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Mark's Mailbag: GR3's Role, Depth All Around

Q. Who is the odd man out in the McMillan now-10-man rotation: Brooks, Robinson, or Miles? I really like the ball in Stuckey's hands. Robinson has been available and played consistent. Brooks and Miles are streaky shooters and have been hurt. Could a Stuckey, Robinson, Miles, Allen, Jefferson lineup work?

-James

A. It could, although there's not a true point guard in that lineup. Stuckey has played the positions, but he's not a playmaker by nature. He can drive to the basket and draw fouls, but frequently fails to finish. (That's an example of alliteration for you non-English majors).

I expect Brooks will get a shot at backup point guard. He's only played in two preseason games, so he really hasn't been given a chance to show anything yet. He turned down better financial offers to sign with the Pacers, so I'm guessing they'll want to give him a fair shot.

I asked Nate McMillan what happens when Miles returns, and he's taking a wait-and-see attitude – which is understandable. There's no point in making that decision now. I'm guessing Miles and Robinson both will play off the bench when McMillan wants to go smaller, and one of them will have to sit out when he plays Allen in a bigger lineup.

But we all know there will be injuries throughout the season, which will open opportunities for them both, as well as others.

Q. I have read Coach McMillan's public comments about depth and rotations. Based on your observations at camp, do you anticipate either Joe Young or Georges Niang getting meaningful minutes? They are very dissimilar as players, but both could have beneficial attributes in the new system.

-Kit

A. I think Niang and Young will have to rely on injuries to get playing time other than blowout minutes. They are capable of contributing, but are in line behind more established players at the moment. I think both will accept that this season. Young has worked hard and is anxious to play, but told me in training camp he'll maintain a good attitude if he's not in the rotation. As a rookie who was drafted in the second round, Niang has no choice but to accept whatever role is assigned to him.

Q. I have three questions:

(1)You have said a few times you believe there will be a trade that takes place to absorb the extra guaranteed contracts that the Pacers have? Do you still believe that will happen?

(2) I don't know about everyone else, but I feel the Pacers have incredible depth this year. But not only just depth, but adept and talented young players such as Joe Young, Glenn Robinson III, and Georges Niang. And the feeling we are getting as fans is that these guys will not get much of a shot to compete this year because of the depth and experience even the second unit has. Do you think Paul George's contract uncertainty is forcing Bird and McMillan's hand to play the veterans and compete in the short-term; as opposed to playing these young guys which possibly would be better for the future Pacers?

(3) I don't know how much information or coaches-to-Bird conversations you are privy to, but do you know if there is discussion of playing GRIII as a shooting guard instead of Ellis? Clearly his athleticism, defensive prowess, ability to play without the ball, and improved ability to shoot the three would bring about a different dynamic that could serve our starting unit well. I'm sure my imagination runs away with me at that thought but is this even a consideration or just a pipe dream of mine?

-Landon

A. You're putting me to work, Landon! That's OK, I'm paid by the word. (I wish.)

(1) It's not looking likely at the moment, is it? I thought the Pacers were congested in some areas and might benefit from a two-for-one or three-for-one deal. I often find myself feeling that way, however, because they usually have good depth. It looks now like they'll eat a contract and go with the current group at the start of the season. Obviously, a trade could come after they get a better look at what they have, but you can't always count on another team to make a deal you like.

(2) I agree the Pacers have good depth, and some promising or established players are going to have to play (rarely) from outside the rotation. But it doesn't have anything to do with Paul George's contract situation. They're simply going to try to win as many games as possible, as they always do. They are in a win-now mode, rather than trying to develop young players.

(3) I am privy to exactly zero conversations between Bird and the coaching staff, but if they ever would like for me to sit in on one, I'd be happy to do so. I've also thought about playing Robinson at the "two" spot, and could see it happening – especially if there's an injury to Ellis or Stuckey. If he can continue to develop and establish himself as a perimeter shooter, he could be a force at that position.

Q. I know Bird had wanted a team with multiple scorers & versatility even before hiring Vogel. He's been aiming at this since he drafted players like Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender or even picks like Shawne Williams. Do you think he is near to his vision? I can't remember the last time the Pacers had 5 offensive creators in a starting lineup, do you?

-Francisco

A. Yes, I think this is the sort of team Bird likes. A team that can score against anyone, and will play good enough defense to take advantage of that scoring.

Bird wants to win more than anything, however, and is fine with a slower style of play if that's called for. He was certainly OK with the teams that reached the conference finals three and four years ago. David West's decision to opt out of his contract led Bird to favor a different approach, however.

Bird also was OK with Vogel's decision to put Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi in the starting lineup last season after the early small-ball approach was curtailed by injuries to C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey. The team's current approach, however, is more in sync with the rest of the league, and certainly with the talent on the roster. Back-to-the-basket centers are increasingly rare, so spreading the court and opening up the lane for penetration only makes sense.

Q. What ex-Pacer does Thad Young remind you of? I think a little bit of Derrick McKey, Thad is not that good at defense, but both could do many things.

-Francisco

A. That's not a bad comparison. Both McKey and Young were/are versatile players.

He reminds me of West somewhat, although Young is quicker on the perimeter and West was stronger around the basket. But Young's strong mid-range game and overall maturity are reminiscent of West's game with the Pacers.

We can start thinking of other comparisons if Young becomes a 3-point threat this season. He'll have opportunities to shoot it, and has hit 43 percent of his attempts heading into the final preseason game at Milwaukee. I don't expect him to keep that up through the regular season, but perhaps he can shoot 35 percent or better.

Q. Is there cause for pause with last night's outing (in Orlando) and the defensive lapses that occur, or is it just preseason?

-Kevin

A. McMillan is concerned, but acknowledges that fact his players have had "dead legs" throughout the preseason games because he's stayed in training camp mode. McMillan is mostly concerned with his players' tendency to foul because they aren't in position and have to reach.

Paul George cited lack of effort on defense, but also brought up the conditioning issue.

I think they'll be a decent defensive team over the course of the season. They have adequate quickness, and it will remain a priority for McMillan and Dan Burke. The first day of training camp was devoted to defense, and they won't stray far from it.

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Some mailbag questions have been edited for length and clarity.