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Mark's Mailbag: George Hill, Pacers' Bench, and Rasual Butler

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 6, 2014

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. Good morning Mark, I enjoy listening to you on the radio. Just curious, what is your take on why the Heat didn't play Oden or Haslem (when the Pacers played Miami)? Haslem single-handedly killed the Pacers in Games 3 & 5 in last season's Eastern Conference finals. Am I missing something here? Appreciate your time, thanks. - Eric

A. It's been awhile since we posted a mailbag, so this might seem a little outdated. But it's still relevant for the future meetings between the Pacers and Heat.

Oden was never intended to be a factor in the regular season. Although he played briefly in the preseason, he was signed to a one-year contract with the hope he can provide some backup minutes in the playoffs. He works out before games, as he did when the Heat played here a few weeks ago, and has been expanding those workouts. I wouldn't expect to see him in games for at least a few more weeks, however.

Haslem, who is 33 years old, is in somewhat the same slow boat. The Heat are so short on tall guys that they want to have him available in the playoffs, so they're not going to risk losing him to an injury in the regular season.

These two players personify why Miami isn't nearly as devoted to earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference as are the Pacers. It has won the championship without having homecourt advantage in the Finals, and lost it when it did. Its primary concern is having a healthy roster going into the playoffs, and it will nurse along Oden and Haslem toward that goal.

Q. Is there anything to the George Hill trade rumors. Hope not. - Jack

A. This question was hot for awhile. It's the kind of trade rumor that drives veteran NBA reporters crazy, because it has no merit.

For one thing, the rumor couldn't possibly have been true because it had the Pacers giving up their 2014 first-round draft pick. They don't have one, having included it in the deal to acquire Luis Scola last summer.

If the report I read was the original source of it, it never should have been taken seriously enough to repeat in “legitimate” media. It read as if written by a junior high school student, and not a particularly bright one at that. We joke about some blogs being written by 15-year-old kids in their mother's basement, sometimes. This one might have been.

Beyond that, let's be serious. Would Larry Bird really break up the Pacers' starting lineup – especially for a player such as Rajon Rondo who's injured, and won't return for a few weeks? Bird told me when I interviewed him for a Q & A a few weeks ago that he might need to make another deal. He wouldn't say what he's looking for, but I have to believe it would involve bench players.

Q. Hey, Mark, the Pacers made a point of improving their bench in the off-season. So, what team has the best bench in the NBA this year? How does the Pacers' bench match up? - Greg

A. Judging a team's bench strength is fairly subjective, because there are variables. How many minutes a coach allots to the backups, for example, or whether a coach decides to bring one of his better players off the bench, as San Antonio does with Manu Ginobili.

The Spurs happen to have the NBA's best bench based on scoring average, primarily because of Ginobili. Their reserves average 46.2 points over 21.7 minutes. The Pacers, by comparison, average 24.9 points over 15.4 minutes. The Pacers rank 25th in bench scoring, barely ahead of last season when they ranked 29th at 24.1 points per game over 14.9 minutes.

This speaks to the point I frequently make about the relative strength of the Pacer benches of last season and this season. This season's is better, but not by as wide a margin as many would have you believe. Some people were awfully quick to throw Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, D.J. Augustin and even Miles Plumlee under the proverbial bus, when they actually made solid contributions.

The primary difference this season is that the Pacers lead the NBA in allowing the fewest points from opposing benches, at 27. Last season, they gave up 32 points and ranked 11th in the league.

There's value beyond stats, however. This season's bench doesn't stray from the offense as often as last season's group, particularly Green and Hansbrough. Green was quick to throw up a three-pointer, and Hansbrough either tossed up a mid-range jumper (that usually missed) or made a death-dive to the basket. Both were effective many times, but could also be disruptive. You might have noticed that Green (and Plumlee) are flourishing in Phoenix, and Augustin has played well as a starter in Chicago. I'm surprised Hansbrough hasn't been more productive in Toronto.

This year's group also is a better locker room fit, I believe. It's not that last year's was bad; this one just happens to be better. Don't discount the impact of Rasual Butler, a veteran who can lend sage advice now and then, particularly to his locker neighbor Lance Stephenson.

