the Pacers to finish at about the same spot in the playoffs as last season, they enter the year with an upgraded bench and a returning starting lineup that had so much chemistry in their first year together. Can they surprise the basketball world a second straight season and make some noise in the playoffs? We’re about to find out.

Here’s some of the questions for the team this season with some predictions sprinkled in as well.

Can Victor Oladipo become an MVP candidate?

In the team’s offseason “mini-camp” in Miami, players came back reporting that Victor Oladipo looked like he was going to be even better than the year before. He was the player that guys pointed out as looking highly improved over the summer.

That’s saying something for the winner of the Most Improved Player award.

“I’m still hungry,” Oladipo said this past July. “I think I’m hungrier now than I was when I first got here. I want to be great. I’ve been saying that since I walked into his facility and started being a Pacer. I want to be one of the greatest to ever play this game. Whatever I got to do to do that, I’m going to try my best to try and achieve that and in the process of winning. That’s the goal.”

Continue reading Season Preview: 3 Questions and 4 Predictions for the 2018-19 Indiana Pacers

Preseason Takeaways: Pacers look ready for the regular season against Cavaliers

The Indiana Pacers won their third preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-102. As said previously, the results don’t really matter but not everything from these preseason games is without value.

This game was an entertaining one from the start. Here are some takeaways that we can look for when the regular season starts in just 9 days.  Continue reading Preseason Takeaways: Pacers look ready for the regular season against Cavaliers

Preseason Takeaways: Lessons from Pacers overtime loss to Grizzlies

The Indiana Pacers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in their second preseason game last night, but the result of the exhibition match doesn’t matter. With the Pacers resting all five starters, it was a chance for the young guys to get lots of minutes and show whether or not they belonged, and it was an opportunity for the bench unit to develop some chemistry with each other.

Here’s what we learned from Game 2:

Tyreke Evans and Domas Sabonis pick and rolls will be a delight:

These two have quickly developed a rapport on these type of plays in practice and it showed in their first game action together. Domas Sabonis repeatedly got great looks at the basket thanks to Tyreke Evans’s patience on the play, waiting until the right moment to make a quick pass to the Lithuanian big man.

Sabonis struggled to finish many of these looks but finished with an impressive 17 points (7 of 18) and 14 rebounds in only 21 minutes. Evans struggled to make shots as well but still finished with 12 points (3 for 11), 6 rebounds and 3 assists. It should be a blast watching these two run the pick and roll all season.

Evans had some chemistry miscues early with expecting players to go one way and going another or not being ready for a pass from Sabonis but it was good to get those kind of mistakes out of the way in preseason.

Continue reading Preseason Takeaways: Lessons from Pacers overtime loss to Grizzlies

What mattered in the Indiana Pacers preseason win over the Houston Rockets

Drawing conclusions from a preseason game is dubious, but after the Indiana Pacers preseason win over the Houston Rockets (110-100), we can all agree on one thing: it’s good to have Pacers basketball back.

Though much of the preseason is meaningless there are still a few takeaways that could be meaningful once the games actually matter.

Edmond Sumner looks like an NBA player

Easily the highlight of the game for Indiana was the play of their second-year, two-way contract guard Edmond Sumner.

Sumner filled in for Tyreke Evans, who missed the game with a sprained ankle and played 19 minutes that showed off his athleticism and potential.

Sumner played Evans’s role well and made some impressive drives to the rim throughout the game. His biggest highlight a dunk along the baseline in the first half as he got his first poster of his NBA career.  Continue reading What mattered in the Indiana Pacers preseason win over the Houston Rockets

Indiana Pacers chemistry only getting stronger with new acquisitions

The Indiana Pacers greatest strength last season may have been their chemistry and to this point it looks like it’s only improved over the offseason.

“You know it when you see it,” Myles Turner said of the team’s chemistry after the first training camp practice. “You just feel it.”

Indiana hasn’t played a game yet and you can feel it already. Whether it’s the above picture from media day with most of the returning players laughing together or Bojan Bogdanovic giving Victor Oladipo a huge hug when he first saw him.

Last season was the first year the majority of the team had been with the Pacers as they quickly grew a unique bond. With most of the core contributors returning from last year’s roster, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard thinks those relationships will continue to grow.

