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Paul George Draft Day Trade Rumors

This will be updated throughout the day until a trade happens.

Woj on the Vertical’s draft show just stated that Pacers do not expect that a Paul George deal will happen tonight. The Celtics talks broke down and stalled in the middle of the first round.

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The Lakers traded the 28th pick to the Jazz which would officially end the possibility of the deal on the table of 27, 28, and either Randle or Clarkson. At this point, it doesn’t seem likely that the Pacers are going to find a deal tonight and may have to wait until after free agency.

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Pacers draft a sweet-shooting power forward from UCLA in TJ Leaf. Some other players were on the board that may have been interesting, but Pacers went with Leaf. Myles Turner likes him.

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Talks have stalled with Pacers and Celtics.

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Celtics in serious talks for Paul George, but still a ways to go.

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This would take the Wolves out of the Paul George sweepstakes.

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Wolves talks for George have involved Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and picks. If it was all of the above, I’m not sure what the Pacers are waiting on to accept the offer.

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Rockets still trying to get George from Indiana, but it may be a complicated thing to pull off.

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Blazers pursuit seems to have failed.

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Newest contenders in the Paul George race are the Trailblazers and the Spurs. Even better news, PG and the Spurs have mutual interest. This is the first time that George has had any interest in a team other than the Lakers, which is great news for Pritchard and his leverage. This could force LA to up their offer. While George wouldn’t commit past this season, it would seem to leave some hope for Spurs in keeping him that he’s interested in at least this season.

Kyler reports he has no sense of the Spurs offer. They have been searching for LaMarcus Aldridge trade partners.

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The Timberwolves are a team that has not been mentioned previously in the PG rumors. Perhaps something like #7 and LaVine for George?

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It appears George has already begun moving, but Myles Turner tweeted out that this wasn’t his house before deleting that tweet, so who knows.

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The Cavaliers have exited the Paul George race as they could not get teams interested in Kevin Love in any potential 3-team deals.

Some realistic and unrealistic trades for Paul George

Paul George trade rumors are still in the early stages where it’s mostly speculation, but many teams have been reported to be interested. If you’ve missed any of the rumors so far, you can find them all here.

The iPacers.com team (Derek Kramer, Ross Blauvelt and Joe Betz) decided to put together some realistic deals that Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers may be able to pull off before Thursday’s draft. Some more realistic than others.

Mavericks

Pacers get: Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry, 9th overall pick
Mavericks get: Paul George

Kramer: Zach Lowe speculated that the Mavs may push for a George deal centered around the number 9 pick. Mark Cuban has long been on the search for a superstar for Dallas ever since winning the championship back in 2011. Pacers could wind up with Yogi Ferrell instead of Curry if the Mavs were unwilling to give him up.

Cavaliers & Kings

Pacers get: 10th and 34th overall picks, Aaron Afflalo
Kings get: Kevin Love
Cavaliers get: Paul George

Betz: Cleveland does it to get PG without sacrificing more than Love; Sacramento does it to keep their main lottery pick and get a star player to begin their culture shift from losing to winning; and IND does it to gain a mid-late lottery pick plus an early second to accelerate the rebuilding process. Afflalo’s time on the floor will be limited with King’s expected pick at 5, so his contract is dumped to the Pacers.

Bucks

Pacers get: Greg Monroe, Malcolm Brogdon, 17th overall pick
Bucks get: Paul George

Kramer: The Bucks haven’t even been rumored to be interested in one-year of George, but imagining Giannis and him playing together would have to seem pretty appealing to Jason Kidd and the Bucks. This deal is only possible if Greg Monroe opts-in his player option for next season. The Pacers would have just one season of Monroe and pick up a promising young guard in Malcolm Brogdon on a cheap second-round pick contract as well as the 17th pick in Thursday’s draft.

Lakers

Pacers get: DeAngelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., 28th overall pick
Lakers get: Paul George

(Update: Russell has been traded to the Nets)

Betz: Lakers do it to acquire Bird rights on George now, prevent any contender from convincing George to stay and move on from Russell with Lonzo Ball; Pacers do it to acquire a new point guard should Teague not be re-signed, a young-ish PF on a good contract, and a late first. FWIW: I would rather have Russell and Nance than the rumored Clarkson and Randle, but that’s just me.

Pistons

Pacers get: Ish Smith, Boban Marjonovic, 12th overall pick
Pistons get: Paul George

Kramer: Pacers get a solid backup point guard and the tall guy from Big Fish to go with the 12th overall selection that could net them someone like Donovan Mitchell. Pistons take the year rental on George without having to give up too much.

Trailblazers – Option 1

Pacers get: Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, 15th overall pick
Trailblazers get: Paul George, Al Jefferson

Blauvelt: Pacers help Portland out by taking the Crabbe deal and the Blazers help Indiana out by taking on Big Al. Pacers get back a young prospect in Vonleh and the 15th pick in the draft. Blazers get one year to convince him to stay with a killer lineup of Dame, CJ, and Nurkic.

Trailblazers – Option 2

Pacers get: Crabbe, 2 of their 3 first round picks (15, 20, 26)
Trailblazers get: Paul George

Kramer: If the Pacers aren’t interested in Vonleh and are okay taking on Crabbe’s contract, the Pacers could pick up two first round picks that are better than either of the Lakers first rounders that they are currently offering (27, 28). If there are multiple players available near 18 on draft night that the Pacers like, this deal could be even more appealing.

