Mark's Mailbag: On Roster Turnover, Youth Movement

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Q. In comparing rosters between now and the season before last, 2013-2014, (the one where they ended up with a number one seed in the East), the following players are gone, for a total of twelve guys: Copeland, Sloan, E. Turner, Bynum, Butler, Johnson, Scola, Watson, Granger, Hibbert, Stephenson, and West. For a roster limit of 15, that seems like a lot in a short time, from a great team to a potentially great one in less than two years later.

What does your gut tell you about how rare this amount of (needed) turnover has been the last 20 years for teams ranked in the top four (say) of their conference? Are the Pacers one of just a small handful of teams that had to reload after seeing much recent success?

— Joe

A. It's extremely rare, and virtually unprecedented, for a team that wasn't “too old” to continue competing for championships to make as many changes as the Pacers have made. What we have here is a perfect storm of circumstances that led to a sea change of turnover.

First off, you had seven free agents this year (Rodney Stuckey, Luis Scola, Lavoy Allen, Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, Shayne Whittington and C.J. Watson), and two others with opt-out clauses (Roy Hibbert and David West). That alone was sure to bring about major turnover.

West's decision to leave in pursuit of immediate gratification in what could be the final season of his career amplified everything. As team president Larry Bird said, West's surprising move brought about several other changes, as it cost the team its starting power forward and on-court leader. At that point there was no point in trying to maintain the core of the teams that reached the conference finals in consecutive seasons. The mutual desire for Hibbert to move on was another major factor, opening a major hole at center that had been filled for seven seasons.

Stuckey, Allen and Whittington were re-signed, but the upcoming roster still includes eight new players: Chase Budinger, Toney Douglas, Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill, Glenn Robinson III and rookies Myles Turner, Joe Young and Rakeem Christmas. Douglas' contract is not guaranteed for the season. He has a partial guarantee, so he amounts to an insurance policy in the backcourt.

You might as well add the return of Paul George to the turnover equation. He played in just six games last season, so is virtually a new player to the current group of players. Bottom line: the Pacers likely will have no more than two returning starters from last season – George Hill and maybe C.J. Miles, who only started 40 games.

Yes, chemistry likely will be an issue early in the season. You don't bring this many guys together and microwave an in-sync team. The overall talent level seems to be as good as could be expected with the loss of West and Hibbert. Coach Frank Vogel will be challenged to determine a playing rotation. Some good players are going to get left out of the 10-man group, and some likely will be sent to Fort Wayne to play in the Development League.

Q. Can Myles Turner have the best rookie season since Chuck Person? He sure looks smarter and more mature than his 19 years old and will have plenty of opportunities on the floor.

— Francisco

A. You might be onto something here. Of course, the Pacers have mostly had winning teams since Person was voted Rookie of the Year after the 1986-87 season, so late-round draft picks aren't likely to have much of an impact on winning teams. Now comes Turner, the 11th pick, joining a drastically revamped roster.

He isn't likely to match Person's stats, but he could do better than all those who have followed. Person, the fourth pick in the 1987 draft, averaged 18.8 points and 8.3 rebounds as a rookie, shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from the 3-point line. He remains the only Pacer to be voted Rookie of the Year.

He had the advantage of joining a team that had won just 26 games the previous season, so opportunities were guaranteed. Most nights, he started alongside Vern Fleming, John Long, Herb Williams and Steve Stipanovich. That group desperately needed some firepower, and Person was the perfect one to provide it. He nearly took as many 3-point shots as all of his teammates combined.

Since then, no Pacers player has come close to having as much impact as a rookie. Reggie Miller averaged 10 points a game off the bench the following season. Then Rik Smits averaged 11.7 after being forced into the starting lineup by Stipanovich's injury. Jamaal Tinsley, an overnight sensation early in his rookie season in 2001-02, averaged 9.4 points and eight assists. Danny Granger averaged 7.5 points in 2005-06. Hibbert averaged 7.1 in 2008-09.

I expect Turner to average in double figures next season. Playing time should be available to him with the departure of Hibbert, and Bird already has stated he expects Turner and fellow rookie Joe Young to be part of the rotation. Beyond that, Turner's shooting touch isn't going to magically disappear. He hit 60.5 percent of his field goal attempts in Summer League play, averaging 18.7 points. Paul George, George Hill and Monta Ellis likely will dominate the scoring opportunities, but the planned uptempo offense should allow Turner to get up enough shots to have an impact. Turner's rim-protecting talents will help keep him on the floor, too. I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up starting most of the season – perhaps not early, but eventually.

Q. Did Ian Mahinmi get cut from the 2015 French Eurobasket roster, or did he not try out? The August 17 roster announcement included Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, and other NBA-ers. Do you think he would have made the team had he wanted to?

— Joe

A. It's my understanding Mahinmi was not invited to join the team after being on the preliminary roster.

Q. Have you been given any indication that the reason the Pacers want to play Paul George at 4 is because the injury compromised his quickness and he can no longer be a defensive presence/stopper on a wing?

— David

A. I haven't heard that, and don't believe it's the case. All I've heard this summer is that George is on his way to regaining his pre-injury athleticism. We'll know more in October.

Moving George to “4” is simply part of a plan to play a smaller, faster and more mobile offense. It's not as if the Pacers will go with that kind of lineup all the time. I think too much is made of it, really. It's not a factor on offense, where a bigger team will have to contend with George's quickness on the perimeter. It's only an issue defensively, and that's easily solved. Don't play George if he would have to defend a stronger, low-post player such as Nene or David West.

Again, when a team spreads the floor and moves the ball, the traditional 1-2-3-4-5 positioning evaporates. For the Pacers, whoever you want to designate a “4” won't likely resemble Dale Davis or David West. And that's fine, as long as they execute the offense well enough to get open shots.

Q. The “youth movement” the Pacers have apparently taken this summer obviously hinged on both West and Hibbert no longer being here. A youthful team? But consider that this deep roster has eight guys with six years or more of NBA experience. And that's not counting Paul George (with five years).

The old man of the group, Ellis, is only 29 (an October birthday though), and there's four others who are or will be 29 by early November (Mahinmi, G. Hill, Stuckey, and Douglas). Even though the team consists of two rookies with outstanding potential, Turner and Young, these nine long-time veterans seem to make this an ideal type of re-building year, with these very experienced players (not counting Solomon Hill, who logged more minutes than anyone last year).

Do you agree that the Pacers did not choose to “go with the youth movement” given their successful 2015 draft picks, and that this approach is rather unusual, but ideal?

— Joe

A. True, the Pacers have never called their transformation a youth movement. Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh have proven over the years they avoid a total rebuild at all costs. They try to put the best team on the court each season.

That's not to say they haven't gone through periods of regeneration, such as the Pacers are doing now. That's the nature of the NBA. But they have refused to “tank” and go for the complete overhaul, building around the high draft picks that come with horrible records. That usually takes at least a few years to pull off, and there's hardly any guarantee the players taken with those elite picks turn out to be elite players.

The performances of Turner and Young in Summer League further the cause of remaining in a win-now mode. Young is 23 years old, a five-year college player, so he's not your typical modern-day rookie. He doesn't need a few years to be ready to contribute. Turner is only 19, but shows physical and emotional maturity beyond his years, so I believe he can contribute immediately as well.

Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

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