Continue reading Indiana Pacers chemistry only getting stronger with new acquisitions

It doesn’t matter what Paul George does. The Pacers won the trade.

Whether or not Paul George stays in Oklahoma City, the Indiana Pacers already won the last summer’s blockbuster trade.

George could stay as a member of the Thunder as their GM Sam Presti felt “really encouraged” by his dialogue with him (doesn’t that sound familiar, Indiana?). Or, he could do what everyone expects and leave for the Lakers or some other team in free agency. We’ve already heard the rumblings that he’s “gone” as ESPN radio host Ryen Russillo said recently, but it doesn’t matter which way he ends up going. The Pacers are better off now than they would have been by keeping George, even a version of himself that wanted to stay.

No one is making jokes about the Pacers anymore (shout-out to the OKC Police Department, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, who has deleted a tweet from early in the season that included a video from The Jump where she said it was ludicrous to say the Pacers were better off without George, and countless others. The Pacers silenced the critics and proved everyone wrong.

“If you don’t respect the Indiana Pacers now,” Victor Oladipo told reporters after the series against Cleveland, “then I have no respect for you.”

Oladipo’s first season in Indiana was better than George’s final one (both by individual and team success) and he’s two years younger. Oladipo will likely make an All-NBA team and an All-Defensive team this season and the city of Indianapolis has embraced him more than it ever did George.

Continue reading It doesn’t matter what Paul George does. The Pacers won the trade.

Don’t overlook the passing prowess of Sabonis and Turner

The Indiana Pacers have a pair of exciting young center prospects in Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Both players are seen as core pieces of the team’s future and how well they can play together will become more and more important in the next few seasons.

Right now, they spend most of their time on the court with the other on the bench and play the center position and make positive impacts in different ways. Sabonis is the physical, rebounding, screen-setting sparkplug, while Turner is the sweet-shooting, shot-blocking specimen you’d design in a lab for the modern era.

One thing they both have in common is the ability to make plays via the pass, but even here you see them do things differently.

Sabonis is the more natural of the two big men when it comes to passing and is great at seeing where the open man is, while Turner, not often praised for his passing, grew leaps and bounds last season in knowing where the defense is likely to help and who that will leave open.

Their assist numbers won’t wow anyone as they aren’t racking up assists like the Denver’s Nikola Jokic or DeMarcus Cousins before his injury, but both players are a big part of the unselfish nature of this team.

Sabonis, who averages 3.1 assists per 36 minutes, makes one-handed bounce passes on the move to Victor Oladipo on a backdoor cut on the regular in this Pacers pet play (looked at in detail here).

The Pacers run this play with Turner, who averages 1.8 assists per 36 minutes, but not nearly as often. Here’s Turner executing the play to Oladipo.

Many of their assists come from hand-offs where instead of cutting backdoor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson and others go around the big man for the ball and take one or two dribbles before taking a jumper. Both players being able to make that backdoor pass allows this play to be more successful as teams are forced to respect the possibility of the cut.

Some of Turner’s best passing highlights come on plays where it doesn’t seem like he should know the guy is open before he makes the pass. Evidence of him simply knowing where the help is most likely to come from on this pick and roll and that the man in the corner behind him will be open. He immediately turns to make the pass on the catch, likely spotting the help defender as he initially turned toward the basket.

Sabonis, on the other hand, is more likely to catch and assess the defense, see where the help is coming from before making the right pass. Same play as the one above is run here but you can see him looking for the first option, seeing that it’s covered and then finding the open man on the opposite corner in Bojan Bogdanovic.

It makes sense why Thaddeus Young called him a quarterback for the offense early this season when he’s progressing through reads like this.

Both young players need work in their post-up games as they’ve had similar mediocre success up to this point in the year with Turner earning trips to the foul line at a tremendous rate but shying away from contact with a mismatch too often  and Sabonis hitting his field goal attempts at an above average clip but turning the ball over more than once every five post-ups.

While Sabonis does struggle with turning the ball over especially when he holds on to the ball too long and allows the double team to trap him, he’s able to make the quick pass when he sees the double coming.

