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Mark's Mailbag: How Many Minutes for Robinson III?

Q. I love your piece on GR3. Do you see him logging more playing time than Solomon Hill or Chase Budinger? Seems to be about the same size as those two.

-Adam

A. This is going to be one to watch. Robinson was probably the most pleasant “surprise” of the preseason, but the Pacers' roster has more wings than … ah, you can make your own joke here as easily as I can.

Paul George, despite all the commotion over him playing the “four” position, will qualify as a wing most of the time. So will C.J. Miles. Off the bench, as you mention, Hill and Budinger are available. While we're at it, we could consider Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey at least partial wings as well.

It's difficult to say where Robinson fits in. He's worthy of playing time, but it will be difficult for him to depose Budinger and Hill, at least early in the season, because of their experience. Coaches usually have a comfort zone with experienced players.

Budinger has had injury issues the past few seasons, with two knee surgeries, but has played parts of six seasons. He's started 48 games, and has surpassed 30 points twice and 20 several times. It's difficult to imagine him being buried on the bench if healthy. He drew raves from coaches and teammates for his play in the intrasquad scrimmages before training camp, and closed preseason play on Thursday with a strong 17-point outing.

Hill hasn't found a consistent shooting stroke yet, but is a proven defender and has two years of experience. He played in all 82 games last season, starting 78.

The only thing I can be sure of regarding Robinson is that he won't sitting for long. He'll either be part of the Pacers' regular rotation or he'll be playing in Fort Wayne, in the Development League. He might need an injury (or two) to break into the rotation, but I think he'll get a chance eventually. Budinger is in the last year of his contract and the Pacers have an option on Hill for next season, so if Robinson doesn't get many opportunities this season he'll likely get them next year.

Q. What is your prediction of the Pacers' record?

-Jose (via Twitter)

A. I'm not a fan of predictions. They're meaningless, for one, and you never know how many injuries a team will have over the course of the season. I always want to say, “Tell me who's going to be hurt and for how long, and I'll give you a prediction.”

Paul George

But I'll play along. I think with reasonably good health – better than last season, certainly – the Pacers can win about 45 games. They won 38 last season despite a horrible run of injuries, so I don't see why they can't win more this time around if their key players are available most games. They have good depth, and they'll certainly score. If they can avoid much of a drop-off defensively, they should win more games.

A lot of forecasters point to the loss of Roy Hibbert and David West, but Hibbert wasn't all that effective last season. West will be sorely missed for his maturity and late-game execution, but Paul George's return and some of the other roster additions can counter that.

Q. If you had to add a certain type of role player to the Pacers, what would you add?

-Circle City (via Twitter)

A. That's a tough one. I see no glaring holes in the roster. It has scorers, it has enough good individual defenders, and it has “bigs” who should be able to rebound well enough.

That doesn't mean they're destined to be a great team. Chemistry and experience will be factors, and they might turn out to be one of those teams with plenty of goodness but not enough greatness. It takes elements of greatness to contend for a title. The Pacer teams that reached the conference finals in 2013 and '14, for example, had a nearly-great player in Paul George and were great defensively.

I guess I wouldn't add a role player at all. They appear to have put together as good a roster as possible given the circumstances of West and Hibbert being one. They'll have more cap space next summer and can try to make further improvements then.

Q. Enjoyed the George McGinnis piece. I am sure hoping the Hall of Fame ABA connection has a bit more life. My next three are: Zelmo Beaty, Mike Storen and my guy Freddie Lewis, then Big George.

-Pat

A. Interesting. I think Zelmo Beaty is a worthy choice. I believe he and McGinnis are the only players who averaged a career double-double for points and rebounds who aren't in the Hall of Fame, aside from those who aren't eligible yet. Beaty averaged 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds over 11 seasons in the ABA and NBA despite having poor stats his final season with the Lakers at the age of 35.

I see your point on Storen. He put together championship teams in Indianapolis and Kentucky. There's no doubt he was instrumental to the Pacers' early success. I can't see any way he gets elected, though. He had a brief and bland tenure as ABA commissioner and then wasn't able to get anything going in Memphis, despite bringing in four ex-Pacers. His reputation is of a hard worker and competent manager who sometimes shaded the truth to get his way. Not all of those who played on his teams speak highly of him. But it should be stated again: the Pacers likely wouldn't have been a championship team without his influence.

I've written about Lewis frequently, here and other places. He contributed as much to the three championships as any of the others, and was captain of those teams as well.

He's actually a legit candidate for the Hall of Fame, too. He was a four-time All-Star, the MVP of the 1972 finals when the Pacers beat New York, and had a shot at being MVP of the '73 finals before an injury in Game 7 derailed his chances. He was the MVP of the 1975 All-Star game, too. The fact he was the captain of every team he played on but Cincinnati in his rookie NBA season should count for something, too. Many who followed the ABA closely would argue he was a better player than Louie Dampier, who was inducted in September.

Certainly players with less on their resumé have made it, but I don't see him getting into Naismith's Hall.

