Mark's Mailbag: Chemistry 101

Q. Do you think Paul George has what it takes to be a great leader? I rarely see him encouraging guys, but he will get on guys if they make a mistake. Also, if Reggie Miller wanted to join the organization, where could he help most?

-(No name given)

A. I don't think George is a leader by nature. And that's OK. There's no rule that says your best player has to be a great leader, although it's a bonus. Leadership is an innate quality, and you can't fault someone for not having it any more than you can fault someone for being left-handed or 5-foot-8. Hopefully, though, George will learn more leadership qualities as he progresses in his career.

As for Miller, he could help most as a broadcaster. I'm not trying to be sarcastic in saying that, but the first requirement for excelling at any job is wanting to do it, and that's obviously what Miller wants to do most.

I don't see him as a coach or general manager. Coaching is a grind, obviously, and although Miller was a dedicated athlete I don't see him wanting to stay up all night watching video and preparing a game plan. Being a team executive isn't much more "fun." You sit at a desk all day and deal with mountains of minutiae. Miller is jumpy, energetic, and loves the limelight. He'd go crazy sitting at a desk all day.

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Now, if he wanted to be an assistant coach who communicated with the players and lent insight to the head coach, I could see that. It also could work for him to become an assistant general manager who learns the ropes and finds out whether or not he's cut out for an executive position.

Q. Do you believe George Hill is our man for the future? I always have, and I believe the fact he's not a true point guard isn't a liability with players like Paul George and and Monta Ellis on the floor. But everyday I see so-called fans calling him out as our problem. If we are still trying to be identified as a defensive team, I feel like George Hill and Solo (Hill) must be a big part of that identity.


A. I believe George Hill is an underrated player, and never cease to be surprised by the fan response to him. Nobody's claiming he's an All-Star, but he's a valuable, well-rounded player who does whatever is asked, and is the closest the Pacers have to a coach on the floor.

His numbers are down from last season, when he led the team in scoring and assists with an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio, but I think that's a reflection of his reduced role. He's moved to off-guard since Monta Ellis arrived, and Ellis tends to dominate the ball. That leaves Hill fewer opportunities to score or distribute the ball, and often gives him a tougher defensive assignment against a bigger player.

Since Hill came to the Pacers, he's filled a variety of roles. Backup guard. Point guard on an offense that ran through Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Point guard on an injury-depleted team on which he had to step up. Off-guard on a revamped team still trying to find chemistry. It's no wonder his statistics have fluctuated with his role.

George is sometimes criticized for not being more aggressive, and I agree it's valid at times, but he generally does what's asked of him and does it competently. I consider him a winning player who could help any team. If Gregg Popovich liked him enough in San Antonio to shed tears when he had to call Hill to tell him he had been traded to the Pacers, there must be something good about his game. Some fans just can't see it.

Q. I can't believe this team is just three games above .500. There is simply too much talent on this squad to currently be the #8 seed in the East. In the past Larry Bird has said a team needs to have chemistry in order to be successful. Well, it seems there is adequate chemistry. I mean we don't have a D'Angelo Russell/Nick Young situation like they do in LA. We haven't had tons of injuries like we've had in past seasons. And not that long ago, Coach Vogel was saying how challenging it was to create a rotation because he had so much talent to choose from.

Well then, what isn't working? I will say the team shows pretty good effort until the 4th quarter and then it falls apart. I've lost count of the games that we've lost because the team just didn't close out the game. This last Bulls game was a good example.

In your opinion, what is going on? What needs to take place?


A. You wrote this question following the loss to Orlando. The Pacers are five games above .500 now, but your question remains valid.

I think the chemistry is good in the locker room and every place else off the court, but remains unsettled on it. The style of play and starting lineup and rotations have changed throughout the season, and we know from history it takes time to develop that. The Pacers teams that have excelled most were together at least a few years. This remains a new team in many respects. Paul George, George Hill, and Ian Mahinmi are the only ones who played meaningful minutes during the conference finals team of two years ago (Lavoy Allen and Solomon Hill were also on the team, but didn't see much time during the postseason). Introducing Monta Ellis to the mix has required several adjustments, as he has a unique style of play.

The impact of those changes is compounded by the team's personality. It's a laid-back group on the whole, one that struggles to find the fire sometimes. That's why you see it give up comfortable leads so often. It also has difficulty getting good shots in crucial moments. That's either a reflection of the offensive structure or execution, if not both.

This simply is a roster that needs more time and more tweaking before it can be considered a championship contender. It's too new.

Q. My name is Uroš, I'm writing from Serbia. Huge fan of the Pacers, by the way. I have a few questions and I'm hoping you could bring them up in some of your next blogs.

First, I have a feeling that coach Vogel and Larry Bird are not on the same page anymore because Bird wants to go small ball and Vogel still prefers old Pacers way with strong defense. I think that Pacers currently don't have enough quality on the roster to play either style. How do you feel about it?

Second, Vogel's not using Monta good enough (my opinion). I mean, the guy can score 20 easily, right? Your thoughts?

Third, what do you think of Serbian players in NBA - Marjanovic, Bjelica and Jokic? Do they have enough quality to play for the Pacers and if they do, should Bird bring them in if opportunity arises?

Also, there's a really good prospect in my country, Marko Guduric, he plays for Crvena Zvezda Telekom in Euroleague, so tell someone out there to keep an eye on him, will you? :)

Best regards. (and sorry if I misspelled some words)

A. Good to hear from you, Uros. It's always interesting to me that people in other countries follow the Pacers. It also serves as a reminder how international the game has become, and why the salary cap will go up so much next year. Fans are everywhere, watching games on television and buying souvenirs.

As for your questions:

  1. A lot of people seem to think there's a rift between Vogel and Bird regarding style of play. Here's what Bird said in January when I asked him his opinion of Vogel going back to a more traditional lineup:

    "It's his call. He's coaching the team. We talked about it all summer. We talk about it daily. I think he feels comfortable going with two bigs. My thought process the whole time was to play faster. I wanted to score 103 points a game. I think we're 101 or so (102.3, actually). We're not far off, but I think he feels comfortable playing with two bigs, and that's fine. If he feels that's what he thinks will get us the most wins, that's what we should do."

  2. I can't agree with you on Monta. He has scored 20 points a game in past seasons, but he's not a dependable perimeter shooter. He's hitting 43 percent of his field goal attempts and 29 percent of his three-pointers. If he shoots more, who do you want to shoot less? I could make a better case that he shoots too often, given his percentages. He's a hybrid guard, and is more valuable for his playmaking than his scoring.
  3. I must admit I am not familiar with these players. But I'm sure if the Pacers' scouts and Bird believe they are good enough to play in the NBA, they would give them an opportunity. He's certainly not opposed to bringing in players from other countries.
  4. You just handled that for me, thank you.

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