Nuggets

Pacers get: Gary Harris, Kenneth Faried
Nuggets get: Paul George, Lavoy Allen

Blauvelt: The Pacers could try and get the Nuggets to add the #13 pick to the deal, but they haven’t been interested in George now that he’s actually on the block even though they made an offer at the deadline. This deal gives the Pacers a rebounding-focused power forward to pair with Myles Turner and starting shooting guard to replace CJ Miles. Lavoy Allen could be included in Nuggets were interested, if not the Pacers have the option of declining his $4 million team option.

Rockets:

Pacers get: Eric Gordon, Patrick Beverly, future first-round pick
Rockets get: Paul George

Kramer: This could be a trade more appealing to the Pacers if they intend to retool instead of rebuild. The Pacers get Eric Gordon to start at shooting guard after a great year in Houston and a defense-first point guard in Patrick Beverly. The Rockets GM Daryl Morey gets a second superstar to go with MVP-candidate James Harden and after signing his extension, he may feel safe enough to take the big risk on convincing George to stay.

76ers:

Pacers get: Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Gerald Henderson, lottery-protected future first-round pick
76ers get: Paul George

Kramer: The 76ers are close to being done with The Process after acquiring the number one overall pick in the draft. George could help the team get to the playoffs and beyond on a much faster timeline. This may be more than the Sixers are willing to offer for George (Henderson is only included as to match salaries and his contract of $9 million is only guaranteed for just $1 million), but if the Sixers want to try and make an instant success after years of tanking, this could be their ticket. If the 76ers don’t want George, you could see if they’d be interested in a Kevin Love 3-team deal as well though that seems unlikely with Simmons at PF.

Magic:

Pacers get: Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, future first-round pick
Magic get: Paul George

Kramer: Perhaps George’s former coach Frank Vogel thinks he can convince George to stay in Orlando past this season and the Pacers manage to get this haul from the Magic. They probably would have the option of taking a horse that does horse things over Hezonja (Game of Zones).

Paul George on his future: “For Indiana, I want that ring.”

Paul George has been a hot topic for discussion as a potential star on the move especially after not making an All-NBA team last season, and tonight the Indianapolis media got a rare off-season chance to ask him questions about his future at the 9th Annual Caroline Symmes Celebrity Softball Challenge that has numerous current and former players for both the Colts and Pacers compete every year. 

Everything that George said tonight is consistent with every other time he’s spoken to the media about his future in the last year or so. George said expects to be an Indiana Pacers player through next season and play out the rest of his contract. He still wants to win in Indiana and still wants some help to do so.

“I’m a Pacer,” said George according to Nate Taylor of the Indy Star. “There’s no way around that. This is my team, my group, and this is where I’m at.”

While the text here doesn’t make George sound enthusiastic about being a Pacer currently in these quotes, it’s likely that he’s sick of all the speculation and rumors about where he’s going when he still has a full year before he’ll be making that decision of whether to stay or whether to leave.

George is still talking about wanting to bring a championship to Indiana and win for the team that drafted him.

“I am all about trying to make this team better,” said George according to Tricia Whitaker of CBS4 Indy. “For Indiana, I want that ring. I need some help to get that accomplished.”

“It’s all about bringing a championship to Indiana,” said George.

The burden to get that help for George is on recently promoted President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. George said he and Pritchard are on the same page after meeting with him the day after his promotion and that he’s pleased with the hire.

“His mind is in the right place in terms of players I want to play with and be around,” said George of Pritchard. “It’s going to be tough, as it would be anywhere to attract players so we’ll see how we shape this team up.”

Pritchard’s approach seems very different than Larry Bird’s infamous “He don’t make decisions around here” stance when the Pacers wanted George to play power forward, and George already seems to appreciate feeling like he’s a part of what Pritchard is trying to do and being kept in the loop. George wasn’t happy about not knowing anything about the trade rumors at the deadline, and Pritchard has made an immediate effort to repair George’s trust with the front office.

Pritchard will be looking to figure out a way to make a splash in free agency or via trade that will get the Pacers back to competing in Eastern Conference Finals. Don’t be surprised to hear if the Pacers are at least looking for a meeting with a free agent like former Butler star Gordon Hayward, especially when George has praised his game in the past.

“I love being a part of what he’s trying to do from day one,” said George. “We established a great relationship.”

Actually pulling in a player like Hayward or someone of similar caliber will be easier said than done for Pritchard as the Pacers will have limited resources available if they intend to re-sign Jeff Teague and CJ Miles. Finding takers on the contracts of both Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson is one of few potential options of freeing up cap space, but the Pacers are unlikely to find any suitors on the old veterans without a draft pick attached to the deal as well.

If George makes an All-NBA team this season, he’ll still qualify for that enormous extension that only the Pacers can offer him, so George has an extra motivation to not be traded this season.

George, who had previously stated that he felt like he played well enough to make one of the All-NBA teams this season, said that he won’t play the “political game” when it comes to the All-NBA teams and that he knows he needs to be better next season to make one of those teams.

https://twitter.com/schultz975/status/875477492706013188

The constant trade rumors and speculation about George’s future will remain a constant until next off-season when George opts out of his current contract and becomes a free agent.

