Mark's Mailbag: Biggest Questions for Pacers as Season Nears
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Editor's Note: Some Mailbag questions have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. Can't wait for this season to get going. We went to FanJam and I was really interested to see Myles shoot. I think he's taken it down a bit, but you could definitely tell he's worked on his body. I read your article the other day and you mentioned the arch on his shot so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
A. Yes, it does appear Turner is putting less arch (or arc if you prefer) on his shots. I normally complain about players shooting flat shots, which limits the margin of error in a shot. A flat shot is like landing an airplane on a target, a shot with arch is more like landing a helicopter.
Turner has been the exception. After most practices last season, until late in the season, he roamed around the 3-point line and put up skyscraping shots, sometimes exaggerating the altitude just for the fun of it.
So far, his shot looks better.
Q. Do they expect Young will be back by opening night? Also once he's back do they expect him to be back in the starting lineup?
A. Nate McMillan said before the team left on its road trip that he expected Young to practice with the team somewhere along the line and hopefully get into a game. Perhaps the last one.
Young bruised a bone in his foot in a workout before training camp began. He's expected to be ready for the regular season, however, and will be back in the starting lineup. No matter what TJ Leaf does while filling in for him.
Q. Remind me is Larry (Bird) on staff with the Pacers still? If so what position does he hold?
A. Bird is listed as the "Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations." That would be Kevin Pritchard, of course.
He has been at all the practices since training camp began. Last season he went back to Florida for a while during the regular season, but was back with the team late in the season and for the playoff series. I can't speak to how often Pritchard consults with Bird, but I'm confident he likes having him around. It's not Bird's nature to interfere. The same goes for Donnie Walsh.
It's a unique situation to have two former team presidents on staff as consultants, but that kind of experience is valuable and neither Bird nor Walsh are ego-driven. I see both of them interacting comfortably with Pritchard at times during practice.
Q. Random, and I don't even know if you would know this, but how is Larry Bird seen in Boston and does he go back there often?
A. I don't believe he goes back often, but I'm confident he's viewed very favorably there. He received standing ovations when he coached the Pacers and went back to Boston for games, and I don't see any reason why the attitude toward him would have changed since then.
He led the Celtics to three championships, and the aura of that kind of accomplishment only grows as time passes. It's human nature to filter out negative memories and exaggerate positive moments in later years, so I don't see his legend ever dying in Boston. Or Indiana, for that matter.
Q. It was sad to see that former coach Jack McKinney passed away. I wonder if you could talk about how McKinney was the architect of perhaps the worst trade in NBA history. I'm referring to the trade where we traded our first round pick in 1984 to Portland for Tom Owens who we had had on the team and released a year before. This, of course, was the pick that should have been used on Michael Jordan but was used on Sam Bowie instead. Do you have any other memories or insight into that horrible trade?
A. I wrote about McKinney and the infamous trade.
Fate plays such a role in the NBA, not to mention just about every other aspect of life. Imagine if McKinney had not had that bicycle accident in Los Angeles 13 games into his first season as the Lakers' coach. He probably would have won a championship that season, as his replacement, assistant coach Paul Westhead, did. He would likely have been there for several seasons, as he was a more traditional and sound coach than Westhead. Someone else would have become the Pacers' coach. And the trade for Tom Owens likely never would have been made, which makes it possible the Pacers would have drafted Michael Jordan.
Tyreke Evans joins the Pacers after having averaged 19.4 points per game in Memphis (Photo: NBAE/Getty Images)
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the Pacers franchise this season?
A. I'd say chemistry throughout the roster. That was their strength last season, and probably will be again this season. But it's not automatic.
They have a lot of players in the last year of a contract or with a one-year contract. That threatens chemistry because players might become more focused on their individual play with free agency looming. I'm not predicting that and have seen no indication at this early stage that it might happen, but you never know. The roster is deep so it will be difficult to keep everyone satisfied. But, again, from what I've seen so far players are willing to accept their roles.
