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Christmas is over in Indiana: Pacers waive Rakeem Christmas

Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports reported that the Pacers plan to waive Rakeem Christmas before the end of the day. 

Christmas had a contract that would have become fully guaranteed on the first of August. He became expendable as the Pacers amassed numerous bigs on their roster through draft and through trade.

The Pacers waiving of Christmas ends their longest transaction tree that was still going as you can trace the Pacers acquiring Christmas all the way back to when they drafted Dale Davis. Jermaine O’Neal and Roy Hibbert are also in this transaction tree.

He’s been playing for the Pacers in Summer League this week but has been unable to stay on the court much due to a sprained ankle. 

Christmas played well for a brief stretch in February showing he could have value as an energy guy off the bench that rebounds and sets screens. He was heavily foul prone, however, and the Pacers decided to play Al Jefferson or Kevin Seraphin for the rest of the season as the backup center.

This is the second cap-saving move in two days as the Pacers waived Monta Ellis yesterday and will use the stretch provision to spread out the remaining $11.2 million on his deal over five seasons.

Update: Pacers finish in 3rd at Orlando Summer League: A look at TJ Leaf, Joe Young, Jarnell Stokes and others

Update: Pacers finished in third in Orlando Summer League and played the final game without TJ Leaf and Joe Young. No major revelations stood out from the final game that changes the analysis given here for games 3 and 4.

Games 3 & 4:

The Indiana Pacers Summer League squad lost their first game in Orlando this week against the undefeated Dallas Mavericks while playing in their fourth game in four days. But once again, the results don’t matter as much as what the players are showing on the court.

If you missed games one & two, you can find a look at performances for those games here:

Here are some highlights from games three and four:

TJ Leaf: Leaf’s best game of the Summer League came against Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat. Leaf had 19 points and 10 rebounds, continuing to show an impressive array of ways to get the ball in the basket. Adebayo, who looked really good for the Heat with 29 points and 11 rebounds, guarded him at times throughout the game, which gave Leaf a good test against NBA length and athleticism. 

There were a couple of times were Leaf scored on Adebayo with drives to the basket, creating space before starting a drive on one and making a quick move to score after a rebound on another. Leaf’s shown a lot of prowess off the bounce in his three games, consistently getting to a spot where he can score.

Leaf didn’t guard Adebayo much on the other end, but this still has proven to be his weakness and what may keep him off the floor early in his career. Leaf doesn’t know how to hedge on the pick and roll yet and struggles guarding anyone in the post with his current lack of strength. His short arms also make it a harder for him to challenge jump shots where it affects the opponent. These are all known issues, however, so it’s not like Leaf is showing anything the Pacers weren’t aware of when they drafted him.

In the fourth game, Leaf looked tired and the broadcasters noted his fatigue at multiple times. He wasn’t running the court or finding putback opportunities near as often as he had in the previous two games. His jumper was often left short. Leaf got outplayed by Christian Wood, who has NBA experience, and finished with just seven points, four rebounds and three assists.

One positive note for this game, Leaf did show the ability to make the right pass within the offense. Many of the Pacers seemed fatigued on their fourth straight gameday and it seemed to bring down the performances of just about everyone not named Jarnell Stokes.

Leaf’s 3-point shooting looks like it still needs some work to get used to NBA range. He’s now 0 for 8 on threes attempted above the break and 2 for 2 on corner threes. Don’t be surprised if the Pacers limit him early in his career to the midrange as he adjusts to the longer 3-pointer.

Joe Young: Young showed impressive toughness after dislocating his finger (broadcasters said his bone broke through the skin) and returning to play in game three and playing without limitation in game four. 

Young had his best game of the Summer League in game three with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds. He continues to show improvement in being able to run an offense and set others up in positions to score. He’s consistently shown the ability to find the right player on the perimeter after driving into the lane, especially to set up corner threes.

He’s also shown ability to finish strong inside in traffic and through contact on multiple occasions. He’s still struggling with turnovers at times, sometimes he doesn’t make the easy pass early and ends up dribbling too much. He’s had a total of 14 turnovers in the four games, but he does have a total of 23 assists.