“They’re all crazy,” said George about trade rumors, “but they’re all expected.”

After the finals, the television talking heads and some journalists have talked or written about the idea of George being traded to the Cavaliers as a kind of counter to the Warriors acquiring Kevin Durant last off-season. None of them seem to consider the Pacers will make a decision based on their own interests and likely won’t even consider dealing George to their division rival that already is the best team in the Eastern Conference.

And George says he doesn’t have any plans on speaking with James about his future.

“He’s been a huge influencer for me outside of the game,” said George, “but we don’t communicate and figure out where one another’s going.”

At this point, it seems highly unlikely that the Pacers will be trading George during the off-season. Zach Lowe, Brian Windhorst, and Ramona Shelburne each recently said on Lowe’s podcast that they had heard the Pacers weren’t looking to trade George currently from their own sources, and George isn’t currently demanding one either. As George said, they’re on the “same page.”

If the Pacers do start looking to trade George, it will likely be because they failed to add any new pieces and George then requests a trade, or the season isn’t going as planned at the deadline next year and the Pacers decide he’s likely to leave and to get whatever they can before losing him for nothing.

For the fans in Indiana, it’s still a game of wait and see. There will just be a lot of rumors and speculation about George’s future until the day comes.

In the meantime, let’s try to just enjoy Paul George.

 

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

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

 Lance Stephenson

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2702273

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

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

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

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

Kevin Seraphin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Live 18 has the Pacers in uniforms that don’t exist. At least not yet.

During an EA Sports presentation of their edition to the mostly-maligned NBA Live series, the Pacers were shown at times in a uniform that does not exist. At least not yet.

UPDATE: Pacers radio voice Mark Boyle says he has seen the new uniforms and these are not them. So it looks like EA Sports just made an error on the Pacers uniforms in these clips. This does confirm that the Pacers will have new uniforms for this upcoming season.

Indiana Sports Coverage’s Grant Afseth was the first to notice the peculiar uniforms from the NBA Live video.

The Pacers have long been rumored to be getting new uniforms for next season when Nike takes over from Adidas, but the uniforms seen in the screenshots aren’t much of change from their current attire. If EA Sports accidentally leaked the new Nike uniforms, the Pacers seemed to have mostly opted to keep things the same.

One thing that goes against the theory that these are the leaked uniforms is that the Pacers 50th season patch is still on the jersey as seen in the above image of Paul George. If I had to guess, I’d say these won’t be the new uniforms but we’ll have to wait and see. Here’s the video with the Pacers odd jersey in action.

Player Review: Jeff Teague had one of his best seasons

Our latest player reviews for the season brings us to Jeff Teague, who had one of his best seasons in the NBA during his first (and hopefully not only) year as an Indiana Pacer. Here’s link to our reviews on CJ Miles and Lavoy Allen and Glenn Robinson III and Monta Ellis.

The Good:

82: Number of games started. The Pacers have sorely needed a playmaking point guard, but more importantly, they needed someone to show up to each game and produce. Teague’s durability is highly valuable, and the Pacers will need to open their checkbook to keep that. In the debate of George Hill vs. Jeff Teague, durability is one area that seems to tip the scales to Teague, because as valuable as Hill’s defense and shooting are, he’s also been prone to miss a lot of games.

150: Shooting fouls drawn. Teague’s ability to punish defenders accelerating over picks or sticking their hands “in the cookie jar” was one of the most enjoyable things to watch. If you grew up watching Reggie Miller kick his way to the free throw line, you enjoyed Teague exploiting the whistle this season. It was the most shooting fouls drawn in his career, but with so many players drawing those 3-point fouls, the NBA will likely make a rule that’s similar to the “rip-through” rule that makes those type of plays non-shooting fouls. It’s unlikely he’ll ever match his free throw numbers from this season again.

22.1%: Teague’s usage percentage was lower than his previous four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. His last three seasons had all been over 25%. Even with less usage, Teague’s season was perhaps the best of his career. He averaged a career high in assists at 7.8 per game and rebounds at 4.0 per game. His scoring was only less than a point lower per game than the past two seasons.

The Bad:

154: Lost ball turnovers. Teague had the most turnovers of this variety in his career, and though his turnovers per game remained near his career average, he lost the ball when attempting to drive or reposition on the court too often.

.238: percentage of shots taken between 0-3 feet. Teague took the fewest shots of this type (read, driving lay-ups and short floaters) in his career. A larger percentage need to be taken closer to the rim since he does not have elite range to maximize his offensive value, but as he gets older, expect this percentage, more than 100 points lower than his previous season, to stay below thirty percent.

0: Years left on his contract. The Pacers will likely have to pay somewhere close to $20 million per season to retain Teague, unless he takes a hometown discount. The good news is that it seems both sides are interested in re-signing.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.

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

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

Glenn Robinson III

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monta Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

 

iPacers Awards 2016-2017

The NBA awards (minus the All-NBA teams, cross your fingers for Paul George) will not be announced until later this month (Update: George did not make an All-NBA team) during the NBA Awards Show, but we can discuss our Pacers season awards right now! The iPacers writers have each weighed in on categories ranging from MVP (not named Paul) to Best Play for the 2016-17 season that just wrapped up for the Blue and Gold.

