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Mark's Mailbag: Goga's Place in Rotation, Free Agency

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. I love the work Pritchard, Buchanan, and staff have done; the players we brought in are young, hard-working, team players. My question is, if Mr. Simon does not make a call to Milwaukee and Brogdon is not brought in, who is running the point?

Couple more questions, do you think Goga will push for major rotation minutes?

What bench player from last year's team finds their way to meaningful stats and minutes?

Last question, I swear. When it comes to our players' training staff and team doctors, I know the Pacers have the very best. Will they be able to keep Warren and Brogdon healthy for an entire season? I hope so.

Thanks for reading my questions. Keep up the great journalism. I promise I'll keep asking questions.

-Jared

A. I haven't been asked this many questions by anyone since that time I came home at 5 a.m. after the high school graduation party. But I appreciate your interest, so here goes:

If Brogdon had not been obtainable, all indications are that Ricky Rubio would have been signed. Those reports were legit, and the Pacers would have been comfortable with that. I know fans on social media did not seem excited about Rubio, but he is regarded as a genuine quarterbacking point guard. The Pacers haven't had one of those since, when? Jamaal Tinsley? Mark Jackson? They have had good point guards such as George Hill and Darren Collison, but they were steady players who were smart, shot well and didn't turn the ball over. Rubio doesn't shoot well from the perimeter, but is a dynamic, high-volume assist-maker and a solid defender. Not that any of that matters now.

Bitadze, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will rotate between the "four" and "five" positions, so there are plenty of minutes to go around for all three. Kevin Pritchard has stated clearly his expectation that Bitadze will be in the rotation. I don't expect Bitadze to have a role such as Kyle O'Quinn last season, when O'Quinn played in 45 games and for an average of 8.2 minutes; he'll play more. Sabonis starting at "four" creates a greater need for a backup big man.

Right now, TJ Leaf has the best chance of getting more minutes. Heading into his third season, it seems time for that to happen. He's played well enough to have earned a shot, and the team needs to find out what he can offer when fed a steady diet of opportunity. He appears to be putting in a dedicated summer, but we'll have to see. I've stated from the beginning he will become a rotation player in the league, so perhaps this is the season we find out. I do believe it's too early to give up on him, as some fans seem to have done. He's a two-year vet, but he's also just 22 years old.

The Pacers do indeed have a highly-regarded training staff, but nobody can predict a player's odds of getting through a season without a major injury. So much of it is fate. You can train well and have a great medical team behind you, but if somebody lands on your foot or puts an elbow in your eye, you're going to miss some games. Warren and Brogdon both have had injury issues the past couple of seasons, but that's not necessarily a reflection of the training staffs of their former teams.

Q. Turner and Sabonis are both just 23 years old, talented with unique strengths, high character teammates, and hard working on/off the court. The value in each is too strong to dismiss. And most importantly, both want to play in Indiana - which can't be emphasized enough for this small market franchise. Why is the media narrative that one should be traded? So first-blush statistics say the combination has struggled. Isn't it incumbent upon Nate to get the most out of this starting combination? When it comes to team building, the NBA is more AAU than ever and the Pacers will never win that free agent destination game. If you have a talented player who wants to be in Indiana, figure out a way to make your system work before trading it all away.

-Steve

A. It's weird to me that people assumed Turner or Sabonis would have to be traded once Bitadze was drafted. Perhaps something will have to be done down the road if Bitadze developed into a starting caliber center, but for now the Pacers need all three guys.

I think it's incumbent on a lot of people to make the Turner-Sabonis combo platter digestible. Starting with Turner and Sabonis. I believe Turner needs to add scoring weapons in the low post and Sabonis has to do whatever he can to be able to defend on the perimeter. He'll struggle against smaller "fours" but he'll have Turner backing him up at the rim, and theoretically those smaller fours will struggle to guard him in the low post.

Coaching will be part of the equation as well, and the other players on the court will have a role in how effective Turner and Sabonis can be together. They want to play together, so that's a good start.

I believe the notion that star players don't want to come to Indiana, or stay in Indiana, gets overblown. If the team is good and the opportunity and salary are suitable, the vast majority would be happy here. The Lakers have always had an advantage in that regard, dating back to Wilt Chamberlain. But Leonard and Paul George didn't go to the Clippers to be in a big market as much as they wanted to live in L.A., near where they grew up.

Q. Does T.J. Warren have a similar offensive repertoire to Danny Granger? I haven't seen much of him.

-James

A. Nor have I. I've only seen him play when the Suns played the Pacers, and that encompasses just eight games. I looked up his stats in those games, and he's averaged just 8.5 points against the Pacers, fewer than against any other NBA team. I consider that a coincidence as much as anything.

I believe Warren is a little more agile and versatile than Granger. Here's a collection of highlights from one game last season that supports that opinion, I believe. Warren has a knack for making slightly off-balance shots and he's become a very good shooter. He hit 49 percent of his field goals last season and put in a dedicated off-season to lift his 3-point percentage to 43. Granger never achieved either of those percentages in his career.

