Mark's Mailbag: End-of-Season Edition
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Editor's Note: Some Mailbag questions have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. Do the Pacers foresee Sabonis and Turner as their future starting front court?
If they don't, would they be willing to spend big money on a starting and backup center?
A. Kevin Pritchard is expected to have a press conference next week, at which point this topic will be addressed. It's probably the team's most crucial question going forward.
The Turner-Sabonis pairing — or, as you prefer, Sabonis-Turner — was more effective this season than last, which provides an argument for it to get a longer test-run in the future. They played together in 54 games for an average of five minutes last season, with an average plus-minus rating of -0.9. But they teamed up in 64 games for an average of 6.7 minutes this past season, with a +0.6 rating.
The greatest obstacle to them playing together, of course, is perimeter defense. One of them, usually Sabonis, would need to defend away from the basket. That would be a problem against many opponents. Consider, for example, if he were playing against the Pacers and had to guard Thaddeus Young. Or, what if the Pacers went small and he had to guard Bojan Bogdanovic?
The hope would be that he creates a bigger problem than he faces, that opponents who have to defend him in the post with a smaller player would pay for it.
I believe for it to work long-term, Turner will have to expand his post-up skills to the point he can score dependably against smaller defenders. Then you would have two nearly interchangeable 6-11 players who are effective both on the perimeter and around the basket. If one of them is defended by a smaller "four," he could set up in the low post. But they also could take "bigs" away from the basket and reduce the opponent's rebounding potential. As of now, Turner can be defended with a smaller player when Sabonis is in the game because he (Turner) is not a consistent threat around the basket.
As for spending money, it appears a given Sabonis will be given a contract extension in October regardless of his role next season. If he isn't extended in the fall, however, he would become a restricted free agent at the end of next season and can be reclaimed then. The Pacers have significant money available to spend without exceeding the luxury tax threshold, and will protect their primary assets.
If it turns out Turner and Sabonis are not the wine and cheese pairing fans are salivating for, that becomes an issue to deal with later.
Q. Imagine it's the evening of June 30, 2019 and Kevin Pritchard calls you for advice. He has seven free agents on the team and has to decide on who in that group should be his top priority. If I were you, I would say Bogdanović - but what would you tell him?
A. This might sound like a cop-out answer, but I would have a lot of questions of my own before answering that question. Such as, who can you get in free agency this summer? What trades are available? He couldn't possibly have an answer at that point, which is why these decisions have to wait until he wades into the free agency pool and finds out what options are available to him.
If there's a player available in free agency whom Pritchard considers better than one of "his own" free agents, obviously that affects your decision on that player, whether it's Bogdanovic or anyone else. There's just no way to know at this point.
It's also impossible to know what trades might be available, either in the draft or otherwise. For example, if you had asked a similar questions three years ago at this time, it would have been impossible to predict they could trade their first-round draft pick for Thad Young.
You just don't have any way of knowing at this time what options are going to become available. You also don't know if another team offers a player you want to keep a contract beyond what you are willing to match. For those reasons, I don't consider any of the Pacers' seven primary free agents to be certain to return, but several of them are possibilities.
Q. Do the Pacers even bother approaching the agents of big free agents such as Durant, Leonard, Butler, or Walker? Or is it such a forgone conclusion that these caliber of players will not consider Indiana no matter the money that they don't even reach out?
A. I'm sure Kevin Pritchard and his staff will be in communication with the agents of all the premier free agents, and make it known the Pacers have interest in players such as those you mention. Along with 29 other teams, of course.
It might prove to be a short conversation in some cases, but you never know. I think the feeling that the Pacers have no shot at "premier" free agents gets a little overblown. They haven't had significant money to spend in free agency in some previous years because they had a contending team and were loaded up on salaries. They have money to spend now.
We'll just have to wait and see. If a great player likes the idea of living in a smaller family-friendly city and believes he fits in with the current nucleus of Pacers, you never know. He might be interested.
Q. What do you think happens with Myles in the playoffs? Two straight years he has struggled in the postseason.
A. Fact is, Turner's play — at least that part of it measured by averages and percentages — has decreased in the playoffs each of his four seasons in the NBA compared to his regular season stats. That's not all that unusual, really. Most players experience a drop because the level of competition improves.
Turner's latest postseason run, though, was the least productive of his career. He averaged 9.8 points while hitting 40 percent of his field goal attempts, 21 percent of his 3-pointers, and 61.5 percent of his foul shots — a steep drop from the regular season across the board.
I can't give you a good answer for why this happened, other than the fact the halfcourt offense didn't function well throughout the series. He can't create shots for himself and he's not a low-post threat to whom you can simply toss the ball and tell him to get a good shot. He's a byproduct of the offense, and didn't get that many opportunities. He only averaged 8.8 shots per game, down from 10.5 during the regular season. He averaged just 7.7 shots in the series against Cleveland a year ago.
That doesn't explain why he didn't hit more of the shots he got, although most players shoot better when they are getting consistent opportunities in the flow of the offense. Fans should hope this latest playoff series motivates him to continue working hard on his game and develop more ways to score.
Q. Does it ever feel to you that Myles always plays with some reservation? Do you think he can step up his aggressiveness?
A. If you mean aggression as another word for playing physically, I believe Turner has improved in that area over the past couple of seasons. Remember when he said last season an unnamed teammate had called him "soft"? He responded to that, and for the most part remained a physical player this season.
His rebounding average on a per-minute basis was the best of his career this past season. That was despite a drop in offensive rebounding, which partly was the result of playing farther away from the basket and taking more 3-point shots than ever.