Q. Hey Mark, It’s a new year and the Pacers are playing well. So, let’s have some fun! My question is: Who can build a better basketball team from one state? The only rule is all team members must be born in the same state as the team. I would give each team/state an exception to the rule because I am taking Reggie, who will always be a Hoosier and a Pacers player!

So, my Indiana team is thus: Starting 5: PG Oscar Robertson - SG Reggie Miller - SF Larry Bird – PF George McGinnis – C Clyde Lovellette. 6th Man: Gordon Hayward.

Bench 5: PG Scott Skiles – SG Eric Gordon – SF Shawn Kemp – PF Glenn Robinson – C Zach Randolph. 12th and 13th Man: The Van Arsdale brothers.

Coaches: John Wooden – Bobby “Slick” Leonard – Gregg Popovich. Equipment Manager: Chuck Taylor!!! Announcer: Jerry Baker. Bus Driver: Tony Stewart. National Anthem: John Mellencamp. Half-Time Show: Michael Jackson, with Cole Porter on piano! Now, who can beat that? - Greg

A. This is a good list, and a creative one at that. You fudged, though, letting Indiana have Reggie Miller. Can California have him as well, since he attended high school and college there? If Indiana gets Reggie, then Ohio could claim Oscar, who played collegiately and professionally there. And, if we're including Reggie, that opens the door for the likes of Mel Daniels and Roger Brown.

Wooden could also be listed as a player. He might have been the best guard in the country over the first half of the 20th century. He finished his career at Purdue as a three-time All-American and the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer. He then played professionally part-time for the Indianapolis Kautskys while teaching high school in Dayton, Ky and South Bend.

You might be jumping the gun a bit on players such as Gordon Hayward, Zach Randolph and Eric Gordon. Don't forget guys like Gary native Dick Barnett, who played on two Knicks championship teams; Billy Keller, who was Mr. Basketball in Indiana, the Naismith award winner at Purdue (best player in the country under six-foot) and a member of all three Pacer ABA championship teams; Louis Dampier, the ABA's all-time leading scorer; Terry Dischinger, a first-team All-American at Purdue and the NBA Rookie of the Year; Brad Miller, who was a two-time NBA All-Star.

And, if we're including guys who didn't play high school ball in Indiana, there's many more names we could include.

I like your bonus picks. How about David Letterman to host the pre-game and post-game show? Or, if you really want to go back, Will Shriner. (You might have to Google him.)

Anyone out there is welcome to pass along their votes.

Q. Hey Mark. Now that Danny is back and playing well, how do you think the Pacers will use a talented shooter in Rasual Butler who was working well with our second unit?

A. In a word, sparingly. That's unfortunate for Rasual, who is as good a shooter as Granger, but not as athletic (or young).

That's OK, though. Butler knew the situation when he joined the Pacers' Summer League team. He just wanted to revive his NBA career, and do it with a contending team. He's accomplished that, and will be a valuable player whether he's playing or not because of the maturity he shows and the advice he can lend. Lance Stephenson singled him out after the win over New Orleans on Jan. 4 for having helped motivate him in the locker room at halftime.

Q. I wish Frank Vogel would run Lance at point guard and George Hill at shooting guard. Hill isn't a point guard. - Pete

A. This was a Twitter comment that I believe merits discussion here.

I'm on record, mostly in radio and television interviews, saying that Hill and Stephenson need to be viewed as a tandem. Between the two of them, they cover all the backcourt bases. Both are hybrids and they mesh well, so who cares who's designated the point guard and shooting guard?

Those who prefer that Stephenson play point guard are noting that he leads the team in assists at 5.1 per game, while Hill is at 3.3. But Stephenson also leads the team in turnovers with 2.6, double Hill's rate.

The Pacers don't run an offense that plays through a point guard, as they did with Mark Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley. They're a democratic team that shares the ball. Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert all get touches, and pass well.

The Pacers don't have a point guard-shooting guard-small forward-power forward-center team. They have bigs and smalls, who have developed solid chemistry.

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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