Has Miller's Backup Been Found?

by Jeff Tzucker
by Conrad Brunner

September 18, 2001

If you'd like to ask a question of Pacers.com analyst Conrad Brunner, submit it along with your full name and hometown to Bruno's_mailbag@pacers.com

INDIANAPOLIS, September 18, 2001 - Lost in all the discussion about the center and point guard positions has been a rather significant vacancy: the current backup for, and eventual successor to, Reggie Miller.

Last season, no one filled the void created when Chris Mullin asked to be released so he could finish his career in Golden State. As a result, Miller wound up playing his most minutes (3,181) in 12 seasons.

It is a concern not lost on the new Inquisitor of the Week, Ivo, from Utrecht, the Netherlands.

''Although the Pacers seem to have made a strong move by signing (Carlos) Rogers,'' Ivo writes, ''I still have a gnawing feeling that Donnie (Walsh) needs to fill an important spot in the backcourt. It seems to me now, that Al (Harrington) and (Jonathan) Bender will have to fill most of the minutes (Reggie) Miller will leave unattended. Don't you think that the two-guard spot could use a proven backup for Miller - someone who can fill in with solid play, so that (Isiah) Thomas won't have to rely on the young ones too much on important minutes?''

Certainly, Bender will get the opportunity, once again, to step into that role. Though he is 6-11, his skills seem best-suited to shooting guard. The team also paced an emphasis on finding a defensive-oriented backup in the summer, taking a long look at former Celtics guard Adrian Griffin, who wound up signing with Dallas. The Pacers were also impressed with the work of Galen Young and Norm Richardson, among others, in their summer program and it would not be surprising to see both players in training camp.

Though the roster does appear to be pretty well set, if there is a position available for a relatively unknown player to step in and win a job, it is as Miller's backup.

Q. It saddens me to see that Sam Perkins has been waived. He was a great team leader and versatile player. Although his numbers have trailed off the past few seasons, he's been a great mentor for the young big men. Hopefully, this will give (Bruno)Sundov, (Primoz) Brezec, and (Carlos) Rogers the opportunity to shine in Perkins' absence. Is it possible that Sam Perkins could be hired as a coach?(From Adam in Apex, NC)


A. First, Perkins must decide if he wants to continue his career. He may not be ready to hang it up just yet, and there could be a few teams interested in adding him as a competent backup and veteran leader. Whenever his playing days end, I'm sure several teams would try to talk him into coaching.

Q. When you look at the Pacers' roster for the upcoming season, it seems (at least to me) that the same problems that plagued them last season will continue to plague them this season . . . I feel that rebounding, strong post presence, speed, poor shooting (except for Miller and Rose) and battle for team leadership (between Miller and Rose) are the major problems for the upcoming season. What do you think the problems and solutions are for the upcoming season? Is it possible to solve some of them by picking up and of the remaining free agents? (From Willie in Charlotte, NC)

A. Adding Carlos Rogers to the rotation and increasing Jeff Foster's minutes should help make this a better rebounding team. Because the Pacers have Miller, Rose, Travis Best and Bender, they are one of the better teams in the league in terms of perimeter shooting, so I don't believe that's a big issue. I also do not foresee any leadership battles between Miller and Rose. If there was going to be dissent between the two, it would've happened last season, but Miller willingly stepped into the background while Rose assumed a larger share of the spotlight. The potential solutions for most of the team's problems last season are on the roster, in the forms of Bender, Rogers, Al Harrington, Jamaal Tinsley and Primoz Brezec. This season, in my opinion, depends largely on their ability to make substantial contributions.

Q. Do you see Al Harrington realizing his potential as an NBA player soon? Has he peaked already, and I expected too much from such an athletic young player? If he has yet to reach his potential, how long will the Pacers be willing to wait for him to bloom as a player? (From Todd in Garrett, IN)


A. There is great anticipation, when it comes to Harrington. He spent most of the offseason training on the same regimen as an Olympic decathlete and has done a major remodeling job on his physique. He also will be in much better shape than last season, and has indicated that his motivation has never been higher. If Harrington does indeed have the eye of the tiger, and is able to keep it focused, this could be a very interesting season, indeed.