Beyond that, the challenge becomes the level of talent. It takes more than one All-Star for a team to become a contender. This team will have to find one or two more All-Star caliber players to contend, whether from within the roster or by an acquisition. But it's a relatively young team on the rise and has time to grow.
Q. Do you see the Pacers making a move this season? This looks like those tight knit teams ala Reggie (Miller) and Mark (Jackson) that sums up to more than the individual talent. But we do have the potential to get assets for some of our point guard depth and there are top 15 players like Butler.
A. It's impossible to predict major trades, and obviously Kevin Pritchard will wait to see how the season plays out before making any major moves. But I suppose the ingredients are there for something to happen.
The Pacers have several expiring contracts, which could be appealing to a going-nowhere team looking to unload a good player with a long-term contract. They also have depth, so they could hypothetically pull of a two-for-one or three-for-one. And, there's the fact Kevin Pritchard has a history of making trade deadline deals, last season being the exception.
He didn't do anything last season, though, because the team chemistry was so good on the court and off and it wasn't something to be trifled with. That could very well be the case again in the upcoming season.
Q. Is O'Quinn going to run in the second unit at the four or will he be a third-string five?
A. I think he'll be more like a third-string five, but I expect McMillan to find minutes for him. He supposedly was one of the more pleasant aspects of training camp.
His role probably will depend somewhat on the success of the Turner-Sabonis pairing. If those two get significant minutes together, O'Quinn could get more time as the backup center. If not, Sabonis will back up Turner.
O'Quinn is listed on the roster as a forward/center, so it's possible he'll play alongside Turner or Sabonis at times. I don't see it happening that often, though. McMillan seems more likely to go small or utilize Leaf as a stretch four than play O'Quinn there often.
Q. Can we expect to see Oladipo and Evans in the game together at crunch time, with Vic at point guard?
A. I'm sure they'll play together some. Whether that's a "crunch time" lineup remains to be seen, and likely will be tested in "regular" game minutes first.
I wouldn't count out Collison being in the game at crunch time, however. He was the team's leading 3-point shooter and free throw shooter last season, and doesn't turn the ball over. Evans could be in a lineup with them as a small forward, perhaps.
Q. Do you see anyone out there filling the role that Al Jefferson played last season? I believe he was truly valuable to teach Domas and Myles some back-to-the-basket type stuff.
A. I don' t see anyone taking on a tutoring role, because nobody on this roster has Jefferson's low-post skills. Hopefully Turner and Sabonis have retained some of what he taught them. Sabonis seemed to be the most interested pupil last season, but Turner appeared to take on a greater interest as the season went along.
Jefferson's "replacement," Kyle O'Quinn, doesn't have Jefferson's posting up skills (who does?) but he's more athletic, so will be able to do things Jefferson couldn't do.
Q. If a player is signed to a one-year contract, how is the dynamic different from someone at the end of a four-year deal? How would you compare the two?
A. I don't think there's a great difference. I suppose a player who signs a one-year deal knows what he's getting into and will be expecting free agency, while a player at the end of a long-term contract might feel more of a bond with the team and therefore be more anxious about impending free agency.
But, if he is looking forward to leaving the franchise he might not feel that way. Bottom line, every player treats the last year of a contract in his own way. The Pacers' hope is that they're motivated to be at their best – not score more than ever, just play better than ever.
Kyle O'Quinn's versatility gives the Pacers a variety of rotation options this season (Photo: NBAE/Getty Images)
Q. After seeing Leaf progress, especially at the boards which is a point of emphasis Pacers want to get better, do you think Nate will stay with a nine-man rotation or can Leaf take that 10 spot?
A. Nate McMillan, like most NBA coaches, prefers a nine-man rotation, but he could go 10 very easily with this team. But you always want your best players on the court as much as possible, especially in the playoffs, so that limits a coach's interest in using his bench.
