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Aaron Holiday in line for increased role

In his rookie season for the Indiana Pacers, Aaron Holiday flashed his promise frequently but was often confined to the bench behind a pair of veteran point guards.

Don’t expect that to be the case in his second year.

“I feel he should be a rotational player next season,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan of Holiday during last week’s press conference. “There’s certainly some areas he needs to grow, but I like what he brings to the floor. He’s a young kid that has a great deal of confidence in himself. I think he can help us. … He certainly should be in the rotation next year.”

McMillan said he was impressed with him from the start of training camp and he earned the respect of his teammates too.

“I love Aaron, man,” Myles Turner said after the Pacers were eliminated from the playoffs. “He’s just so poised. I feel like any position he’s in he can be himself. You can’t make him speed up. You can’t make him get out of character.” Continue reading Aaron Holiday in line for increased role

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Writing is on the wall for many Pacers free agents

One thing appears certain for the Indiana Pacers as the off-season approaches: changes are coming. With so many veteran free agents on the roster and the team getting swept in the first round, they’ll be looking to make upgrades.

Based on the comments from Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard at Wednesday’s press conference, the writing may be on the wall for more than a few major contributors from last year’s team including Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans, Wesley Matthews and perhaps even team captain Thad Young.

“We’re willing to think big,” said Pritchard.  “… I’m super proud of this team, but we have to improve our talent.  The Boston loss was as challenging a series as I’ve ever been a part of. I thought we’d win a few games. We all have to look in the mirror and look at our process. We’ve got to get better.”

To get better, Pritchard seems focused on upgrading the offensive end. Specifically, he’s looking for a creator.

“We need some creation,” Pritchard said of what the team needs to improve. “We need a guy that can break down a defense … When [Victor Oladipo] played, he was that creator. When we signed [Tyreke Evans], we wanted him to be that creator.”

He also mentioned needing more shooting, wanting to get faster and wanting to have an improved passing team. He pointed out that this creator doesn’t have to be a guard but these comments seemed focused on a few players that may be looking for new teams: Collison and Joseph, who both do a lot of positive things but creating for others is not a strength for either.

While the pair of guards do a tremendous job taking care of the basketball and have very high assist-to-turnover ratios that put them among the league leaders (3.67 for Collison and 4.01 for Joseph), they also rarely take any chances with the ball and only make the safe pass. They aren’t guys that break down the defense with ease by getting to the rim and forcing defenders to help.

Collison loves to take a big man in isolation after a switch but rarely attacks the basket in those scenarios, instead going for a pull-up, mid-range attempt and struggles to make quick post entry passes to bigs wanting to take advantage of a mismatch.

Joseph is one of the league’s best defensive guards but went through an entire month near the end of the season where he couldn’t make a jump shot. He’s likely best suited to be a backup and that’s probably Aaron Holiday’s job in 2019-20.

“I feel he should be a rotational player next season,” McMillan said of Holiday. “There’s certainly some areas that he’s going to need to grow, but I like what he brings to the floor. He’s a young kid that has a great deal of confidence in himself. I think he can help us. … He certainly should be in the rotation next year.”

McMillan praised the tempo and shooting of Holiday, two of the things that Pritchard wants to add to the team. McMillan did mention that he can play both guard positions, so still hypothetically possible there would be room for both of Joseph and Collison on the roster. However, Holiday’s rotation spot alone would seem to seal the fate for at least one of them.

While Pritchard talked about the importance of continuity to a team, it’s clear he doesn’t plan on simply bringing everyone back. Especially after that playoff series, he knows the team has to get more talent to get deeper into the postseason even with Oladipo.

“I tend to (focus) on how do we keep this core together and add to it,” Pritchard said. “Our goal will be to add to this team and keep it together. I think there are some special players.”

It seems safe to say that after a disappointing year with Evans, the Pacers won’t be re-signing him again to be that creator Pritchard covets either. With Evans coming off a 1-year deal and no Bird Rights, the Pacers would have to use cap space to re-sign him, making it even more unlikely that he’ll return. That also applies to Wesley Matthews, who may search elsewhere for a starting gig anyway based on his reasoning for joining Indiana after getting bought out by the Knicks.

One player that Pritchard did say was a creator on the roster already is Domantas Sabonis.

“I think he wants a bigger role, and I think we have to figure out how to get him a bigger role,” said Pritchard on Sabonis. “He is a major force offensively. He can be a player that has huge impact not just as a sixth man. Maybe as a starter but that’s yet to be seen.”

Could that bigger role come at the expense of Thad Young’s place on the team? Young was lauded by Pritchard for his leadership after Oladipo was injured but not much was said about his upcoming free agency or trying to bring him back.