Be sure to follow our team on twitter: Editor-in-Chief Derek Kramer, @iPacersblog, and our three Contributors: Ross Blauvelt (@TheCorner3Ross), Alexander Grant (@Vegas_SportsGuy) and Joe Betz (@Joe_Betz_).

After the season we just endured, a little positive reminiscing is good for the heart. Let’s think of the good times like Paul George’s play from March through the playoffs, Reborn Ready, Thad Young and GR3’s game winners, and the games that Monta didn’t start. Here’s our awards for the 2016-2017 season.

MVP (not named Paul George):

Derek Kramer: Second-year big man Myles Turner gets my vote. The Pacers outscored opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions with Myles Turner on the court, but were outscored by 5.9 points per 100 possessions with Turner on the bench. The Pacers were 8.9 points per 100 possessions better with Turner on the court than off. That 8.9 point differential is surpassed only by Paul George’s mark of 10.9. The Pacers were a mess defensively all season, but Myles Turner was still a force as a rim protector. While Turner still has plenty of room to grow on both ends (especially in the weight room), he’s already the Pacers 2nd most valuable player. While his offensive role strangely declined over the second-half of the season, hopefully McMillan will look to turn him loose next year instead of wanting him to “distribute the ball more.”

Joe Betz: Thaddeus Young. Look no further than his time missed due to his wrist injury and the way the Pacers played toward the end of the season as his wrist began to fully heal.

Alexander Grant: Jeff Teague.  Playing for his hometown team, he averaged a career high in assists at 7.8 per game, and he also played in ALL 82 games.  He has stated he’d like to stay in Indiana so hopefully the business side of the game allows it.

Ross Blauvelt: Thad Young. Glue guy. Without him due to injury the team slid. Just does it all for this team. Not flashy, but gets it done.

Most Improved Player:

Joe Betz: Myles Turner. He improved in several areas, taking a nice second year bump. The third year leap is needed for the Pacers to compete, however.

Alexander Grant: Glenn Robinson III.  He proved to be a nice rotational piece with a decent jumper.  His trajectory as a player is clearly trending up, and winning the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest put the Pacers in a favorable national spotlight.  He can be a foundational player for the franchise in the foreseeable future.

Derek Kramer: This article from the Bleacher Report gave Myles Turner the title for the entire league as the Most Improved Player based on the metrics of RPM and NBA Math’s TPA, since I already talked Turner up in the previous award section, I’ll let that article do the talking for me here. GR3 with an easy second place. Third place goes to Rakeem Christmas for showing he can potentially be an NBA player for that brief stretch after the All-Star break. You could even argue Paul George with his career highs in scoring and in most shooting categories.

Ross Blauvelt: This one was tough. Either Glenn Robinson III or Myles Turner for me. Have to go GR3. Myles had an amazing start and did progress on year one but regressed in some ways as well. Year 3 will be interesting. Glenn went from end of the bench to major rotation/energy player down the stretch. Oh and Dunk Champion doesn’t hurt.

Best New Addition:

Joe Betz: I give this to Teague. It would be Thaddeus’s to win here if he hadn’t missed time. Teague’s durability was huge.

Alexander Grant: Jeff Teague.  Hopefully he doesn’t leave Indiana, but as an unrestricted Free Agent he will undoubtedly command more than his current $8M/year price tag.  Larry Bird tried to get an extension formalized after trading for Teague, so the interest to stay in “Naptown” appears to be mutual.

Derek Kramer: There are only two choices here: Thad Young or Jeff Teague. Without Thad Young’s wrist injury this would have been much tougher, but the kid from Indianapolis wins this one. Teague had a career year as he heads into free agency.

Ross Blauvelt: Jeff Teague. Starting PG, floor leader. In trading Off for Def in a way in giving up GHill, Jeff produced. Please come back.

Comeback Player of the Year:

Joe Betz: Lance. ‘Nuff said.

Alexander Grant: Lance Stephenson.  The way Stephenson played to end the regular season, along with being stellar in the playoffs makes this category easy.  I can’t help but wonder as a Pacers fan “what could’ve been” if Born Ready was signed earlier in the season.

Ross Blauvelt: Lance, welcome back #BornReady.

Derek Kramer: It took a combination of three injuries and a weird contract quirk to get Lance Stephenson back to the Pacers. Stephenson looked poised to have a consistent role on the Pelicans before his injury forced the Pelicans to waive him due to other injuries, then he sprained his ankle while with the Timberwolves as they decided to move on from him once his 10-day contract expired. Meanwhile in Indiana, Rodney Stuckey suffered another injury that would keep him out for the remainder of the year and because the Pacers could eliminate his player option by waiving him before the end of the season, they decided to move on. All the stars finally aligned for the return of Born Ready, and it was glorious.

Best Game:

Derek Kramer: One of my favorite games this year was the first game against the Oklahoma City Westbrook and friends. No Paul George that night, but so many Pacers stepped up to win a tight game on the road against a good western conference team. Jeff Teague scored 30 points on just 16 shots with 9 assists, while Russell Westbrook had his typical 30-point triple double, but needed 34 shots to get his 30+ that night. The Pacers meanwhile put up a triple double-double as a team: Thaddeus Young had 20 and 10, Myles Turner had 15 and 10, and Glenn Robinson III stepped into the starting lineup and put up 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Joe Betz: Final Raptors game at home. Huge comeback + Lance’s first game back in the Fieldhouse + salty Raptors = happiness. Plus, it was PG13 bobblehead night.

