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Mark's Mailbag: Best Team Chemistry Since?...

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

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.

Editor's Note: Some Mailbag questions have been edited for clarity and length.

Q. Is there a problem (with Darren Collison)? Have heard nothing about his return and was supposed to be right after ASG, right?

-Kevin

A. When Collison underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Feb. 5, the Pacers announced a two- or three-week recovery. It looks like it's going to be about four. There's no problem, though, just a slower than expected recovery period. Collison was watching practice with his leg propped up over the weekend, and he's with the team on the current road trip.

Despite the team's 5-2 record without him, I think he's missed. Cory Joseph usually plays better as a backup, and Joe Young, while showing great improvement, isn't ready to be a starter. The pieces seem in place when Collison is playing. And, as has been mentioned many times, he has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the league and a chance to join the elite club of players who shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the foul line.

He's been troubled by knee pain off and on throughout the season, so the hope is that he'll be able to play it out relatively pain-free after he returns.

Q. 1) How is Slick's health/recovery doing? And can we see him behind the mic come playoff time this spring?

2) Prediction for Pacers playoff seed and how many series can they win?

3) How does this seasons teams chemistry/have each other's backs/camaraderie compare to any Pacers team in the past?

4) What is your favorite Pacers highlight of the season? Can be a certain play or moment in a game, behind the scene practice moment, or something even off the court.

-Connor

A. Homework, again!? OK, here we go.

1) Slick is recovering well and is expected back behind the mic sometime in March. But no specific date has been set.

2) They're fifth now, and I think that's a likely place for them to be at the end of the season. Their remaining schedule is challenging, with more road games than home games. As for how many playoff series they can win, it's not fair to predict any if they don't have homecourt advantage. But I think they'll be a tough out, and if healthy and the recipient of a break or two, they could win a series. Or two.

3) I don't think I've been around a team with better camaraderie than this, at any level. That doesn't mean previous Pacers teams had poor chemistry. Most teams get along well, just in varying degrees. There might be one or two players who haven't earned much respect in the locker room, but I haven't been in one that was uncomfortable.

Even last season's team, which was a disappointment compared to the preseason expectations, did not have bad chemistry. It just lacked leadership. Once Lance Stephenson arrived and injected some adrenaline into the mix, it came alive. But this one is special, no doubt. You see it in games, the locker room and on the practice court. I saw it on the first day of training camp. The personalities mesh well, and the timing is right. There are young, hungry guys and wise, unselfish veterans and nobody is too unhappy with his role.

4) The "uplifting" Cory Joseph moment in the game against Atlanta last week certainly stands out, symbolic of the team's enthusiasm and chemistry. I can't think of a specific highlight away from the court, but you see a lot of occasions in the locker room that are similar to that. Oladipo is always in there singing, Al Jefferson is cracking jokes, guys are interacting. Those type of things are probably what stands out so far. But the only really meaningful highlights come in the playoffs. People don't remember much from Reggie Miller in the regular season, or the locker room or the practice court.

Q. For the Pacers to reach 50 wins they would have to win all their remaining home games (9) and half their games on the road (7/14). Is this an attainable goal?

-Brian

A. You asked this question before the loss in Dallas, so that might have changed your perspective. But I didn't see them getting to 50 before that game. They are 34-26 heading into Wednesday's game at Atlanta, so they would have to finish 16-6 the rest of the way. That will be awfully difficult given the fact they have 12 road games, 10 of them against teams safely in the playoffs or in contention for a spot.

But, this team will surpass general expectations. For some, it already has. It's easy to get spoiled, but it's still a "new" team relying heavily on two 21-year-olds. There are going to be stumbles, like the one in Dallas.

Q. Since roughly half of all shots miss their intended target in the NBA, why then has nobody yearning for an opportunity to earn playing time and win ball games stepped up to be an elite level rebounder on this season's Pacers team?

Players like: Alex Poythress – Ben Moore – Ike Anigbogu – TJ Leaf and even Ed Sumner are all craving a shot at an NBA regular rotation and it just so happens that this seasons Pacer team is in a drastic need of an elite rebounder at both ends.

i.e. Jeff 'I've got the rebound" Foster or even the wacky but immensely effective Dennis "The Worm" Rodman are two examples of game-changing, team-leading elite level rebounders whose teams simply couldn't be successful without their respective services.

Fast break points, second chance points and points in the paint stats all soar upward and opponent's points drop significantly when an NBA team leads the rebounding stats at both ends of the court.

And since half of all shots miss, there's gonna be a lot of rebounds available.

Rebounding wins games, it's a simple reality for winning more often.

PS: Thank you Lance & Domas for being "fierce rebounders" for this Pacers team!

-Kevin

A. It's not easy to be an "elite" rebounder. It takes a high level of athleticism – mostly quick reactions and instincts (a.k.a. a nose for the ball) along with decent size and a hard-nosed nature. It's no less a skill than shooting, really. When you think about it, elite rebounders are far more rare than elite scorers.

But, as long as games are won by the team that scores the most points, shooting is always going to be the first priority. Rebounding is crucial, and the Pacers have lost some games because of it this season. They currently rank in the bottom third in the league, but are showing improvement. After being outrebounded in 11 straight games, they have outrebounded opponents in five straight. But as you saw, they lost in Dallas – because of all the other areas in which they fell short.

You're right, though, Stephenson and Sabonis attack the boards. That's a function of their personality, and it's difficult to change someone's personality. That's kind of what's happening now with Myles Turner. They're trying to make him a more aggressive rebounder, and he's getting better. But it's awfully difficult to change someone's nature.

Q. Why has TJ Leaf dropped out of the rotation? With the Pacers stated focus on the future, it would seem player development would be a priority. The short rotations along with pace of play also seem to be taking a toll on 3-point shooting percentages.

-Gerry

Q. How has Leaf been progressing? Playing time is down. Back to G league?

-Kez

A. Several people have asked about Leaf. He was injured for a few games before the All-Star break but is healthy now.

The simplest way to put it is that the coaches don't believe he's as good as the forwards playing ahead of him, and they don't want to go any deeper into the roster to find minutes for him. Their desire to develop talent is not as great as their desire to win games now that they're hunkered down in the depths of a playoff race, so he's going to have to wait his turn. It's unlikely he'll get anything but "garbage" minutes the rest of the season unless there's an injury or two on the frontline.

He's still highly regarded, though. He's an outstanding shooter, agile enough to create shots for himself around the basket and a decent rebounder. He's struggled on defense, though. In recent outings, he was catnip for opposing offense seeking a mismatch. He's gotten stronger since he was drafted and will get stronger still.

I think he has a bright future, and at 20 years old (21 on April 30) he's got plenty of future ahead of him. His situation is not unusual for a rookie his age on a playoff team. Ultimately, those who want him to play more have to answer one question: who should play less?

Q. Will Myles Turner ever become a player who will be dominating?

-Ron

A. "Dominating" is fairly vague, but I know where you're coming from. He hasn't shown as much progress this season as a lot of fans would like – until recently, perhaps. He has become more physical and is going after rebounds he once ignored. He was very good in Dallas on Monday, when he had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots. He knocked down Cory Joseph going for a blocked shot late in the game.

If he can make that approach to the game a habit, he'll probably qualify as dominating. It's been interesting to see the recent changes, which include a greater desire to score off post-up moves. It seems they've finally gotten through to him on that. He'll always prefer firing up 3-pointers, but he'll need to expand his skill set and become more physical if he's to become an All-Star caliber player.


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.

Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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.