He also seemed to be affected by fatigue in the latest game and is also playing with two fingers taped together on his left hand. Young’s biggest issue remains on the defensive end, where most of his struggles involve getting through picks quickly on the pick and roll. Young needs to find ways to practice those type of plays in his early morning workouts if he wants to eventually get rotation minutes.

Georges Niang: Niang is out for all of Summer League with a sprained knee. He’ll also be getting an MRI to see if there’s further damage soon.

Rakeem Christmas: Christmas saw his first action in Orlando in these past two games as he recovered enough from a sprained ankle. He left Game four early, however, after reinjuring the ankle and did not return.

During his time on the court, Christmas showed skills at rebounding in traffic and made some nice blocks. He also showed some post moves with hook shots and running hook shots that he converted with ease.

He had nine points, five rebounds, and three blocks in his first game and followed that with four points, two rebounds, and one block in seven minutes before he left the game with the injury.

With all the bigs on the roster, it’s unclear if Christmas has done enough to show the Pacers that he shouldn’t be waived before his contract becomes guaranteed on 8/1.  Often during this week Jarnell Stokes has looked his equal, if not better than Christmas, which doesn’t bode well for him.

Jarnell Stokes: Stokes was the only Pacers player that seemed to have much energy against the Mavericks, scoring 15 points and adding seven rebounds and four blocks. Stokes finished his good looks inside more consistently in game four than he has been earlier in the week.

At one point, Stokes blocked a shot that he palmed and kept in his hand (sorry, no video on that one). He’s surprisingly nimble at times and has shown the ability to casually bring the ball to half court when necessary. Though I’m pretty sure if he did so as non-chalantly as he has this week for an NBA team, that he’d be taken out of the game immediately.

He gets out of position too often on the defensive end, probably due to chasing blocks and is very foul prone (had eight fouls in one of the games this week, takes 10 to foul out in SL). His matchup was an undersized center in 6’7″ Warney and Warney managed 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, adding three steals and two blocks to his stat sheet as well.

Ben Moore: Moore, the undrafted sleeper, had his most productive game in Orlando against the Mavs with seven points and five rebounds. He’s played limited minutes in two of the four games, but has been solid when he’s played.

Moore continues to make the right plays on offense, always moving the ball ahead and only taking his own shot when the offense dictates it. He made a perfectly placed post-entry pass to Stokes on one play that put him in perfect position to score. 

Moore hit all three of his shots against the Mavs and has hit five of his seven shots in the four games (once again he’s rarely looking for his own shot), but none were more important to his future outlook than a nailed corner three. Moore’s potential success is greatly increased with that in his arsenal.

Moore hedges on the pick and roll, can switch onto wings in a pinch and challenge their shot attempts well. There was one sequence against the Mavs where Moore hedged on a screen well past the 3-point line and managed to get the defensive rebound close to the rim a few seconds later.

Travis Leslie: Leslie has come back down to Earth after his impressive pair of 20-point games where he scored with relative ease. He went 2 of 10 for only four points in the third game, but bounced back with a respectable nine points on 4-of-8 shooting yesterday. 

Chris Johnson: Johnson showed the ability to hit the corner three in the first two games, but went cold against the Heat making just one of his six attempts. He still found ways to score, however, adding 12 points and five rebounds. He didn’t play in yesterday’s game, perhaps because he’s left to play for another team in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Trey McKinney-Jones: McKinney-Jones is not shy when it comes to putting up his shots. He’s second on the team with 20 shot attempts in the last two games, making eight (40%).

Victor Oladipo: Oladipo stopped by yesterday to watch some of his new teammates play in Summer League. It’s good to see two of the best players on the team both come out to support the young guys this week in Myles Turner and Oladipo.

2017 Summer League Preview

Tomorrow, the Indiana Pacers start their annual Summer League games in Orlando, continuing to prefer the more intimate atmosphere without fans over the Las Vegas Summer League.

The Summer League is made up of players trying to prove something whether it’s a young player with an NBA contract trying to show they deserve playing time when the real games start (like Glenn Robinson III last year) or an NBA hopeful just trying to catch the eye of some team that will give them a shot in the league (Willie Reed dominated Summer League for a couple of years before finally getting a contract from the Nets). 