Alexander Grant: There are a lot of games to choose from but I’m probably going against the grain here and choosing the double-OT contest versus the Cavaliers on April 2nd.  It was a disappointing end result, however the game showed the Pacers can compete.  Couple this OT thriller with the playoff matchups, the Pacers showed the were not going to back down from the LeBron-led champs.  The games came down to the wire each time, and they showed there is hope for Indy fans.

Ross Blauvelt: In a loss, it has to be the OT loss to the Cavs. PG vs LBJ. Epic. In a win, first game of the season vs the Mavericks. Showed what Myles’ potential is as he opened the season with 31 points and 16 rebounds.

Best Pass:

Joe Betz: Anytime Monta Ellis successfully moved the ball from his hands to another player.

Best Play:

Alexander Grant: There are multiple candidates for this category. Thaddeus Young had a couple dunks, and Myles Turner can certainly make some stellar defensive plays. However, the game-winning three pointer by GRIII at the Atlanta Hawks on March 5th takes the cake.

Derek Kramer: I was so moved by the game-winning 3-pointer by Glenn Robinson III against the Hawks that I was compelled to write a poem. So, I think I’m obligated to go with that one, even if I’m not a good poet.

Ross Blauvelt: GR3’s game-winning 3 vs the Hawks. His star continues to rise. If it wasn’t that: Then it was up to Thad’s dunk on Terrence Jones or PG’s dunk on Clint Capela. Or better yet, the entire 1st half of Game 3 vs the Cavs! (Editor’s Note: Now, I’m depressed again.)

Most Surprising:

Joe Betz: Nate McMillan’s decision making. From starting Monta Ellis to consistently playing lineups that he knew weren’t working and so much in between, it was a rough first year for McMillan.

Derek Kramer: The Pacers inability to defeat terrible teams. The Pacers lost far too many games this season that should have been won and winning just two of the following games against bottom feeders of the league would have put the Pacers in the 5th-seed this season: Nets, Knicks [twice], Pelicans, Sixers, Suns and Mavericks. Inconsistency was a major issue for the Pacers this season.

Alexander Grant: This Pacers team beat some pretty good Western Conference teams. Granted they only played two matchups apiece, the Pacers did not lose to the Houston Rockets, LA Clippers, or Oklahoma City Thunder.  Definitely surprised me.

Ross Blauvelt: Hiring of Nate. Bird wanted the team to play faster and with a new voice. So they hire Nate McMillan who’s been on the sidelines as an assistant for years and one of the slowest pace coaches on record. Huh?

Most Disappointing:

Joe Betz: Team award. This team had the opportunity to be a top 4 seed, but PG didn’t truly play like an All-Star until after the break, the offense and defense were like shambling Frankenstein monsters, and Al Jefferson’s ankle exploded.

Alexander Grant: The signing of Al Jefferson, and to see him not log a single minute of playing time in the playoffs.  He was a horrible fit with the team, and I’m still wondering why the deal happened in the first place.  The NBA today is spread out and three pointer happy.  Larry Bird knows this and still signed the flat-footed Jefferson.  He is a throwback player that should not be on the roster.

Ross Blauvelt: This team. On paper before the season most fans were super excited at the Pacers chances. With some thinking the #2/3 in the East was in the cards. Then the team was so up and down barely squeaking into the playoffs. Honorable Mention to how poorly Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson played at times.

Derek Kramer: I was a lot more hopeful in Al Jefferson. It was very discouraging to hear Kevin Pritchard say that he thought Big Al was out of shape all season and that was partly why he struggled this year. Not all of the issues were his fault as the roster and coaching didn’t allow him to often be in an advantageous situation with a lack of shooting surrounding him and his paint space being eaten away by Lavoy Allen or Kevin Seraphin for much of the year. Perhaps most disappointing though was his effort on defense. I didn’t expect Al to be good at defense, but so many times he would lazily foul a guard with his arms as he sped past him instead of trying to contest a shot at the rim. Monta Ellis’s rapid decline this season gets second, but his fit with Teague was an obvious issue in the summer.

Please Come Back Award:

Joe Betz: Jeff Teague. Teague’s personality is a bit strange, but he loves Indianapolis, is a top 10 PG talent, and attacks the basket. That’s all I’ve ever wanted…

Alexander Grant: Jeff Teague.  He is about to assess his market value and I hope the Pacers can pay him.  Not only because he had a career year and is a hometown guy; Teague makes the roster more attractive for potential Free Agents (Paul Millsap?!).

Derek Kramer: Paul George will be the obvious answer here next season when he hits free agency if he doesn’t sign an extension this off-season. Teague is the obvious choice this year, but CJ Miles may be as important as bringing Teague back. The Pacers are already thin on shooting with 3J, and after shooting 41% from deep this year he’s in line for a pay raise. He’s been a selfless teammate the last two years as he volunteered to play power forward two years ago and never cared whether he started or came off the bench. The Pacers had a top-5 lineup in the NBA with CJ Miles playing with the starters this season, and they’d do well to keep that unit intact coming into next season.