If you're referring to aggression as simply effort, he's plenty aggressive enough defending around the basket, as proven by the fact he led the league in blocked shots. He wasn't asked to do much offensively but set screens and pop out for a jump shot most of the time, so it was difficult to show aggression.
I think overall he plays hard, and he's become a more physical player. He entered the league focused on scoring, but has since revised his emphasis toward blocking shots. He's not a Sabonis-level rebounder and never will be regarded as a blue-collar type of player, but if he can block shots and hit a decent percentage from the 3-point line he'll be effective.
The offense has to produce good shots for him, though.
Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
Q. What should be Myles Turner's main focus this summer to get better?
A. Improving his post-up skills. If he can become a legitimate scoring threat around the basket, it will make a major difference in his overall game.
Defenses don't often hesitate to switch a shorter defender onto him now because he struggles to score with his back to the basket. He's shown flashes of it, though. He improved his agility over the summer and occasionally took advantage of that by making good moves to get layups, but not very often.
If he becomes a post-up threat, teams can't switch shorter defenders onto him and that will enable him to take opposing centers to the perimeter — where he probably can score on them by shooting 3-pointers or driving to the basket.
Q. You think Nate will be back? It feels like his offense is too old for the NBA.
I definitely think he will be back, unless for some reason he doesn't want to come back.
It's funny, a couple of weeks ago I was reading articles by national NBA writers stating McMillan should be included in the conversation for Coach of the Year. I don't believe anyone, had they been told at the start of the season how many games Oladipo would miss, would have predicted 48 victories for the Pacers this season.
The playoff sweep was a disappointment, but I don't think you would find a single knowledgeable NBA follower who considered the Pacers' talent to be nearly as good as Boston's. The Celtics have a No. 1 overall draft pick (Kyrie Irving), two young No. 3 picks (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown), a five-time All-Star and former No. 3 pick in Al Horford and an All-Star with a max contract in Gordon Hayward.
People will look back on Boston's roster in a few years and realize how stacked it is. The Pacers, without their best player, led in the second half of every game in the series. It wasn't a matter of competing, it was a matter of closing — and the Pacers lacked their only capable closer.
I wouldn't put that on the coach. I agree, the offense struggled throughout the series, as well as much of the season, but one would have to watch practice and be in the locker room to know where to assign blame for that. Perhaps revisions can be made next season.
Part of the problem, though, is that the Pacers without Oladipo were less athletic than most NBA teams, particularly the playoff teams. That made it more difficult to execute any kind of offense.
Q. Top free agent for the Pacers to target this summer?
A. Other people have asked a variation of this question as well.
I really can't give you a good answer, because no front office is going to let anyone know what players have the most appeal. Anyone can Google the list of free agents and pick out ones who he or she believes would help the Pacers, but we don't know who would return the interest and what the cost would be.
If someone had asked me this question a year ago at this time — and someone probably did — I seriously doubt I could have come up with Kyle O'Quinn and Tyreke Evans. I might have given thought to Doug McDermott because of the need for 3-point shooting, but maybe not.
It's fun to speculate, but it's a futile exercise.
Q. It would be easy for the Pacers to just use the excuse of Vic being hurt and out of action to try to explain this potential sweep by the Celtics, but I think it goes much deeper than this.
The simple fact remains (this and every year), the Pacers are outclassed every year...never making it out of the first round. Mark, do you think our management team settles for a team with one potential superstar (Oladipo) only to surround him with an average supporting cast? I'm no expert, but it seems to me...year after year...that management is content with the status quo.
That is to say they never seem to want to invest in several key pieces to help this team get over the hump. Isn't it about time we start doing more than just 'building basketball here'? I'm growing extremely tired of not actually competing against the upper echelon teams and continually getting embarrassed across the entire NBA.
Once again, we're left again this summer hoping and wishing for bigger and better things. Yes...I know the Pacers have decent cap space heading into free agency. But are we going to be content by getting more barely adequate personnel, or are we going to actually start investing in someone that makes a REAL difference? I appreciate the work of our inside 'wet noodle' players (Thad, Domas, & Myles), but the fact remains that we have no one to take the ball to the hoop with TRUE AUTHORITY. Sure, we have monster jams when they're WIDE OPEN...but if you put defensive pressure on them you can forget it.
Am I making sense here, or am I just crazy? Thanks for allowing me to vent and for your input.
A. Well, now. This one will take awhile. Far be it from me to call you crazy, but I'll explore some of your points.
To say the Pacers are "outclassed every year" requires some clarification. You're talking about recent history, of course, going back to their most recent trip to the conference finals in 2014. I'm sure you don't need to be told of all the things that have happened since then to bring about a rebuilding process, but any franchise is going to suffer badly if its best player is lost for an extended period to injury, such a player then wants a trade, and other important players move on.
The Pacers have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the past four seasons. But, they were the lower-seeded team each time. They were a seven-seed when they lost a seven-game series to Toronto in 2016, a seven-seed when they were swept by Cleveland in 2017, a five-seed when they lost to Cleveland in seven games last year, and a five-seed when they were swept by Boston this season.
Winning any of those series would have qualified as an upset. They very nearly won two of them and were competitive in the other two. I would add that Cleveland last season and Boston this season were better than your typical four seed, but dropped that low for various reasons beyond raw talent. So, I wouldn't call those losses "embarrassing."
The Pacers are willing to invest in "key pieces" if they are able to sign them. I have yet to become aware of an NBA team that doesn't want to do that. It's a question of how much money is available to spend without incurring a major luxury tax bill, which players are available in free agency and whether or not those players want to sign with you.
I think it's safe to say nobody is satisfied with the status quo, because the status quo gets people fired in the NBA. But there are reasons for what the Pacers have experienced the past four seasons. Management's unwillingness to bring in major talent is hardly one of them.
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.
Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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