Aaron Holiday, TJ Leaf
NBAE/Getty Images

Mark's Mailbag: End-of-Season Edition (Part 2)

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer

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.

Read Mark's Mailbag: End-of-Season Edition (Part 1) »

Q. I know the offseason is a Poe novel. Dark and full of uncertainties...

Anyways, how do you see Aaron Holiday' s position come the opening game in 2019-2020? I hope he is the starting point guard. Thanks for your time. You're always making me feel better with your coverage of local sports in Indy.

— Jared

A. A Poe novel? Is that anything like a Hemingway poem? Kidding. I get your point.

Holiday's role next season will depend on what moves are made regarding point guards over the summer. Perhaps the Pacers will acquire a starting point guard via free agency or trade. Or, perhaps Darren Collison will be re-signed.

I often find myself comparing Holiday to Travis Best, who also was drafted with the 23rd pick (in 1995). Best was the third-string point guard as a rookie behind Mark Jackson and Haywood Workman, and then graduated to backup the following season. He was a backup most of his career, although he started 71 games in his seven seasons with the team.

Holiday had a slightly more productive rookie season than Best and showed hints of becoming a starting-caliber point guard. Like most rookies, though, he was erratic. After appearing like an overnight sensation when he scored 12 second-half points against Atlanta in the game in which Oladipo was first injured on Nov. 17 and following up with 19 points in 21 minutes against Utah in the next game, reality set in.

Reality wasn't all bad for him but he often struggled, as rookie guards tend to do. The bottom line of his season is that he averaged 5.9 points on 40 percent shooting, including 34 percent from 3-point range, and had an assist-to-turnover ratio barely better than 2-1.

That qualifies as a solid rookie performance, especially for the 23rd draft pick, and he'll obviously get better. He's a willing and able defender and looks like he should be a good shooter. He's more athletic than what I thought at first and obviously has bloodlines in his favor, given the basketball backgrounds of his parents, two older brothers and sister.

Right now he's the beneficiary of the "backup quarterback" syndrome, in which the guy not playing is viewed from a far more lenient perspective than a veteran starter. That's understandable because of the upside factor, but only time will tell how it pans out.

Q. Been a Pacers fan since their ABA days. Would love to see them dominate like they did back then! On the subject of Victor Oladipo and guard play, I noticed that Holiday didn't get much playing time this season until Oladipo went down, and it seemed that when his number was called, he rose to the occasion.

Would love to see the Pacers put him and VO on the court together next season. What say you?

— Robert

A. I think you'll see it more often next season. A lot can happen before then regarding personnel for the upcoming season, but it only stands to reason their paths will cross more often during games in Holiday's second season.

As a side note, it should be mentioned how fortunate the Pacers were to build those dominate ABA teams. Sometimes it seems they burned up about 50 years of good luck just getting the franchise off the ground. To get Roger Brown out of a factory in Dayton, to get Freddie Lewis off the Cincinnati Royals' bench, to get Mel Daniels for $100,000, to get Slick Leonard away from his job selling graduation supplies in Kokomo amounted to incredible good fortune.

They also benefited from the fact the ABA didn't have a draft based on records. The Pacers won the league title in 1970 but still signed Rick Mount out of Purdue just because they could. In a legit draft, Mount would have been long gone by the time the Pacers' pick came around. The same goes for signing George McGinnis the following year when the Pacers had the league's best regular season record. The ABA was always in survival mode, so if a team could sign a premier college player to keep him away from the NBA it was free to do so. The draft was just a formality.

Q. Can TJ Leaf be a starter in the NBA? Though I love (Thaddeus) Young's versatility, I feel his offense was a liability in playoffs. What does Leaf have to do to take the next step besides opportunity?

— James

A. I wrote an in-depth account of Leaf's season that was published on Tuesday, so thanks for the opportunity to plug that.

Young averaged 10.5 points in the playoff series with Boston, shooting 43 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range — numbers that were down from last season's series with Cleveland, when he might have been the Pacers' best overall performer. Whether or not Leaf could have done better we'll never know, as he only played for about 10 minutes in Game 1 against the Celtics.

Opportunity is indeed the greatest factor in Leaf's future development, but beyond that he needs to regain his 3-point shooting stroke. His accuracy plunged this past season, as my season review article details. Defense will always be a concern for him, but he should become adequate as he gains strength and experience.

TJ Leaf

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Q. I have talked to a few people about this but would like your thoughts. My belief is that passing on especially John Collins will come back to really hurt the Pacers. Collins would be a fringe All-Star who could plug and play in place of Young on a rookie contract, freeing up money to pursue higher caliber players in other areas, especially point guard.

Not sure what they didn't see in Collins and as little as Leaf has contributed could have waited on OG Anunoby, who wound up in Toronto not having to wait.