Ross Blauvelt: Jeff Teague. Outside of the obvious who else would play point guard next year if he’s not brought back (Lance?, Joe Young?!), Jeff played exceptional when the ball was in his hands. Yes, the Pacers give up some defense with him on the floor but his offense at times makes up for that.

 

What we learned about Kevin Pritchard during his press conference

Larry Bird officially stepped down as President of Basketball Operations in his press conference earlier today, and Kevin Pritchard was officially promoted to take over Bird’s position.

Here’s what we learned from today’s press conference:

  • Larry Bird decided that this season was going to be his final year as president last season. Bird said that he told Pritchard and another front office guy, Peter Dinwiddie, of his plans, but that only about four people were aware.
  • Bird said the increased budget that Herb Simon, Pacers owner, put in place for this season almost made him want to come back for another season.
  • Bird will remain on as a consultant to the organization, saying that he will help with the scouting department. Pritchard said that he wants Bird in every free agent meeting.
  • Pritchard retakes a lead organizational role similar to the his days in Portland that saw him draft and trade well, earning the reputation for “Pritch-slap” deals.
  • Paul George’s exit interview with Pritchard included only scenarios that would improve the Pacers. George wants to win. “We are on the same page.”
  • Two interesting statements about his philosophy: “You have to be bold in this position.” “I want to be aggressive.”
  • Asked if he would like to re-sign Jeff Teague, Pritchard highlighted how strong Teague had been, and said the Pacers are “open to negotiations” and a “fair deal.”
  • Pritchard highlighted Lance’s success and quipped,”We all know Lance is crazy.” The Pacers will ask more of him next season when he is fully healthy.
  • Asked about the direction for the team moving forward, Pritchard highlighted his desire to find “physical…tougher…and completely high energy” players. Later he mentioned that he wants “a tougher team.”
  • The Pacers want to develop and retain players, meaning they will need to be paid.
  • Rebuilding is a dirty word in Pritchard’s mind.
  • Asked about coaching, Pritchard highlighted Nate’s toughness and spoke highly of him.

Digesting these comments seem to show a front office that will aim to improve the team next year through finding players in free agency and through trades or the draft that are physical, tough, and have high energy. Pritchard did say that he learned how important continuity is from Bird as well. 

Teague will be given a “fair” deal but could pass that up to take big money elsewhere. The goal is to assemble a Pacers team that is competitive and centered around Paul George, with Pritchard believing if George ultimately shows a desire to leave he will be forthcoming.

L2M Report: LeBron traveled before taking go-ahead 3-pointer in Game 4

According to the Last Two Minute Report, LeBron James traveled before sinking his game-winning, series-clinching 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining in Game 4.

What do you think? Would you have called LeBron’s travel here?

It’s not the most obvious call in the world, and one that is rarely called in the NBA. Before dribbling around the screen, LeBron moves his pivot foot, which would technically be a travel.

It was one of only two missed calls that the NBA found. The other was a missed Paul George travel before he took his game-tying attempt with under five seconds remaining.

The Pacers were swept by the Cavaliers by a grand total of 16 points, lowest point differential in a sweep in NBA History.

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

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

Date: 4/23/2017

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

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

Summary of examination:

Larry Bird:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nate McMillan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inconsistency

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

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

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

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

Thaddeus Young’s Wrist

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

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

LeBron James

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

Drugs in system at time of death

Abnormal levels of hype and adrenaline

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

For one playoff game, the Pacers were last year’s Warriors, 3-1 lead included

The Indiana Pacers had the full 2016 NBA Finals experience from the Golden State Warriors perspective in just one playoff game against LeBron James.

They were the Falcons in the Super Bowl up 28-3. They were the Cleveland Indians up 3-1. In a year of historic collapses, the Pacers had their own.

There was no championship at stake for the Pacers tonight, but that doesn’t mean this game lacked importance with their season and their future still on the line. Every playoff loss could potentially make Paul George more likely to leave which would change the outlook of the franchise for years. 

The Pacers looked like Golden State in the first half scoring a team record for the playoffs with 74 first half points and holding the Cavaliers to only 49. A 25-point lead at halftime that was as high as 26 points that would ultimately be their equivalent to Warriors’ 3-1 lead.

There was so much dope stuff happening for the Pacers in that first half that it was hard to keep track of it all:

  • Myles Turner had perhaps the greatest play of his career when he dunked all over Tristan Thompson at the rim. The slow-motion video should be on display in a museum. Turner looked a man on a mission to rebound from his poor first two games of the series. Blocking shots, picking off passes and looking aggressive offensively.
  • The Pacers shot 57% in the first half while holding the Cavaliers to just 37%.
  • Paul George had 23 points in the first half and nearly outscored the Cavaliers in the second quarter by himself (21 for George, 22 for Cleveland)
  • Lance Stephenson was roaring on every defensive rebound and pushing the pace like a runaway freight train, hitting threes, setting up others for quick buckets and making the crowd about as amped as they’ve ever been.
  • Kevin Seraphin played like a man possessed. Scoring on LeBron, blocking Kyrie, posterizing Kyle Korver after an offensive rebound, scoring a nifty layup on a sweet assist.
  • Thaddeus Young beat the Cavaliers to the ball too many times to count and finished nearly every shot he took.
  • Larry Bird was water sippin’ that Kinetico finest. No looks of disappointment. No frustrating head shakes or curse words from the legend. Life was good.