I think Leaf can find playing time apart from garbage time minutes and whatever is opened up by an injury, but probably only against certain teams. If a so-called stretch four is needed, he could be the guy. But Kyle O'Quinn is a possible "10th man" as well.
Q. What is your best guess when it comes to Sumner this season? Do you think they send him to Ft Wayne so he can get more minutes or do you think he stays in Indy as an end-of-the-rotation player?
A. I think he'll spend time in Fort Wayne. He's a promising player and still developing, and will benefit from as much playing time as he get.
As promising as he has been in training camp and in the first couple of preseason games, he's not likely to get minutes ahead of Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans. And, we shouldn't forget first-round draft pick Aaron Holiday.
He's 22 and had an abbreviated college career, so he needs to play.
Q. Alize Johnson looks too good for the G League but likely can't get many minutes with the Pacers. What they gonna do, bounce him back and forth or keep him with the team? Also, who do they have working with him on his shot?
A. I think he'll play in Fort Wayne. As with Edmond Sumner and Ike Anigbogu, he shows promise, but needs to play. They are what the G League is for.
David McClure is the assistant coach who works on skill development with the players.
Q. Three quick questions:
1. Is Sabonis too good to be a substitute?
2. Sumner seems to have everything except a shot. He really looked uncomfortable missing a wide open 3 against Houston. Your take?
3. Does Leaf become a rotational player this year — or is he the 10th or 11th man?
A. Sabonis obviously is a starter-quality player. Fortunately for the Pacers, he's willing to play off the bench – for one more season, at least. He represents a potential dilemma, however. If it doesn't work out for him to play with Myles Turner, it seems something will have to give eventually.
Sumner does need to work on his shooting. He says he's improved, but he needs to prove it in games. It would have a huge impact on his career if he can become a 3-point threat. He hit 28 percent of his 3-pointers in college, so obviously isn't a natural in that area. His form is a little awkward, so it will take a lot of work.
I believe Leaf will be the 10th or 11th man. He's going to be behind Thad Young and Sabonis as a "four," and there might be times when the Pacers go small and one of the "threes" slides over to that position.
I think McMillan will look for opportunities to play him, but it will be difficult unless an injury creates playing time for him.
Q. What's your win total for this squad? Also, do you think Vic Oladipo has a chance to compete for the MVP this year?
A. Ah, the ol' win total question.
Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan among others would be quick to tell you it's all about the playoffs. Obviously a season with 47 wins and a trip to the conference finals, as the Pacers had in the 1993-94 season, will be remembered more fondly than a season with 50-some wins but a first-round exit, which has never happened to the Pacers.
I understand the natural urge to predict a regular season win total, though. The executives on the basketball staff do it, privately. I might adjust before the regular season begins, but for now I'll go with 54. I can't think of a logical reason why they won't be better than last season. This depends, of course, on them having reasonable health.
Last season, Myles Turner missed 17 games, Darren Collison missed 13 and Vic Oladipo missed seven. Whether that's reasonable or not is up for debate, but obviously health of the starters makes a difference. I believe the Pacers have enough depth to deal with injuries, but you can't be without your best players for very long and have much success. (Duh.)
As for Oladipo, I don't believe he's ready to contend for MVP. If he does, he should receive a second consecutive Most Improved Player award.
Q. Does the offense that you have seen so far concern you? It looks like McDermott isn't getting enough touches or in rhythm.
A. No, it's way too early to be concerned with that kind of thing. McDermott hasn't shot well in the first two preseason games (combined 3-of-14) but he's got enough of a track record to be confident that won't last long.
He does, however, require a change in the offense. He moves well without the ball, and that's why he blossomed in Rick Carlisle's system in Dallas at the end of last season. The Pacers were lacking in that area last season because of the individual skills of Oladipo and Lance Stephenson, so there will be an adjustment period.
I doubt it will be that difficult, and I doubt McDermott's shooting percentages drop from his career norm. If anything, I think they'll go up.
Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in his next mailbag.
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