When Pritchard talked about continuity, he mentioned the importance of having veterans that carry the team’s culture over year to year, era to era to the newcomers as something he learned from Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh. Young would seem to be an important piece in that regard.

Working against Young, however, are his age and his lack of shooting. Young is likely looking for one last long-term contract, but it’s unclear if Indiana wants to commit to him for a few more years. Like Joseph, he’s another player that’s phenomenal defensively but limited on offense where Pritchard sees the need to improve.

Caitlin Cooper of Indy Cornrows showed how Young’s lack of shooting ability can hinder the offense and in particular how much the Pacers can’t utilize the skills of Myles Turner because of it. Pritchard mentioned needing to get Turner more involved offensively next season and having a different frontcourt partner could help.

The Pacers also could be looking to see a lot more of Sabonis playing alongside Myles Turner as the former approaches the end of his rookie contract. It’s been a mixed bag in the first two seasons of the pairing but Pritchard seems confident in the duo.

“Good players figure it out,” said Pritchard on playing Sabonis and Turner together more often. “… I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into anything because of our flexibility. I want to build a roster that’s really good, but in my mind I see those guys playing a lot of minutes together.”

Young seems more likely to return than the pair of veteran point guards but signs may be pointing to him finding a new home this summer as well.

The one free agent that Pritchard openly discussed wanting back is Bojan Bogdanovic, who he also recognized as likely having lots of possible suitors in free agency.

“On July 1st, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a pretty good conversation with Bojan,” Pritchard said.

Bringing Bogdanovic back would be another potential option as the starting power forward besides Sabonis depending on what other moves are made by the team in the off-season. This could also be another reason that Young’s time in Indiana ends. Of all the team’s free agents, Bogdanovic seems the most likely to return.

Expect a lot of new faces in the blue and gold next season.

 

Why Tyreke Evans didn’t live up to expectations with the Pacers

Tyreke Evans was supposed to be the secondary playmaker that could help push the Indiana Pacers farther in the playoffs but nothing went according to plan for either party.

After a disappointing season that never lived up to expectations, it’s as hard to see Evans wanting to come back to Indiana as it is to see Indiana wanting Evans back. Both sides are likely ready to move on from this one-year failed experiment.

A combination of a lack of freedom to make mistakes, a lack of rhythm from not having the ball as often, a nagging knee injury that required treatment multiple times and just poor play all contributed to his ineffective, frustrating year with the Pacers.

After being suspended for one game very early in the season for being late to practice (and being late a number of times prior to that), it seemed like Evans was in the doghouse for much of his time in Indiana, never fully regaining the trust of the coaching staff. Tardiness is Nate McMillan’s biggest pet peeve and Evans found out how seriously he takes being on time.

And Evans’s play while on the court did him no favors. He struggled to be consistently productive with major trouble finishing at the basket. He made just 49% of his shots within three feet of the rim according to Basketball Reference (a career low), ranking among the very worst in the league at finishing those attempts. All those misses were nice for Domas Sabonis, who was often in the right place for putbacks on his layups.

Evans, according to NBA.com’s play-type tracking data, made 134 of 308 layup attempts on the season (43.5%). Even though he struggled to finish at the rim, his ability to get to the rim was often helpful for the team as seen by the Sabonis put-backs. The Pacers often were able to get rebounds on these plays after the defense focused its attention on forcing a miss and either get an easy put-back or restart the offense. For a team that often struggled at getting to the basket once Oladipo went down, Evans ability to get to the rim was valuable, even if it wasn’t often successful. Continue reading Why Tyreke Evans didn’t live up to expectations with the Pacers

Should the Pacers fire Nate McMillan?

The Indiana Pacers season is over after being swept for the second time in three years during Nate McMillan’s tenure as head coach. Should they start searching for a replacement to get them deeper into the postseason?

If you only look at the team’s overall performance this season, it’s hard to see why the Pacers would want to move on at this current moment. Victor Oladipo missed 46 games and the Pacers impressively matched their win total from the previous season at 48. That’s a huge accomplishment. They’ve exceeded all reasonable expectations in each of the last two years and he’ll deservedly get a few votes for Coach of the Year this season because of that.

The Positives

Indiana had the third-best defensive rating in the league and the team gave maximum effort every game, never giving up no matter the circumstance. McMillan’s disciplined approach clearly has had its effect on this group, and the players have bought into the culture of the 3Ts (Toughness, Togetherness, Trust) and have praised him at various times in recent memory. Continue reading Should the Pacers fire Nate McMillan?

Do the Pacers have anything left as the playoffs approach?