Turner’s passing really shines in the post at times when opponents attempt to double him, which makes his development on that part of his game even more important. If he forces more teams to send an extra defender at him, he can pick apart defenses. He’s great at sending passes across court to the opposite corner to hit the open man.

In this next one, Turner spots both the double team coming from Young’s defender at the rim and Oladipo’s man coming down to cover Thad at the rim. He zips right pass both for an open 3-pointer for the Pacers All-Star.

You can see the natural instincts that Sabonis inherited from his father, one of the best passing bigs in history in Aryvdas Sabonis, come into play often on broken plays.

Any situation where the defense is scrambling like on an offensive rebound or an overly aggressive help defender, he’s able to find the open man at the right time.

He’s able to push the tempo off of rebounds and immediately start the fastbreak by taking a couple of dribbles before making an outlet pass, effectively creating situations where the defense is scrambling on his own.

Both players average about the same number of turnovers as assists, but most of their turnovers are offensive fouls, moving screens or lost balls. Only 23 of Sabonis’s 111 turnovers on the season have been from a bad pass and only 15 of Turner’s 64 turnovers on the season have been bad passes.

As mentioned previously, Sabonis sometimes allows the double team to get too close before attempting a pass and that has caused some of his turnovers. Part of this being his tendency to need to see the open man rather than anticipate it coming at times. He also seems to prefer making straight-line passes and is reluctant to put any touch on his passes in many situations.

Turner’s passing turnovers come from him thinking that a defender wouldn’t be in position but instead they’ve stayed at home or making a tough bounce pass too late to squeeze it into a tight window.

You’re still more likely to see the good than the bad from this still improving players. Here’s some terrific ball movement with Turner as the fulcrum of the offense in the paint.

And perhaps a sneak peak of the future for the Pacers here with Domas making some nice passes to Myles with the first pass showing some hesitation on making the touch pass for the easy layup and the second utilizing the spacing that Turner’s shooting creates.

The Pacers great chemistry is partly due to the unselfishness on the court of all their players, but it’s especially important for the team’s best players to be willing to make the extra pass. That’s almost always the case for the Pacers pair of young big men and they’re just getting started in their careers.

By surpassing expectations, the Pacers earn the chance to stick together

Kevin Pritchard has had a long career working in NBA front offices, but this year’s deadline was different than the rest.

Six players came to the Pacers President of Basketball Operations and told him to keep this team together, which be said had never happened before in his basketball life. One player in particular made a strong plea for the group.

“We deserve to see this thing through,” said the mystery player according to Pritchard. “No one believed in us. No one thought we’d be any good. We deserve this.”

Continue reading By surpassing expectations, the Pacers earn the chance to stick together

All-Star weekend will be a “field trip” for Oladipo and Sabonis

The Indiana Pacers will be well represented in the NBA All-Star weekend events this year as Victor Oladipo was selected as an Eastern Conference representative and Domantas Sabonis was chosen to play in the Rising Stars Challenge as a member of Team World.

“It’s just like when your brother is going with you on a school field trip or something,” Oladipo said of having his teammate with him. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it.”

Continue reading All-Star weekend will be a “field trip” for Oladipo and Sabonis

New Year’s Resolutions for the Indiana Pacers: Part Two

2018 is upon us and the Indiana Pacers have things to improve on as they await the return of Victor Oladipo and attempt to get back to their previous winning ways. We have resolutions for all the Indiana Pacers for the rest of this season.

If you missed part one:

Domantas Sabonis: Shoot 3-pointers instead of mid-range jumpers

While Sabonis doesn’t shoot jump shots very often (EDIT: which is good for him, I’m not saying he should take more jump shots), his mid-range percentage for shots from 15-feet up to the 3-point line is just 34.5% on 55 attempts. Meanwhile, he’s shooting only slightly worse from distance, 33.3% on 15 attempts from 3-point range. Sabonis shot 32% over his entire rookie season from range, so he can shoot a similar percentage with more volume.

With how Sabonis is shooting his jumper, there’s no reason that this pick and pop shouldn’t be stretched out to the 3-point line.

Continue reading New Year’s Resolutions for the Indiana Pacers: Part Two

Kevin Pritchard has been the gift that keeps on giving

It’s early in Kevin Pritchard’s tenure as the President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers, but things couldn’t have gone much better over his first seven months considering the hand he was dealt shortly after he took over for Larry Bird.