This is often the first time fans get to see their new draft picks play with their NBA team and get excited with their potential (Myles Turner, Paul George, Lance Stephenson).

It’s important to remember that you can’t overreact to anything that happens in these ultimately meaningless games. These are a group of guys that got thrown together a week prior and it often looks like bad pickup basketball. Some players will play great in Orlando against these young hopefuls, but struggle once the regular season starts (Joe Young). Others won’t take these games seriously and look like they don’t belong in the NBA at all, but once the regular season starts, they start to show their value and abilities again (Solomon Hill).

With that said, there’s still value in these games (otherwise, why keep doing it every year?). Here’s a look at the Pacers roster and what the Pacers will be looking for out of each player:

Joe Young: In Young’s third Summer League, his experience should make him one of the best players on the court at all times. The Pacers will be looking at how well Young can run an offense as a point guard and how well he defends on the other end. Kevin Pritchard gave Young a vote of confidence in his press conference saying he could potentially play off the ball with Lance Stephenson running the point, but Young’s clearest path to a consistent role in the NBA is if he can play at the point guard position.

According to Spotrac.com, Young’s contract becomes guaranteed tomorrow for next season, so Joe should be on the roster next year. But this may be his final season to prove he’s an NBA player as 2018-19 is a team option for the Pacers.

Georges Niang: Niang played very well in the Summer League last season, showing off his high basketball IQ and scoring ability. It’s still a surprise that Niang was never given an opportunity last year as a stretch four especially with limited spacing coming from the bench units, but Nate McMillan must have been too concerned about Niang’s defense. The Pacers will be watching Niang on that end of the court this week as he has showed in the past that while his basketball IQ gets him to the right spots, his limited athleticism gives him problems on that end.

Rakeem Christmas: For the second straight summer, Christmas is playing to keep his contract. Last year, Christmas beat out Shayne Whittington. This year the Pacers have a load of centers already on the roster: Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, Kevin Seraphin, Christmas, and second-round pick Ike Anigbogu. The Pacers did decline Lavoy Allen’s team option.

Christmas will have to show that he’s worthy of keeping around. He showed his value in a brief stretch in February as an energetic big off the bench that sets screens and rebounds. The problem Christmas had was defending without fouling. Seeing a theme yet? He’s another player to watch on the defensive end.

TJ Leaf: The Pacers first-round pick will miss Saturday’s game to be the best man at his brother’s wedding, but when he comes back, the Pacers will get their first look at Leaf in an NBA setting. Leaf shot the 3-pointer well for UCLA but on limited attempts so it’ll be interesting to see if his range goes out to the NBA 3-point line. Leaf shows off some great athleticism in finishing some dunks at the rim, but defensively he needs a lot of work, especially in the pick and roll. How well the 19-year-old rookie plays on that end will likely determine how much playing he can get this year.

Leaf’s fellow draft picks Ike Anigbogu and Edmond Sumner will not play due to injury.

Ben Moore: Moore, who the Pacers signed to a partially guaranteed contract, has been described as a potential undrafted success story by the Ringer and is seen to have potential defensively as a modern big man that can switch everything on screens. The key for Moore making a place for himself in the NBA will be on the offensive end where he didn’t show much ability to shoot at SMU.

Augusto Lima: Lima is Brazilian and is under contract with Real Madrid currently, but he could be bought out by an NBA team. He’s a 6’10” center that runs the floor well and can make some phenomenal rim protections plays. He went undrafted in 2013, but the Pacers had been scouting his progress in Europe since then.

Jordan Loyd: Loyd played at the University of Indianapolis and last season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He averaged 15/4/4 with Fort Wayne last season and was getting some NBA attention at the end of the season. He’ll also play in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Raptors.

Isaac Hamilton: Hamilton joins his UCLA college teammate Leaf in the Summer League. The guard averaged about 14 points and shot 38% over his three seasons with the Bruins.

Naz Mitrou-Long: One of three former Iowa State players on the Summer League squad. He improved his scoring average every year with the Cyclones and finished at 15 points per game in his final season.

