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Mark's Mailbag: Bynum, Most Improved Players, and Sleeved Jerseys

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 6, 2014

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(The signing of Andrew Bynum) both excites and worries me. I have the confidence that the organization can handle him and know when to cut ties, BUT I just hope it doesn't cause chemistry or locker room issues in the meantime.
-Eric

A. This statement summarizes the general feeling of fans, and it's a reasonable concern. You can't deny Bynum's issues with previous teams, including suspensions.

I was a little surprised the Pacers signed Bynum, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a no-brainer. The risk is low financially, and he can be released at any time if it's not working out for any reason. If it works out, though, it could bring a championship. How many other teams have a 26-year-old former All-Star backing up at center?

Bynum gives the Pacers three players at every position, and brings insurance against an injury. Imagine if Roy Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi were injured during the playoffs? Some people like the idea of playing David West and Luis Scola together, but that's not a good lineup for all opponents. Bynum is a luxury item for the Pacers, but comes at a bargain price.

I don't buy the argument that the Pacers should have signed him just to keep him away from another team, though. If you think he's an asset, you want him for yourself. If you think he's trouble, you would want another team to sign him.

Bynum should be motivated to be at his best with the Pacers. He needs to revive his career after sitting out a season in Philadelphia and being suspended by Cleveland. If he plays well and contributes to the Pacers' playoff success, he'll assure himself of a major contract next season. He's obviously aware of that.

I also take a wait-and-see attitude toward players with “reputations.” I've met a lot of athletes and coaches in my career, and some of them aren't what the general public believes them to be. It can get complicated. Some guys are immature, but good teammates and well-liked in the locker room, therefore worth whatever problems they bring. Other guys have great reputations, but aren't well-respected by teammates. Perhaps they're selfish, or phony, or a little lazy.

With Bynum, it's just a matter of seeing how it works out. If it doesn't go well, he can be released with no long-term harm. If it goes well, he can take them to another level. He's in the perfect place for him, with a team that will absorb him rather than build around him. It takes pressure off him, but brings great opportunity as well.

Q. Didn't (Larry) Bird say at the beginning of the season if the Pacers don't win it, turnovers will be the culprit?
-Scott (via Twitter)

A. I don't recall whether he said that or not, but it wouldn't be surprising. He has made a point of mentioning turnovers in more recent interviews, and it's an obvious issue for the team.

The Pacers rank 19th in the NBA in turnovers, averaging 15.3 per game. It's not necessarily a guarantee of postseason failure. Miami and Oklahoma City, two other title contenders, average more. But the Pacers have been sloppy lately, with Paul George and Lance Stephenson the worst offenders. George sometimes gets careless, while Stephenson takes too many chances.

The Pacers have outperformed their opponents in virtually all other statistical categories this season. They have shot better from everywhere, dominated the boards, passed out far more assists and had more blocked shots. But they have committed 38 more turnovers than their opponents. So many of their turnovers lead to fastbreak points for the opponent, so it's an area of concern.

On the other hand, as I write this, they are 38-10. So, their problems qualify as “first-world” problems. Like your cell phone call dropping out.

Q. Hey Mark, I need your help. I know Lance Stephenson is a top candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this year. However, outside of Paul George, I don’t know the competition. Can you give Pacers’ fans some other contenders to watch out for the rest of the season?
-Greg

A. Right now, I'd say New Orleans' Anthony Davis is the leading candidate for the award, with Stephenson in second place. Sportswriters vote on the award, so I don't think they're likely to be as bothered by Stephenson's oncourt reactions as perhaps the coaches who voted on All-Star reserves.

Davis set himself up for improvement by having an injury-plagued rookie season. He's playing about eight more minutes per game this season, and has raised his scoring average from 13.5 to 20.4, his rebounding average from 8.2 to 10.5 and his blocked shots average from 1.8 to a league-leading 3.4.

Stephenson, by comparison, has raised his scoring average from 8.8 to 14.1, his rebounding average from 3.9 to 7.2 and his assists average from 2.9 to 5.3. He's shooting better, too, and is “only” playing six more minutes per game, so it goes beyond simply getting more time.

Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe was a leading contender for the award, but his injury will eliminate him. He's improved his scoring average from 8.5 to 18, but played just 24 games before he was injured.

Another legit candidate is former Pacers forward Miles Plumlee. He averaged 0.9 points last season as a rookie, but averages 9.4 now. I don't think he'll be taken too seriously as a candidate because his playing time has skyrocketed, from 3.9 to 27.4, and he's not a prominent player. Still, that's an impressive jump – one that quiets all the people who were calling him a bust last season.

I've seen Gerald Green's name tossed about for Most Improved as well, because his scoring average has jumped from the 7 points he averaged with the Pacers last season to 13.7 with the Suns. But, in order for him to make that jump he had to de-improve first. He averaged 12.9 with the Nets two seasons ago, but dropped off dramatically last season with the Pacers.

Q. When is Vogel going to get the Pacers to play end-of-quarter defense? They've given up a TON of buzzer beaters, mostly 3's.
-John (via Twitter)

A. I don't believe their end-of-quarter defense is any worse than at other points in the game. Those shots tend to stand out more than others. I haven't researched this, but that's my impression.

Some coaches, especially in college, like to put greater emphasis on certain parts of the game, but I've never understood that. Bob Knight used to say the first five minutes of the second half are the most important of the game, and other coaches sometimes went along with that. Gene Keady used to make a big deal of not allowing the opponent to score at the end of the half, believing it gave it momentum heading into the break. But, coaches always call timeouts to stop an opponent's momentum. Doesn't the halftime break accomplish the same thing?

All baskets count the same, regardless of when they come in the game.

Q. Do you think the Pacers have lost some passion as the season's gone on or that people circle them on the calendar cause they're #1?
-Jon (via Twitter)

A. The Pacers have struggled some recently. Their defense hasn't been quite as aggressive, and the offense hasn't been as sharp. Paul George in particular has been in a shooting slump.

The few weeks leading up to the All-Star game are typically difficult for NBA teams. They've played a lot of games, but have a long way to go. Once they get back from the All-Star break, the days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer (hopefully) and the end of the season is in sight. That tends to life everyone's mood.

The Pacers recently lost three-of-five games, including a home game to Phoenix. They followed that with three straight wins. So if that's their lull, good for them.

Q. Hey, Mark. A lot of NBA teams are converting to the sleeved jerseys. I personally don't like them, but do you think the Pacers will convert in the future?
-Toby

A. Ah, sleeved jerseys. I liked them as a kid, when a few college teams wore them. The University of Evansville was famous for them back when Arad McCutcheon coached there. Their nickname was Purple Aces, so naturally they wore orange uniforms. They also wore long, shiny capes of different colors, instead of warmups. He was funny that way.

I don't like them in the NBA, however. The form-fitting “shirts” don't look natural to me. Maybe I'm getting too old to appreciate change, but I doubt it. Most people think of me as an eternally hip kind of guy, always keeping up with the times.

NBA uniforms have gotten a little crazy, with the short sleeves, retros and all the different T-shirts players are made to wear to promote various causes. I'm starting to long for simpler times, when teams wore one uniform style and had no more than three colors. A uniform should mean something, and remain consistent to build identity. Of course the plan is to sell merchandise, and as long as it works, teams will come up with new looks. That includes short sleeves, but I don't see any NBA team going to that full-time.

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Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.