In the summer, it didn’t look like it was going well to most outside the Pacers organization.

Originally, Pritchard’s plan was to build around Paul George and create a contender that would entice George to remain in Indiana. George seemed willing to let Pritchard try until about a week before the draft and the beginning of the off-season when he had a change of heart and told the Pacers organization that he would not re-sign with the team.

“We had multiple conversations, we talked about players we wanted to add to this team, and it felt like we were in agreement on that,” Pritchard said after the draft. “Not that a player dictates that, but I wanted him to (give) some feedback. We had conversations about players and how we want to go forward. So, for me it was a shock.”

One week before the off-season and all of the Pacers plans were for naught. That gut punch made for a unenviable scenario for Indiana as they quickly turned their focus to creating a completely new plan.

“It couldn’t have come at a worse time for me,” Pritchard said after the draft. “Had we known this a while ago we could have been more prepared. And then the way it got out… we struggled with that.”

Pritchard was unable to find a deal to his liking during the draft and preached patience on waiting for the right deal to materialize even as George’s agent was making it clear to all potential teams that he wanted to be in Los Angeles. Pritchard found the deal he was looking for with Oklahoma City Thunder, but no one seemed to agree that he made the right call.

The return for Paul George of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and no draft picks was laughed at and mocked without mercy by nearly all from police departments, fans, mediaeven other teams. (Myself included in the puzzled-over-Pritchard’s-decision camp to choose this deal and not one that included Gary Harris from Denver in a 3-team deal with Cleveland or waiting for Boston to know whether they would sign Gordon Hayward and trying to snag that juicy Nets pick that would only be in the late lottery if the season ended today.)

No one is laughing now. Except the Pacers.

Pritchard has put together a team that plays hard every night, is more fun than ever and has chemistry that usually takes teams years of playing together to develop.

“My teammates are phenomenal people,” said Oladipo. “When you surround yourself with people that care about you, chemistry comes natural. It’s a special locker room.”

None have been more important to this team transformation than Victor Oladipo, who leads by example, cares for his teammates immensely, and has hit big shot after big shot in the clutch for the Pacers so far this season.

It’s likely that Oladipo makes an All-Star team this season, while George probably does not. Not many would have predicted that when the trade was announced this summer.

“He should be an All-Star starter,” Darren Collison said after a recent practice. “I think he deserves it. Since day one, he’s been the leader that we’ve asked him to be.”

And Sabonis has been a big part of the Pacers emerging chemistry as the guy that seemingly everyone loves to play with.

But the deal that netted the Pacers two key pieces for their bright future is only one move that Pritchard made this off-season. He’s looked to have hit on just about every transaction to this point including signing Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic and trading for Cory Joseph.

In total five of the eight players that play the most minutes for the Pacers were added by Pritchard this off-season and another (Thaddeus Young) was widely looked at as someone they should have looked to trade away after the George news instead of keep around.

Instead of being a lottery-bound league bottom feeder that many expected coming into the season, the Pacers sit at 19-14, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference, and have been a much improved team from last year’s version.

The Pacers looked for players that had the following traits in the George deal and seemed to have carried that over into their free agency moves as well: motivated, toughness, hardworking, togetherness, unselfishness, intelligence, athleticism and chemistry.

““It’s chemistry,” said Lance Stephenson after the Nuggets game, “sticking together and believing in one another. We’re bringing it every night. … There’s no hate. You know what I mean? Some guys get mad about somebody doing good. This team wants their teammates to do good. I feel like that makes this team even better.”

Resilient is another word that should have been added to the list as the Pacers come from behind seemingly every game, especially at home.

The only question so far for Pritchard is how his draft picks of TJ Leaf and Ike Anibogu will turn out, but neither player is even 20 years old yet and it’s too early to jump to any conclusions about them this early in their careers.

“We know that he can score the ball,” McMillan said about Leaf after practice. “We want to see him defend and continue to work on, certainly scoring, but really his first year is about just playing. There’s no pressure, no expectations, other than getting out there to play.”

A big difference between Bird and Pritchard’s style in recent off-seasons is the lack of long-term deals that Pritchard handed out.