Bubu Palo: Another former Cyclone, Palo averaged 16.1 points and 5 assists for Sioux Falls Skyforce in his third season in the D-League.

Jarnell Stokes: This power forward has played 28 NBA games in his career over the past three seasons with the Grizzlies, Heat and Nuggets. He was a D-League All Star two years ago averaging over 20 points and 9 rebounds per game.

Chris Johnson: Johnson has nearly 150 NBA games on his resume after playing for six teams in four seasons, but spent last year in the D-League, averaging 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Travis Leslie: Leslie, a 6’4″ guard, played for the Mad Ants last season averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Trey McKinney-Jones: Another member of the Mad Ants last season, McKinney-Jones has spent three of the last four years with Fort Wayne. Last year, he averaged 16.6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game.


Al Jefferson was out of shape and the Pacers had Christmas in February

Our latest player reviews come in a couple of the Pacers backup centers: Al Jefferson and Rakeem Christmas. If you missed any of the previous reviews, you can find them all here

First up, the Professor of Post-Moves himself, Al “Albus Dumbleboards” Jefferson

The Good

26: The number of times he scored in double-figures. Jefferson supplied an offensive antidote to anemic second units. Whenever a play was busted, a post entry to the big man was always a safety blanket and a near guarantee of a good shot.

2: The number of games Jefferson scored 20 points. In under 20 minutes, on two occasions, Jefferson put on an offensive clinic and was exactly what the Pacers were hoping for when they signed Jefferson to anchor the second unit. He might have done his damage against two of the worst teams in the league (LAL, SAC), but that was the role this team has for him: punish terrible second unit bigs. When he performed, he made things look effortless, which is why these next few paragraphs are so frustrating.

The Bad

20: The number of games missed. Jefferson’s sprained ankle late in the season gave way to Kevin Seraphin as the backup center and gave us the budding on-court friendship of Lance Stephenson and Kevin Seraphin. Seraphin stepped up in his place. Earlier in the year, Jefferson sat out with dental pain and Rakeem Christmas played in his first meaningful time as a pro.

-3.1: His box +/-. This season Al tied his career low in box plus/minus, the box score estimate a player contributed compared to a league-average player on a league-average team. Ultimately, this means whenever Al was on the floor, most of the time the Pacers lead dwindled or deficit expanded.

0: Jefferson played zero minutes in the playoff series against the Cavaliers. For a player in the first year of a 3-year deal that pays him $10 million per season, that’s bad news. His effort on defense was often non-existent as he tended to lazily foul driving guards or watch them blow right past on the pick and roll. Even on offense, Jefferson struggled to be at his best throughout the year with the cramped spacing from the second unit as he was surrounded by non-shooting guards and another big that occupies the same space on offense like Kevin Seraphin or Lavoy Allen. It’s why Pacers fans are hoping they can find someone to take him a trade this off-season though it seems unlikely without the Pacers including a pick in the deal.

In an interview with Dan Dakich, KP mentioned Al’s fitness, explaining that the Pacers didn’t do a good enough job keeping Al in good game shape and that next season things would be different. Whenever one of your bosses tells the world that you weren’t in shape when you should have been, that’s bad news. This would be like if you worked at a Dairy Queen and your manager told local Fox13 after a bad banana split scandal that your ability to make banana splits would have improved if you would have just gotten more bananas like you were asked. Bad analogies aside, Al’s professionalism took a ding, and I’m nervous for next season and what big man might show up.

Time to go get some ice cream (but none for you, Albus!)

Rakeem Christmas

The Good

29: The number of games played. Christmas earned minutes, quality or garbage, in more than a quarter of games played last season. For a second round pick entering his second season, that progression is promising. Immediately following the All-Star break, Christmas showed he can have value as a rebounding/screening/hustling big off the bench. He would likely be best served as a center in a stretch lineup, however, which the Pacers haven’t figured out how to accomplish off the bench to this point.

4.3: The number of offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. When Christmas was in the game, his gift was finding offensive rebounds and creating new possessions. For a player with limited offensive talent, he has to provide an impact on the glass, and he showed he can do that consistently this year. He was a sparkplug at times during his brief stint in the rotation.