Q. Seems to me that Brogdon is very similar to Collison - 50/40/90, doesn't need the ball, good motor, decent defender. Could be a long term solution at point guard. Your thoughts?

-Anthony

A. I agree. Collison paired well with Oladipo because he didn't have to have the ball to be effective. It seems Brogdon will be similar, but he's younger, bigger and stronger than Collison, and has more ways to score. Collison was an underrated leader, a quiet one. Brogdon looks as though he'll be a more outspoken leader. With Thad Young gone, that's probably a good thing.

Malcolm Brogdon

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Q. I know that everyone is anxious to see Victor. Do you think he will sit with the team when the new season begins?

-Francie

A. I do. He wasn't healthy enough to do so last season until the playoffs, but it shouldn't be a problem next season before he can play again. He might sit behind the scorer's table near the bench, as some players have done, as a precaution.

Q. Who picked the roster for the summer league team? Is there a reason there weren't any true centers? I noticed the Mad Ants didn't have much height last season either. Does Gansey not like big men?

-Chili Knight

A. I can't tell you what all went into assembling the summer league roster, or if an effort was made to bring in more true centers. They're pretty hard to find, as you know, so that would be a partial explanation.

Steve Gansey is fine with centers, I'm sure. He coaches what he's given to work with. But the G League is a smaller, fast-paced league, so a center isn't going to fit in there unless he has legitimate NBA potential. The Pacers wanted to play an up-tempo style in summer league, so it wasn't going to do them any good to bring in a plodding center who has no chance to make it in the league.

Q. Do the new additions complement McDermott better?

-James

A. Interesting question. People have kind of forgotten about McDermott, it seems.

He shot nearly 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range last season, so he's still needed. He doesn't create shots for himself that often, so he needs to be part of a highly-functioning offense.

Rick Carlisle established a template for how to do it in McDermott's partial season in Dallas, as you can see in the highlights. McDermott is most effective as a shooter in transition, so the Pacers need to run more often than in the past to get him shots. That, of course, begins with defense and rebounding. He moves well without the ball, perhaps better than anyone on the team, so needs to be with teammates who pass well. He didn't really have that benefit with the second unit last season, other than Sabonis.

Q. Do you see Goga and Turner sharing the court at all? Two shot-blockers who can also do a decent job guarding perimeter might be interesting

-David

A. I can see it. It will be interesting to see who sits first when Bitadze plays – Turner or Sabonis. It probably will depend on matchups and the like. Both Turner and Sabonis are capable of playing the "four" position in certain matchups, so perhaps it won't matter that much.

Actually, I think we're headed for a positionless big man rotation among the Pacers, with three 6-11 players who have the versatility to play both inside and out, especially if Turner can improve his post-up skills. Their job description will hinge on the matchups.

Q. How confident are you with the projected starting 5 to become a top 10 defensive unit?

-WineSherpa1

A. As confident as I am that I won't break par the next time I play golf. Well, maybe not that confident. The defense should be strong, though.

Consider that last season the Pacers led the NBA in allowing the fewest points, although that stat obviously reflects their slower offensive pace as well as their good defense. They ranked third in defensive rating, which measures on a per-100-possessions basis.

This starting five can be better defensively, at least after Oladipo returns. Replacing Thad Young with Sabonis is potentially troublesome, but overall the potential is there. Brogdon was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year his senior season at Virginia, and has been very good in the NBA. Oladipo was a first-team, all-defensive selection two seasons ago. Turner led the league in blocked shots last season. T.J. Warren has not been regarded as a strong defender, but is athletic enough to be solid, at least. Perhaps he'll be like Bojan Bogdanovic – who was regarded as a poor defender before coming to the Pacers - in that he'll play it when it's demanded of him.

That leaves Sabonis. If he can hold down his position adequately, and if the Pacers can cover for him well enough by giving help, they should be top 10.

Q. Edmond Sumner. What's happened? I expected (and know he can) him to dominate Summer League. First time I've been worried about him.

-Nick

A. Injuries continue to be an issue with Sumner. He has the rest of the summer to get healthy, so we'll have to see what shakes down in training camp.

Q. Starting line up in their opener?

-Tom

A. Brogdon, Lamb, Warren, Sabonis and Turner. Barring injury, of course. Oladipo replaces Lamb when he's ready to play again.

Q. How confident are you that TJ Leaf will see rotational minutes night-in-and-night-out?

-Josh

A. I referred to Leaf in an earlier answer, but I expect him to get more playing time next season. You never know what can happen with a trade of some sort, but he seems in line for more opportunities.

Last season's final game in Atlanta, when he scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 34 minutes, offered a glimpse, I think. Atlanta was a weak team, but played its starting lineup that night, so it was a legit NBA game. If Leaf can restore his 3-point shooting, which mysteriously abandoned him last season, he can be a factor. He's a quick jumper and has great instincts around the basket.

Q. With current additions/subtractions, any idea if style of play will be impacted?

-Jason

A. Nate McMillan still wants to play at a faster tempo. The Sabonis-for-Young sub might hinder that somewhat, but if the Pacers are a better defensive team, as discussed earlier, and if they become a better rebounding team, as they should, that will enable a faster tempo.


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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