Interesting detail on Lewis: He's the only player to have begun his career in the NBA, played all nine seasons in the ABA and then concluded his career in the NBA. That has nothing to do with his Hall of Fame eligibility, but is interesting. If you're geeky enough about stuff like that.

Q. I had the privilege and honor to play with George (McGinnis) in high school on that undefeated Washington team. Growing up playing basketball, and being a Pacer season ticket holder since 1976, I have seen all the players that are great and I am here to tell you, Big Mac was as good as they get!

-Jim

A. People should know this came from Jim Arnold, a starter on the undefeated state championship Washington High School team in 1969. It's not a question, but his comment is worth adding given his relationship to McGinnis. That's one thing about McGinnis. Everyone who knows him seems to really like him.

Q. I have a question about the stretch 4. Why aren’t the Pacers looking at Solomon Hill as the starting 4? It seems to me like he could give us 20-25 minutes per game there. Here are my reasons for this question:

    • He played the 4 in college, so he has some experience at that position.
    • He has a solid build, so he should be able to handle the banging from the traditional 4’s.
    • He can hit the 3 (by my calculations, he shot 37% from 3 after George Hill returned the second time last year).
    • He is quick enough to drive by traditional 4’s if they come out to guard him.
    • He is also quick enough to guard 3’s if we want to slide PG-13 over to guard a player like a LeBron or Carmelo Anthony if they are playing the 4. For that matter, Solo can guard them (he did guard LeBron most of the time last season) and PG-13 could stay at the 3.

    -Bruce

    A. You make interesting points, and I agree Solomon Hill could play a stretch four in certain matchups. I don't believe he's viewed as a starter if everyone is healthy, though. If the Pacers are going small, George seems a better fit for the “stretch” position. He's at least an inch taller than Hill, far more athletic and a better offensive threat. Your stat is correct on Hill's three-point percentage after George Hill returned for the final 38 games, and I admit it surprised me. He'll need to continue to shoot that well in the upcoming season's offense to maintain a place in the rotation, with all the competition waiting in the wings.

    It figures to be an interesting, and perhaps defining, season for Solomon Hill.

    Q. I am all for spacing the floor and giving the wings room to attack the rim but I would like to see it done with a starting lineup of (1) George Hill, (2) Monta Ellis, (3) Paul George, (4) Myles Turner and (5) Ian Mahinmi, and with bench rotation of (1) Rodney Stuckey, (2) Joe Young, (3) C.J. Miles, (5) Jordan Hill and either Solomon Hill or Chase Budinger at four. I believe trying to use Young as a point guard is a big waste of his talents and trying to use George at the four is a big mistake. The Pacers advantage with this roster is giving the wings the freedom to attack and the bigs to defend and rebound. Instead of utilizing the talent we have management is trying to pull talents out of thin air. They are setting these guys up to fail when there is no need for it. We can space the floor and speed the game up without small ball. Why small ball?

    -Ted

    A. I think we've put too much emphasis on numbers. They only matter at the defensive end, really, because this offense is about getting the ball up quickly and, most importantly, spreading the court and creating lanes for quicker players to get to the basket. None of us really know what to expect from it, and it will take time for the players to get comfortable with it. To me, all the new players and the new style of play are the equivalent of a coaching change. It will take time to adjust. We saw improved scoring in the preseason but we also saw more forced shots.

    I can't see Young playing anything but point guard, though. He can play off the ball, certainly, and will do so once the halfcourt offense is in motion, but his size (6-foot-2) won't allow him to defend bigger players. Frank Vogel has made it clear he won't go exclusively with “small ball.” He's already said he'll go with a bigger lineup in the home opener with Memphis, in fact, and certainly will do so in other games. I think your suggested lineup could become a reality at times once Turner gains more experience – and it might not take long.

    Q. I had a question pop up in my mind. With the Pacers acquisition of the Mad Ants, how will the MA's coaching staff be integrated into the Pacer's staff?

    I'm curious, especially since they will run the same offensive and defensive schemes, how the two staffs will work together. Especially with the D-League season ending before the NBA season ends if the Pacers make the playoffs, would the Mad Ants staff then support the Pacers staff as well? It seemsthat there is some great opportunity in cooperation between the two staffs that could be very effective.

    -Tom

    A. That was one of the primary reasons the Pacers purchased the Mad Ants – to bring cohesion to the two teams. Now when the Pacers send a player to Fort Wayne, the Mad Ants will be running the same system as the Pacers. The coaches there can use the players with Pacer contracts without disrupting their system, and the players who go from one team to the other won't have to make a major adjustment.

    Fort Wayne's head coach, Steve Gansey, has spent time with the Pacers in training camp, working with the coaching staff and getting acclimated to the system. I don't know if he would come back at the end of the season if the Mad Ants are done, but I could see him being on hand for practices. If nothing else, it would be a learning opportunity for him. He was with Cleveland's D League affiliate last season and spent time with the Cavs in the playoffs.

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