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Mark's Mailbag: Mahinmi, Draft Picks, and Copeland

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 4, 2013

Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark on twitter at @MarkMontieth or by email at askmontieth@gmail.com.

Q. I just want to say thanks for the great articles about the Pacers. I always enjoyed your articles in the Star when you were there and I was happy to see you contributing more here on the Pacers website last year. I am up in northern Illinois and get so much Bulls news that I must check in to the Pacers website to get my information. I am flying the Pacers flag on my car with pride.

Thanks for the recent info about the Pacers in the old ABA. That is when I started following the Pacers and have never stopped.

Also, would you let Mahinmi know I also have my birthday on Nov 5th? I’ll be watching, cheering him on and following his stat line a little closer from now on.

- Rex

A. This isn't really much of a question, but I might as well warm up with a big, fat softball. Thanks for the compliment.

I have so far neglected to pass along your message to Ian. If you really want to feel connected to him, though, you might want to start dressing like a European fashionista. Start wearing orange socks with grey suits, that sort of thing. He would appreciate that, I'm sure.

Speaking of Ian, he's having an interesting and somewhat puzzling time with the Pacers. He's hit just 13-of-34 field goal attempts (38 percent) through the first 17 games, a really low percentage for a 6-11 center who rarely steps out from the basket. It's true that a lot of his shots are taken in heavy traffic around the basket, but he hit better than 50 percent of his shots through the first four seasons of his NBA career in San Antonio and Dallas. What's changed?

He has, however, played well defensively. Assistant coach Dan Burke, who supervises the defense, says Mahinmi is a really good lane defender. Roy Hibbert is a rim protector, but Mahinmi, who has quicker feet, helps defend everything around the foul lane near the basket. That's often overlooked. But still … 38 percent? Hibbert, by the way, is hitting 47 percent of his shots.

Mahinmi started well last season. I remember a time when Hibbert was going through his early-season struggles and people were wondering if Mahinmi should start. But his shooting declined later in the season, and he has yet to get it back. He'll be able to contribute to this team as long as he defends well, but coach Frank Vogel left him on the bench for one game to experiment with playing David West and Luis Scola together. We could see that more often against teams without a legitimate center.

Q. Mark, I always see Paul George has his shoulder wrapped, presumably with ice, after games. What's the story on that?

- John

A. It is indeed ice. It would be cool to be able to tell you he's got herbs or hot rocks or bags of frozen peas under there, but it's ice.

His standard response when asked about it is that he's been shooting too much. Actually, it's just a precautionary measure. Apparently he has some sort of inflammation in the shoulder area that the training staff treats with ice. Whatever it is, it certainly hasn't affected his shooting. As of today, he's hit 47 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his 3-point shots and 83 percent of his free throws – all career highs.

Q. (Danny Granger) has always been one of my favorites. I haven't seen anything recently on him. Is he due back anytime soon?

- Stuart

A. You can't have a mailbag without the obligatory Danny Granger question. I don't blame you. I can understand why fans are confused, because it was said he would only be out a short time when he first came down with the calf muscle strain during the preseason.

All I can tell you is that he was running along the sideline at practice on Saturday before the team left on its five-game road trip, and wasn't limping or favoring anything. He went along to continue to work out and receive treatment, but there is no timetable for his return. I asked Frank Vogel if fans should be worried, and he said no. He also joked that they would rush him back as soon as the team lost another game. The point is, there's no need to take any chances with him while the team is playing so well.

And, for anyone still wondering … no, the Pacers should not trade Granger. He has no value to another team while injured, and the Pacers can't take back anything longer than a contract that expires at the end of this season because Paul George and, presumably, Lance Stephenson have to be paid next season. And, if Granger can come back at something resembling his former level of play, he can be a major asset. There's also a human element here, one that good organizations take into consideration. Granger suffered through a lot of losing seasons with the Pacers. It would be cruel to not let him be part of this one.

I was one who said in the preseason he should start if he's healthy, because Stephenson didn't mind coming off the bench – and in fact seemed to prefer playing with the second unit. Now it seems unlikely Granger will ever start for this team, no matter how healthy, but there's no reason for Vogel to say that. Just let it play out, and the best thing to do will become apparent to everyone.