Then we all know what happened next. The Pacers lost their 3-1 lead and saw LeBron in all his glory as he finished with a 41/12/13 line. The Pacers suddenly became cautious, tentative and quit pushing the pace and doing what made them successful in the first half. It’s like the came out in the second half and immediately wanted to milk the clock.

“We came out relaxed,” said George of the third quarter. “We got away from what the first half was about.”

As the Cavaliers got closer and closer, every Pacers primary ball handler besides Paul George, who finished with 36 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists, seemed timid with the ball. Stephenson passed up open threes, Teague was slow to get the offense moving throughout the half. Thaddeus Young kept fighting for rebounds, but the Pacers simply couldn’t finish. The Pacers went from shooting 57% in the first half to only 40% overall for the game.

Cleveland meanwhile woke up offensively and hit what seemed like every open three they took. LeBron did LeBron things. Paul George grew frustrated with the refs and Nate McMillan got a rare technical foul. Perhaps, the Pacers agruments with the refs was the Draymond suspension.

The Pacers pushed the lead back to 20 points with four minutes left in the third quarter, but were outscored 52-27 from that point forward. The Pacers scored only 40 points in the second half after scoring 37 points in each of the first two quarters.

Somehow Monta Ellis played about six minutes in the fourth quarter in the game that he was finally benched from the starting lineup, because McMillan decided starting the game didn’t work with Monta, so let’s try finishing it with him? Little about it made any sense, especially as many of the minutes were shared with Jeff Teague, a pairing that had been outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions in the first two games. It would be shocking if McMillan keeps his job after the series at this point.

The Cavaliers found a lineup that the Pacers had no answer for on defense in the fourth quarter as they forced Myles Turner to stay on Channing Frye on the perimeter as LeBron took easy strolls into the lane for layups after beating his man with no one able to protect the rim and no one able to stay in front of him. LeBron sucked all life out of the arena that had so recently been as alive as it had ever been.

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).

 

George McGinnis elected to the Hall of Fame

A true Indiana basketball legend finally received his due today as George McGinnis was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

McGinnis had seemed to come to peace with never being elected back in 2015.

“I probably won’t get inducted”, McGinnis said then. “I know and I know the guys I played with know what I did and what I brought to the game. That’s good enough for me.”

McGinnis was a key part of the Pacers ABA dynasty and joins fellow recent Hall of Fame inductees Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, and Bobby “Slick” Leonard from those ABA Championships.

“I’ve seen every player that’s come down the road the last 60 years,” Leonard told the Indy Star, “and you’ve got to be kidding me. There are guys in the Hall of Fame that Big George would eat alive.”

McGinnis’s career achievement list is long and impressive: 2-time ABA Champion, 1974-75 ABA Co-MVP with Julius Erving, six All-Star selections in a span of just seven seasons, and his number 30 is retired by the Indiana Pacers.

His Co-MVP season is unparalleled by anyone in basketball history with 29.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. No one can match those incredible numbers in a single season.

McGinnis improbably led the Pacers to the ABA finals that season after Roger Brown and Mel Daniel were no longer with the team. They lost to the Kentucky Colonels 4-1.

McGinnis also won an Indiana High School championship while he was attending Washington High School in Indianapolis and was named Mr. Basketball. He also played at Indiana University and was the first sophomore to lead the Big Ten in scoring while averaging 29.9 points and 14.7 rebounds per game.

Lowe: Pacers have a way to rid themselves of player options for Stuckey, Ellis

Zach Lowe of ESPN wrote a column on the Indiana Pacers earlier this week that highlights the Paul George situation and looks ahead to the very interesting summer that awaits the Larry Bird and the franchise.

One thing that Lowe said didn’t make his column that he shared to Ramon Shelburne on his podcast, the Lowe Post, was a unique situation that the Pacers have with three contracts currently on the books with player options: CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey’s options for the 2017-18 season and Monta Ellis’s option for 2018-19.

Details at around the 47:00 mark if you want to listen. Explained below as well.

Lowe says that the Pacers could waive any of those three players before the regular season is over and their player options would go off their books for the salary cap next year (This would apply for next season for Ellis since his player option is for 2018-19). Lowe says that it’s believed that these are the only three contracts like this in the entire league where the player options essentially vanish if the players are waived before the regular season ends.

This means that if the Pacers desired they could waive Stuckey before the regular season is over, and it would essentially be like he declined his player option for next season. This only works if the Pacers waive him before the regular season ends, otherwise Stuckey gets to choose whether or not to accept his player option. If the Pacers actually waived him after the regular season ends, Stuckey automatically gets the $7 million player option and it counts against the Pacers salary cap.

Miles is on an incredibly cheap, team-friendly contract at just $4 million per year, so the Pacers won’t be looking to get out of his contract early by ditching one of few players currently on the roster that can space the floor, and Miles is almost guaranteed to decline his option and cash in in free agency this off-season. The Pacers would like to keep him, but it will cost much more than he’s currently making.

Lowe doesn’t think that the Pacers would release Stuckey before the season even though he said the Pacers would probably like to not have that $7 million on their books and even looked for ways to move him at the deadline (reports that a Stuckey for John Henson deal was discussed). Lowe’s main reasoning is that it wouldn’t look good to Paul George if the Pacers were getting rid of a rotation player before the playoffs.

