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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.

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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

Pacers Edmond Sumner is ready for his opportunity

After an impressive preseason for the Indiana Pacers 2-way player, Edmond Sumner could be poised for a big second season if the opportunity comes.

“”Just stay ready,” Sumner said of what the coaching staff has told him of his role. “Whenever my number is called just be ready.”

There might not be minutes for Sumner immediately when the season begins but if any injury to a guard or small forward occurs, it’ll likely be Sumner that steps up.

“It gives us another look with our depth,” said Darren Collison after practice on Saturday. “It’s such a long season that you never know whose going to have an opportunity to perform or play well or go down with injury God forbid. He can step right in and fulfill a role that we might need down the stretch of the season. He can play some point guard, play some two, maybe even some three. I thought he played well.”

Sumner was the first choice for Nate McMillan in the preseason when both Tyreke Evans and Cory Joseph were out with an injury. With Evans’s injury history, having a capable replacement is paramount and Sumner looks up to the task if needed.

“He’s been playing extremely well in preseason and in training camp proving that he is an NBA basketball player,” said Thad Young after practice. “… He can provide significant help to a team that needs him to step in and spot some guys some minutes and he’s shown the capability to run a team also.”

Sumner showed exactly how he can help the team in preseason with his aggressive drives to the rim. Here he snakes by Jaren Jackson Jr. on the pick and roll and dunks on multiple defenders.

It’s the type of play he couldn’t quite make last season while recovering from a torn ACL and playing in the G-League. Now that he’s fully healthy, he’s showing why he was considered a first-round prospect while at Xavier before the injury.

“I just wanted to do whatever the coaching staff asked of me,” said Sumner of his preseason success. “They wanted me to go out there and defend–that was the biggest thing–and stay aggressive so those were the two things that I was focusing on.”

Not only is he healthy, but he also worked hard over the summer training with Joey Burton, who has worked with Glenn Robinson III and Yogi Ferrell among others. Here’s an example of him translating his workouts to an actual game with the over-the-head swim move on the drive and a tough finish.

Sumner knows he still has plenty of work to do. He says that shooting is “probably one of my biggest weaknesses,” but he shot the 3-pointer fairly well in preseason play on his limited attempts making two of his five shots over four games.

“It’s more about being in the game and knocking down shots,” said Sumner. “I can go out and do a workout do whatever, but I got to go out into the game and translate it and make shots.”

Perhaps the biggest reason that McMillan was so comfortable using him in the preseason was his strong defense. Sumner’s length gives him the versatility to defend the 1, 2 and 3 spots and he averaged 1.5 steals per game in just 15 minutes. You can see his athleticism paying off in a big way on this defensive play.

“I can check multiple positions and I’m willing to defend,” said Sumner, who felt like defense was an overlooked part of his game.

His ability to get into the paint on offense was beneficial to his teammates as well as he was a willing passer when the defense focused on him, setting up Domantas Sabonis and others on many occasions averaging 1.3 assists in his time on the floor. You could see his ability to play point guard while directing traffic in the half court including one play where he waved off Evans so he could initiate the offense.

The Edmond Sumner Hype Train may take a moment before it’s full steam ahead during the regular season but if he gets an opportunity it’s going to be hard to derail it once he gathers momentum.

Sumner is currently on a 2-way contract that gives him only 45 days with the NBA team, but it’d be surprising to see him spend too much time in the G-League this year. He simply looked too good in the preseason. The Pacers may use up his days quickly before converting his deal like they did with Alex Poythress last season.

 

 

How Alize Johnson could help the Indiana Pacers this season

As the 50th overall draft pick, the Indiana Pacers rookie Alize Johnson has an uphill climb to make an impact on an NBA roster.

That’s nothing new for him. He’s been the overlooked underdog throughout his high school and college career. His story of small high-school guard as a freshman to junior college to Missouri State is well known by Pacers fans by now.

“I have to do things different,” Johnson said before Summer League play. “Being the underdog I have to show some things that I can do consistently. Rebounding is effort. I’m all about hard work and getting into the gyms. Not really being the most athletic person, but just having the grit to go up there every time and get it is something that’s still in my blood. I have siblings back home and a family rooting for me, so when I’m up there grabbing rebounds, that’s what I’m doing it for.”

If you watched him play in Summer League, you were likely to get at least a little caught up in the Alize hype as his high-motor rebounding was on full display and his ability to start the fastbreak was a highlight of the Pacers play in Las Vegas.

“When you’re picking that deep in the draft, the likelihood of that player succeeding, the percentages are certainly working against him,” Pacers GM Chad Buchanan said after the draft, “so you look for like one trait or one skill that a guy possesses that would give him a chance. And Alize has two things for me; he has tremendous motor, and he just has an innate ability to track down rebounds.”

Pacers coach Nate McMillan caught Alize fever during the exhibition games in Vegas.

Continue reading How Alize Johnson could help the Indiana Pacers this season

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

Managing Expectations: Is this the year it all comes together for Myles Turner?

Myles Turner put in work this summer to be ready for this upcoming season with the Indiana Pacers.

Whether he was doing yoga with Domantas Sabonis, working on his strength in the weight room, boxing on a gym floor, playing 1-on-1 after team USA practice with Kevin Durant, Paul George, Devin Booker and Victor Oladipo or showing off some impressive skills in pick-up games with Monta Ellis, that much has been clear; he’s been productive this offseason.

Now, it’s almost time to see how his labors will translate to the court as training camp quickly approaches.

Last year at this time, it was widely expected that Turner would be set for a much bigger role offensively, but Oladipo became a superstar while Turner’s statistical output per game went down in almost all categories as he struggled to find a rhythm through a series of small injuries while playing less minutes per game than in his second season.

Continue reading Managing Expectations: Is this the year it all comes together for Myles Turner?

Victor Oladipo sees the East as wide open, Pacers ready to do something special

Victor Oladipo is making his media rounds lately and appeared on ESPN’s morning show Get Up! to talk about a variety of topics including being traded twice, about the state of the Eastern Conference after LeBron James decided to go to Los Angeles and about that missed goaltending call in the playoffs.

Michelle Beadle, one of the hosts of the show, wanted to know what players in the East felt like when James, who has dominated the conference, decided to go to a Western Conference team.

“When I first heard about it, I was a little upset,” said Oladipo. “I like playing against the best player in the world and competing against him and seeing where you’re at.”

Despite Oladipo’s love of the competition, he does realize that this an opportunity for the team to take the next step.

Continue reading Victor Oladipo sees the East as wide open, Pacers ready to do something special