— Jimmy

A. I can't tell you what the front office thought of Collins before the 2017 NBA Draft, in which Collins was drafted one spot behind Leaf. It might turn out to be a mistake to have passed on Collins, but we'll have to see how it plays out.

Keep in mind, Collins joined a losing team and has had far greater opportunity so far. He's started 85 games for the Hawks and played a total of 3,614 minutes in two seasons. Leaf, who has played on winning teams that reached the playoffs, has started one game and played 981 minutes.

Leaf supporters could point to the final regular season game, when he and Collins went head-to-head, to make their case. Leaf, in his only career start, scored 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting and had 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. Collins finished with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and had 25 rebounds in 36 minutes.

That's only one game, but perhaps indicates their talent levels are more comparable than the stats would have them appear.

All I know for sure is that it's too soon to pass judgment on the 2017 draft. We can find a lot of examples throughout NBA history where a player's career started slowly but advanced rapidly. Jimmy Butler, for example, was the 30th pick in the 2011 draft, selected one spot after Cory Joseph. Butler averaged just 2.6 points as a rookie, but is now a four-time All-Star.

The cliché that you have to wait at least a few years to evaluate a draft is true. It's also true that you can go back on any team's draft and second-guess picks, particularly those in the latter half of the first round or in the second round.

Q. Now that the season is over, I have a general question about the NBA in general. When a player like Vic Oladipo goes down with an injury, who picks up the tab for his medical expenses? Then what about his salary? And how does a replacement's salary like Wesley Matthews work against the salary cap?

— Herbert

A. NBA teams pay for medical expenses, but get reimbursed a portion of them from the league if that player misses more than 41 games. Oladipo missed 46, so the Pacers will get some of those costs back. Oladipo chose to rehab in Miami rather than Indianapolis at the Pacers' facility, though, so it's possible he is picking up some of his expenses. That's something he would have had to work out with the Pacers.

Injured players receive their full salary while injured and rehabbing. The salary of a replacement player such as Matthews works against the cap. If signing such a player puts a team over the luxury tax threshold, the team has to pay that penalty. The Pacers didn't have to do so for Matthew, but that rule came into play when Paul George was injured and missed all but six games the following season. The Pacers received a disabled player exception for George but couldn't utilize it because it would have caused them to pay the luxury tax.

Q. Now that Bankers Life is done, any predictions on who will buy naming rights to the Fieldhouse?

— Clinton

A. None whatsoever, unfortunately. I haven't been privy to any of those conversations. But "Reborn Fieldhouse" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

(If that doesn't make sense, check out the title of my book on the formation and early seasons of the Pacers.)

Q. Is there room on the coaching staff to add an offensive minded creative guy like former Suns coach Igor Kokoškov? Would they have to let someone go? Is this even a move Pacers would consider?

— David

A. NBA teams can have as many assistant coaches as they want, but only three can sit on the bench with the head coach. The others have to sit behind the bench or elsewhere.

I can't speak to the job status of the Pacers' three primary assistants — Dan Burke, Popeye Jones, and Bill Bayno — but have no reason to believe they won't be retained. I'm confident Kokoškov will re-emerge somewhere, perhaps as a head coach.

Q. Free Agency begins on July 1, however, every year we hear of players signing at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

Obviously, teams would have to have been in contact with the player and his agent prior to July.

When can teams start contacting free agent players and their agents? I always thought it was July 1, but that obviously is not correct.

— Bruce

A. It's more correct than you probably think. Teams often contact players at 12:01, but they don't often agree to contracts immediately. There are certainly occasions when a team knows it wants to offer a max deal to one of its own free agents or from another team and makes that call. Or, a team can work up an offer in advance of July 1 without talking to a player or his agent and then present it at the midnight hour.

It would be naïve to think officials from no NBA team ever converse with an agent before July 1, but a Pacers executive assures me they follow the letter of the law. Besides, it's unlikely a team gains an advantage by placing those 12:01 calls. Players are going to want to weigh all offers and have time to think about how they would fit into a particular situation before making a decision.

Q. McDermott rode the pine the entire fourth game (of the playoff series against Boston). Has he been a disappointment? More of a defensive liability than anticipated?

— Bill

A. I was surprised to see that, personally. McDermott wound up playing in just three playoff games, for a total of 29 minutes. He only played five minutes in Game 3. Overall he hit just 2-of-10 field goal attempts and missed all seven 3-pointers, so obviously McMillan wasn't feeling confident enough in McDermott to play him in Game 4.

I'll be writing more in-depth on him soon in our player reviews, but I don't consider McDermott to have had a disappointing season. It felt that way given the feedback of most fans, but the stats don't tell that story. He hit 49 percent of his field goal attempts and 41 percent of his 3-pointers. He had the best scoring average of his career on a per-minute basis, as well as the best field goal percentage.

I didn't consider him a defensive liability during the regular season. He wasn't a standout, but I thought he did a good job of staying in front of his man and contesting shots.

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 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.

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.

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