Stuckey, however, was replaced in the rotation by Aaron Brooks during the Pacers’ last game after many straight poor performances from Stuckey, who has struggled playing backup point guard while paired with Ellis. If the Pacers like what they see from Brooks as the backup point guard for the rest of the season and Stuckey remains out of the rotation, Bird would probably be much more likely to consider this course of action.

Stuckey and Ellis have always been redundant to the roster as poor-shooting slashing guards and removing the possibility of Stuckey, who has also struggled with injuries while with the Pacers, returning next year and opening up an additional $7 million in cap space (Pacers will have about $20 million in cap room if Stuckey accepts his option) could help Bird tremendously as he tries to improve the roster into a contender this summer that will convince George to remain in Indiana.

The Pacers could be better off this year going with just a guard rotation of Jeff Teague, Miles, Ellis, and Glenn Robinson III and leaving out both Stuckey and Brooks completely as they both are poor fits with Ellis coming off the bench. The minutes that Brooks or Stuckey have been getting could easily be split among Robinson, Miles and George, especially as the starters get heavier minutes in the playoffs.

It seems unlikely that Stuckey would be missed this season if the Pacers let him go, but if George is a big fan of Stuckey, Bird could be hesitant to let him go before the playoffs. That $7 million would certainly help the Pacers this summer as they try to convince George to stay however. It is possible that Stuckey declines his option this summer anyway as $7 million is a relatively low total compared to the crazy deals players are signing in free agency now, but he seems to like the team and city, and it’s probably unlikely he would get more from another team this off-season. He may be able to get a similar yearly value, but more than just the one year he has remaining if he does decline.

Lowe thinks that it’s more likely that the Pacers could look to waive Ellis before the end of next year’s regular season if he continues to decline and if the Pacers aren’t very good next year. Monta’s player option is for $11 million for the 2018-19 season and the Pacers should be jumping at an opportunity to clear that contract off the books a year early. We’ll have to wait and see what Bird decides to do when the time comes for both Stuckey and Ellis.

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.

Paul George’s signature shoe showing up everywhere

Paul George has joined exclusive company.  In Nike’s 44-year history, fewer than 1% of their endorsed athletes get their own signature shoe.  The PG1 sneakers debuted earlier this year but were not available for purchase until March 3rd.  Since the shoes released close to two weeks ago, they have received glowing reviews from his NBA peers.

Big props from Jared Dudley:

Superstar Dwayne Wade got his pair autographed:

Teammate Jeff Teague sporting his pair:

Players and fans have not been disappointed with the PG1’s.  Aside from aesthetics, have the shoes impacted George’s play on the court?  To the delight of Pacers fans, there is an uptick in the production of PG-13 since the sneakers were released on March 3rd.

Season Averages:  22.2 PTS – 45% FG – 38% 3PT – 6.4 REB

Since the sneakers:  28.3 PTS – 55% FG – 45% 3PT – 8.4 REB

In the 7-game stretch since the PG1’s were released, George’s numbers have a noticeable improvement.  The team however has alternated wins and losses, going 4-3 over the period.  Maybe everyone needs to rock the pair that PG gave each teammate. It certainly is helping former Pacers player Solomon Hill in New Orleans as he put up a career high 30 points wearing the shoes.

George Hill, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Jrue Holiday are other NBA players that have been wearing the PG1.

March Madness has seen a couple of college players lacing them up as well.

They were not good luck for the Villanova player, however, as they fell to Wisconsin and broke brackets everywhere.

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.

 

 

Fort Wayne Mad Ants add Tyler Hansbrough and Marquis Teague

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Pacers affiliate in the DLeague) acquired two new players with Indiana connections this week in Tyler Hansbrough and Marquis Teague.  Both are trying to restart their careers by going through the Development League. 

First on March 1st: Tyler.

Pacer fans remember Psycho-T well when he was selected 13th overall in the 2009 draft and played four seasons in Indianapolis. After Indiana he made stops in Toronto 2013-2015 and Charlotte 2015-2016. In his first game with the Mad Ants, Tyler played 17 mins, going 1-6 from the field with 7 rebs and 8 pts. We’ll see if his crazy hustle can earn him a call back up to the big league at some point.

Then on March 2nd: Marquis.

Marquis is the younger brother of Pacers point guard Jeff Teague. He was drafted in 2012 with the 29th pick by the Chicago Bulls. He’s bounced around a lot with stops in the DLeague with the Iowa Energy, NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, back to the DLeague with the Oklahoma City Blue, then onto Europe. Most recently playing for the Israeli team Ironi Nahariya and the Russian team BC Avtodor Saratov. Like Tyler, we’ll see if his time back stateside will turn any NBA heads looking to shore up their backup PG spot.

Regardless, fans in the Fort Wayne area (or on an off Pacers night) should make the trek up I-69 and catch a Mad Ants game before the season wraps up. 

The Mad Ants are currently 2nd in the Central Division at 22-15 and on a 3-game winning streak. There are only five Mad Ants home games left this season and a lot of talent to see. Jarrod Uthoff has been turning some heads with his play lately and may earn a 10-day deal from someone before the end of the season.

 

 

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!