 

The Bad

6.1: His fouls per 36 minutes. Christmas’s inability to avoid bad fouls has largely been what has kept him out of the rotation. It’s a general rule that young big men struggle with foul issues and Christmas is the poster child. The hope is that their defensive basketball IQ grows, the player learns how to use his body in space and fouls become less frequent. For Christmas, he has not shown his ability to play fundamental defense to this point in his career and he’s not the youngest player. The Pacers can pick up his ~1 million dollar option for next season, or decide to drop him. Unless they believe he can play without fouling, Christmas may be making a move to Europe or back to the DLeague.

25: Christmas is already 25 years old this season at the front edge of most players’ primes. His upside is very limited at this stage in his career, and the front office will have to decide if his familiarity with the team and his ability to provide energy off the bench is enough to pick up his option this offseason.

 

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!

Glenn Robinson III, Georges Niang continue to impress in Summer League play

The Pacers fell to the Pistons in their third game of Summer League play after a late rally fell short as Joe Young’s tying layup attempt somehow bounced out, 80-76. Their record is now 1-2.

More important than the results of a very entertaining, but meaningless game, a couple of the Pacers young players played very well with challenging matchups.

Glenn Robinson III was up against the Pistons previous first-round pick and defensive stalwart Stanley Johnson. GR3 put up 20 points and 7 rebounds, while going back and forth matching bucket for bucket with Johnson in the closing minutes of the game.

At the same time, Georges Niang, the 50th pick in the draft, went up against Henry Ellenson, who the Pistons picked at 18. Niang put up 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.  Continue reading Glenn Robinson III, Georges Niang continue to impress in Summer League play

Pacers Summer League Game 2 Grades and Recap

In a sluggish, whistle-filled game, the Pacers Summer League squad lost to the Hornets 80-70. Glenn Robinson III and Shayne Whittington were the only double-digit scorers for the Pacers as the team seemed to struggle offensively against a more physical opponent than yesterday’s game. The first half was hard to watch as it was dominated by officiating. You know it’s a bad sign in the Summer League when the refs are a topic of conversation for the broadcast team. If you missed the analysis and highlights from Game 1, they are here. Much more positive notes to take from that game than this one.

Joe Young: 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 0 turnovers in 22 minutes. (2 of 6 from field, 0 of 2 from 3-point range)

Grade: B-  Continue reading Pacers Summer League Game 2 Grades and Recap

Summer League Game 1 Grades: Indiana Pacers 93, Orlando Blue 66

The Pacers couldn’t have asked for a much better showing from their five-rostered players in their first Summer League game as they combined for 75 points in the blowout win over the Orlando Blue, 93-66. Keep reading for a look at each of those player’s performances and some highlights.

Joe Young: 22 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 5 turnovers (8 of 12 from the field, 5 of 7 from 3-point territory)

Grade: B+  Continue reading Summer League Game 1 Grades: Indiana Pacers 93, Orlando Blue 66

Pacers Summer League Preview

The Indiana Pacers announced their roster for the Orlando Summer League earlier this week. The roster features many familiar faces including five players likely to suit up for the blue and gold next season and will be coached by Popeye Jones, Pacers assistant coach. The team will play five games that will run through the heart of the NBA free agency madness from July 2 through July 8 (Pacers schedule below). No one’s playing in the Summer League without something to prove and we’ll look at what some of the key players on the roster need to work on.  Continue reading Pacers Summer League Preview

The roster is full: A Quick Overview of the 2015-16 Indiana Pacers.

With the Pacers signing of Glenn Robinson III to a 3-year deal and acquisition of Rakeem Christmas via trade, the Pacers have quickly filled up their roster with 15 players now under contract. Only 8 of the 15 were on the Pacers squad last season, as 7 were either not resigned (Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, Donald Sloan, CJ Watson), were traded (Roy Hibbert, Damjan Rudež) or simply opted out of their contract to sign elsewhere (David West).

So, with nearly half of last year’s roster out of town. Here’s what the roster looks like when divided up into three different position categories:

Continue reading The roster is full: A Quick Overview of the 2015-16 Indiana Pacers.