Q. Love your work and insight. Still hoping you line up Larry Bird for another One-on-One dedicated to his coaching and President of the Pacers career.

Anyway, I was curious, with the way the Pacers have drafted over the past few years and built the team that they have, would you chalk that up to a better coaching staff or has Larry Bird gotten more experienced in being a player evaluator? I don't know when Mr. Bird started doing the drafts and such, but it just seems he has been able to get a lot of good out of the players he's drafted since Roy Hibbert (even though he missed on Brandon Rush that year I believe...).

So, is it the better coaching staff with Coach Vogel that is getting more out of these guys, or is Mr. Bird just in a groove? Thanks!

- Tom

A. This is a good question. The problem with good questions is that they take longer to answer, but here goes.

Bird began running the Pacers' draft, and all other personnel matters, when he rejoined the franchise as president in the summer of 2003. It was his call, remember, to replace Isiah Thomas with Rick Carlisle. Donnie Walsh stayed on as CEO and as an adviser to basketball, but Bird was in charge. Walsh took back the day-to-day personnel operations at the end of 2004, but Bird remained in charge of the draft. After Walsh left in 2008 to take over the Knicks, Bird had complete control again.

Bird's first draft pick was David Harrison, in 2004. The Pacers had just finished with the best record in the NBA (61-21), so they had the last pick in the first round that year. Harrison wasn't a bad choice, as an athletic 7-footer, and he did play four seasons with them. He has played overseas since then and has admitted that he self-destructed in some ways. If you look at the second round from that year's draft, the only player who has done more than Harrison in the NBA is Anderson Varejao. So, you can quibble and say that Bird picked the wrong guy, but that's a stretch in my opinion. A late first-round pick is always going to be a gamble.

Not all of Bird's picks have worked out as well as he hoped, but you always have to judge a team president over general manager over the long run. Nobody “guesses” right every year in the draft, just as no personnel director for any organization nails it every time.

Anyway, the Pacers' current run is the result of Bird's savvy and a really good coaching staff. They always go hand-in-hand. Coaches can't win without a high level of talent, but even great talent needs good coaching. Bird no doubt has learned some things as he's gone along, but it's not like there's been a major transformation. He's shown he's willing to take chances on guys with talent who have had “issues.” It didn't work out well with Shawne Williams (who, by the way, is still in the league) but it's worked out fabulously with Stephenson.

There's always a certain amount of luck that goes into building a team. What if other teams had been smarter and drafted Paul George or Roy Hibbert before Bird could get to them? The Pacers wouldn't be as good as they are now, and Bird probably would be taking heat for it. What Bird has done above all else is to be patient and avoid the sort of knee-jerk, short-term moves that bring temporary relief but guarantee long-term mediocrity. Once he had some money to work with under the luxury tax, he was able to make more winning moves.

The key for any team president is to make more good moves than bad, and then when you have the opportunity of a high draft pick, don't blow it. Bird has done that.

Q. OK, maybe I am missing something, but what is up with the lack of minutes for Copeland? I know that we have strong starters playing solid minutes, but he isn't getting much of any time. Is he physically ok? Is he mentally having a hard time being on a new team? He seems into the games, getting fired up on the bench, etc.

- Chris

Copeland is the 11th man and Vogel is going with a 10-man rotation unless the games are a blowout – and the Pacers haven't had many of those. It comes down to the fact he isn't going to get minutes at the “four” spot because West and Scola play there, and he has a difficult time guarding “threes” on the perimeter. He is a niche player who can be effective against certain lineups, but not all of them.

I think Copeland will have his moments this season, and will be valuable in the playoffs. He can play “three” or “four” offensively, because he can put the ball on the floor better than many people realize. He'll struggle some defensively on the perimeter, but the Pacers have a strong team concept that will give him help.

Copeland got a tough break, in a way. He was signed as a free agent to address the team's need for better 3-point shooting, but Bird was able to make the trade for Scola later in the summer and that took minutes away from him. He has shown a good attitude, however, and I know from talking with him that he appreciates playing on a winning team. He also appreciates the traffic in Indianapolis, compared to that in Manhattan. He doesn't say anything negative about the Knicks, who gave him his first NBA opportunity last year, but he no doubt is happy not to be part of that early-season need for disaster relief.

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.

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