INDIANAPOLIS–The Pacers have looked like they’ve been out of energy for weeks.

Tonight, as they faced a Brooklyn Nets team that was trying to clinch a playoff spot, it showed enough for Pacers head coach Nate McMillan to speak candidly about it after the game.

“We’re talking about we want to play,” said McMillan, “but I may have to make some decisions for some guys [to rest]. Because our motor is very low right now, that effort that we saw at the start of the game. We can’t start like that.”

McMillan highlighted the 12 offensive rebounds in the first half as a sign that the Pacers had no fight in this one, and while he doesn’t think it’s a lack of effort, he did admit that perhaps the team has hit a wall.

“Guys have given extra since Victor’s been out. We’ve had to lift and probably ask for a little bit more from this group since we lost a key player like that,” said McMillan. “… We’ve squeezed our guys a lot to get to this point. Is there anything left? I think so.”

McMillan said they will have the day off tomorrow and will be in talks with everyone to see what they need to do in terms of rest to be ready for the playoffs next week. The Pacers are just one win shy of their 48 wins from last year while Oladipo has missed over half the season. It’s an impressive feat but the team has been running on fumes.

The Pacers have struggled with their tough schedule since the All-Star break, seemingly playing a team fighting for something in the playoffs every night. They’ve gone 7-14 since February 25th and just 3-9 since March 16th.

“If we hit a wall or run out of gas, there’s nothing we can really do about that but try to rest as much as possible and continue to go out there and play,” said Thad Young. “That happens when your star player goes down. You have to give a little bit more. You have to elevate your game. It’s a process. … The biggest thing is just to continue to play, stay the course and making sure we’re there on the defensive side.”

Young was very focused on the poor defensive effort from the Pacers tonight, mentioning the many lapses on that end with backdoor cuts, letting guys blow by them, not smashing down on rebounds.

“Defense is what wins games for us and we haven’t been playing very good defense,” Young said. “… That’s not what we do as a team, we keep guys in front of us, we play physical on the defensive end and we make teams work for each and every bucket. That’s what we haven’t been doing.”

Young suggested the team going back to the basics and doing “high-school” drills like closeouts and putting guys in forced help positions.

Domantas Sabonis, who had his 30th double double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds, wasn’t a fan of the idea of taking games off or resting games but even he noted that the team has lacked energy.

“I think it’s the energy,” Sabonis said of what needs corrected before the playoffs. “If we don’t have energy, we can’t guard. Everyone’s thinking ‘Oh, he’s going to help me out, he’s going to help me out,’ but we just got to stick together. The main thing is not falling apart.”

The Pacers have one week before the playoffs begin to recharge and find the energy necessary to pull off the upset against the Celtics. They’re now officially locked into the 5th seed.

“I’m very confident in our group that we’re gonna do well,” said Darren Collison, who made his return to the lineup by making just 2 of his 12 shot attempts. “I think we match up well with them; we’ve been playing them well all year long. I’m not just looking at the last game. I think when we play our best, we can beat any team in the East and I’m very confident about that.”

For the Pacers to be at their best, they made need to take this week and rest.

 

Ponytail Myles: The confident, surprisingly vulgar Pacers two-way monster

Myles Turner is having the best stretch of his career with Indiana Pacers and the timing aligns precisely with a new hairstyle.

Coincidence?

“That’s what everybody is gassing up,” Turner said after he scored 23 points against the Bucks, “Everybody’s saying it’s the ponytail, so I guess I gotta keep it now, right? … I just wanted to try something different and then my teammates … said it looks good, go for it.”

In the four games since Turner first broke out the pony, he’s averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 1.5 assists while shooting 52.4% from the field on 15.8 attempts per game and 60% from 3-point range on 3.8 attempts, which earned him a nomination for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week that his teammate Thad Young was awarded.

“Ponytail Myles!” Cory Joseph, who claimed to be the inspiration for it, joked during Turner’s post-game media session after the win against Milwaukee. “He got the dreads out of his hair. He can finally see the rim now!”

His teammates have had some fun joking about the hairstyle change, but it’s his huge contributions to this 7-game winning streak that’s been the focus.

“It’s the hair … no, I’m just playing,” Victor Oladipo said of Turner’s play of late. “It’s been good. We need him to play at that high level.”

Ponytail Myles has no chill

Ponytail Myles isn’t just playing well. He’s also playing with a new attitude. In the first game of this era, Turner and Bradley Beal got into it a bit after Beal flopped and Turner called him a motherf***er. Continue reading Ponytail Myles: The confident, surprisingly vulgar Pacers two-way monster

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

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