Q. What happened to Arvydas Sabonis? I heard he broke some toes but is he still a Pacers possibility? (From Zack in Nashville, IN)

A. Broken toes are the least of Sabonis' problems. He is apparently Portland's version of Sam Perkins: a solid veteran the Blazers would like to keep, but can't afford. Sabonis has returned to his native Lithuania, where he has been added to the roster of reigning champion Kaunas Zalgiris, but here things get a little muddy. Though the EuroLeague season begins Oct. 11, Sabonis reportedly has not yet signed a contract with Kaunas, so he apparently is still free to pursue offers in the NBA. There are questions about his desire to return to the NBA, however, and it has been rumored that he would have no interest in playing anywhere but Portland.

Q. Very often a game is determined by making a couple more free throws. The stat shows, for last season, O'Neal had 10 percent more free throw attempts than Reggie and Jalen Rose, but he only made 60 percent of them. He shot only 50 percent free throws at the Goodwill Games. Do you think the Pacers should get a specialist to help train him to improve his free throws, like the Lakers did to Shaq? I think 68-70 percent is a reasonable target. Jeff Foster and Al Harrington also need much improvement in free throws. But since they don't have many attempts, it seems less urgent than for O'Neal. (From Herbert in San Jose, CA)


A. Time to exercise the calculator a little. Had Jermaine O'Neal made 75 percent of his free throw attempts last season, the Pacers would've scored 58 more points. While that adds up to less than one point per game (0.7), a little edge can make a big difference. There were 178 NBA games decided by three points or less last season; the Pacers played 12 and split them. But the importance of competent free throw shooting goes well beyond percentages. If a big man is a poor free-throw shooter, defenses have an easy target in late-game situations - a player to foul, in other words. O'Neal (.601), Foster (.516) and Harrington (.656) all struggled from the line last year, and all are expected to play more this year, which means all three will need to upgrade their percentages.

Last year, the Pacers hired George Glymph, O'Neal's former high school coach, to work specifically with player development, and he has spent quite a bit of time on free throws. So have the other assistants, including Brendan Malone. Though the Lakers did hire a so-called ''shot doctor'' to work with Shaquille O'Neal, a move that generated a lot of hype, the results weren't there. He shot .525 from the line during the playoffs and .513 during the regular season; his career averages are .503 in the playoffs and .531 in the regular-season. In other words, the best remedy is simple repetition, shooting free throws as much as possible.

Q. I feel that Carlos Rogers was and excellent pick up for the Pacers. He fills the void they need and at a low cost. I'm glad the Pacers have given him an opportunity. Do you think he will eventually become a starter at either the center or power forward position? (From Jason in San Diego)


A. Rogers began his career as a guy considered a 'tweener - too tall for small forward, not strong enough for power forward. Those labels can be hard to shake. But over the years, Rogers has gained size and strength and spent most of his time at center for the Rockets last season, though playing time behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Kelvin Cato was scarce. If he is capable of playing center in the West, he is certainly capable of playing the position in the East. Will he start? I doubt that is the expectation, but it wouldn't be a major surprise. Either way, he should play regularly.

Q. About four months ago during the regular season, I remember very vividly that Bill Russell said that he was going to tutor Jermaine O'Neal on how to rebound and become a more aggressive player. He even added by saying that
Jermaine was extremely talented. I would like to know what happened to all of this. (From Melvyn in Singapore)

A. Russell did say on a national television interview while attending a Pacers game last season that he would welcome the opportunity to tutor O'Neal. However, because Russell is employed by the Celtics as a consultant, it can not happen.


Q. I just want to ask why Austin Croshere is not getting the minutes he should be getting. Two years ago he was a really bright prospect and potential starter. The following yr he was restricted to 10-15 minutes per game. He has a lot of talents and cannot use them sitting on the bench. (From E.J. in Sydney, Australia)

A. On that issue, there is really no one to blame other than Croshere himself. He was given the opportunity to start early in the season and stayed in the lineup for 22 games, but did not perform well. Basically, he became more pensive, less aggressive and not as effective. By the final month of the season, he appeared to work his way through the slump and was back to his old self, or close to it. If he can get back the level of the '99-00 postseason, it'll be hard to keep him off the floor.