Both guys spent most of the cap space that they had available nearly every year, but Bird’s long-term bets in consecutive years on the likes of Rodney Stuckey, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson not only didn’t work out in the immediate sense but gave the Pacers less wiggle room in following off-seasons to improve the roster.

The Pacers will now still be paying Monta Ellis, who was waived in the off-season using the stretch provision, when the NBA All-Star game makes it long-awaited return to Indianapolis in 2021, and neither Ellis or Stuckey have even found a team willing to sign them at all since they were waived by the Pacers. They aren’t the only players from the 2016-17 roster that are now out of the NBA: Lavoy Allen, Kevin Seraphin, Rakeem Christmas, and Georges Niang.

Pritchard, however, kept the team’s future cap space open while going after overlooked veterans that would take short-term deals with partial guarantees in the final year of the contract.

Collison and Bogdanovic both are making about $10 million this season and at this point look likely to complete their 2-year deals next season with the team, but if they didn’t pan out Indiana could have cut the cord with little cost to their salary cap for next season as the second years had a very small portion of guaranteed money. These contracts also could be used as potential trade sweeteners for teams looking to shed salary to make room in FA for a max contract slot.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like these fail-safe options will be necessary, but Pritchard put the organization in good position either way.

The challenge will eventually become what to do with many of the team’s current players as their contracts end either this summer or the next, including Joseph, Collison, Bogdanovic, Young and Glenn Robinson III, but so far Pritchard has been the gift that keeps on giving for the Indiana Pacers.

The Indiana Pacers have never been more fun

The Indiana Pacers (12-9) have had better teams in the past but they’ve never been more fun than this.

Just watch this video. Feel the joy. Buy a home or rent an Airbnb in this lovely neighborhood.

Indiana’s never had more enjoyment from watching the Pacers than with this underdog group of running, gunning, have fun-ing bunch. Almost every game at the Fieldhouse turns into a house party.

The fun all starts with Lance Stephenson, who has averaged over 17 points per game in his last three and has added five assists and eight rebounds in consecutive games.

Stephenson is the Pacers prodigal son, who languishes outside of Indiana when he’s not wearing the blue and gold and thrives in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. He dances and inspires dances. He prances. He plays air guitar. He high-fives the crowd. He head-butts stanchions.

“Coach is doing a good job of letting me play through mistakes,” Stephenson said after tonight’s party of a win against the Orlando Magic. “He lets me be me.”

The Pacers fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything that Lance does elicits a louder reaction than if someone else would have done the same. So when he does something special as has been the case often lately, it feels like the roof may collapse.

But the Pacers are this fun for more than just Lance reasons.

Victor Oladipo made his first 11 shots tonight, which included maybe five heat checks that all went in. It got to the point where even he didn’t know what was happening after banking in a 3-pointer.

Domantas Sabonis continues to be gift from the basketball gods, (mostly the god of European big men Arydvas Sabonis). He scored 19 points while taking just seven shots, added eight rebounds and five assists. That crazy play by Lance wouldn’t have been possible without his expert cut at just the right time.

“I don’t know. It just happens,” Domas said of his on-court play with Lance, “… He understands me. It’s just chemistry.”

The Pacers other stud young big man, Myles Turner, was no slouch tonight either as he scored 18 points in the first three quarters, being unleashed from long range with five attempts and three makes. He nearly had four made 3-pointers but his toes were on the line on one attempt.

“The thing I love about this team is that we never stop competing,” Turner said.

Every game is non-stop effort from the Pacers. They may lose some games, but as Turner said, they’re always competing. Whether they’re down 22 in the third quarter or having just lost a lead at the start of the fourth quarter like tonight.

The Magic were up one briefly in the fourth quarter. Then the Pacers went on a 23-5 run.

The Pacers aren’t just a one-man show these days. Anybody is capable of a huge night to lift the team, Bojan Bogdanovic continues to show a more all-around offensive game than many expected, Thad Young is the glue guy, Darren Collison is capable of occasional 30-point nights. They play together and as a unit. They care about each other off the court.

These Pacers are modern. These Pacers are always looking to run. These Pacers love to play together. The Pacers have never been more fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why everybody loves playing with Domantas Sabonis

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

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

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

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

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