Mark's Mailbag: Preseason Edition

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by Mark Montieth |

October 21, 2013

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Q. Hi Mark. I really enjoyed your article on Oct. 15th regarding the state of the Pacers. That being said, I sense the Pacers are in big trouble. After a monumental battle with the Heat last year, the momentum should have carried over into (training camp). Conversely, the team has been disjointed and lackadaisical on both sides of the ball.

With a flux of new players, it is important for the defense to carry the team early on in the season, yet they have shown a lack of a killer instinct. The global trip has made it more difficult in terms of limited practices and different time zones for team adjustments. The team is not rebounding or defending with any consistency, while the offense is struggling with protecting the ball with George Hill still looking tentative as a point guard in running the offense efficiently.

Camp is all about building chemistry and rhythm, but it appears the players did not come to camp with the right mindset. You can't just turn it on and off like a light switch because that is a recipe for disaster. Its almost a necessity that the Pacers have to win the division to advance to the finals because getting the third seed this year means you most likely would have to beat both the Bulls and Heat on the road in back to back series, which is a daunting task.

My gut feeling is the Pacers are going to start the season slowly, particularly playing seven games in the first 11 nights, with three back-to-backs and four games in a five-day stretch. The lack of a killer instinct entering camp and the global trip undermining their ability to build team chemistry will come back to haunt the Pacers in the big picture.

- James

A. You make some valid points. The team has shown a lack of urgency at times in the preseason, but then that's true of most teams – in all sports. The preseason isn't the time for killer instinct. It's the time for experimenting, giving exposure to players who don't get much opportunity in the “real” games and keeping the proven veterans from getting hurt. During this time, practices are more important than the games.

Still, it has seemed at times like the team has a false sense of security. It finished last season well, taking Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but that's both ancient history and meaningless now. It's difficult to judge too harshly, though, given the bizarre preseason schedule that has them playing home games on the other side of the planet. Jet lag is a legitimate issue, and the Pacers have been dealing with it since leaving for The Philippines. That doesn't excuse all of their preseason shortcomings, though. Other teams have traveled overseas, other teams have had injuries and other teams have experimented with lineups – but they didn't start 0-5 as the Pacers did.

I don't think chemistry among the starters will be too great a problem. If Lance Stephenson starts, it shouldn't take that group long to regain its groove from the end of last season. If Danny Granger starts there probably would be more of a break-in period, but he has some familiarity with the others. The reserves could be a different story, however. Frank Vogel will treat the final two preseason games like regular season rehearsals, so they will be telling.

A slow start is a possibility given the nature of the preseason and early-season schedule, but six of the first nine games are at home, and four of those home games are against teams not likely to make the playoffs – Orlando, Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee. They shouldn't lose those games. (Small correction, by the way: they play seven games in the season's first 12 days, not 11.)

Besides, some of the Pacers' better teams had slow starts. Larry Brown's first team started 1-6 but won 47 games and reached Game 7 of the conference finals. Larry Bird's first team started 2-5 but won 56 games and also reached the seventh game of the conference finals. Last season's team, remember, started 10-11. Still, November games count as much as April games in the standings, and the Pacers need homecourt advantage for as long as they can get it. I say that despite being fully aware of the fact their greatest playoff moments have come on the road, including all three of their ABA championship-clinching victories.

Your point about rebounding is certainly valid. The Pacers were outrebounded in five of their first six games, three times by double-figure margins. They were the NBA's best rebounding team last season, so that supports the lack of urgency argument.

Q. I have been watching preseason basketball and I will cut Indy some slack because it's the preseason, but I am disappointed because they have made structural basic mistakes that I know they will pay for dearly this season. I know basketball sets and plays change every season, but it seems like all the teams are (copying) the style of play of the Miami Heat because the teams and owners want to compete for a championship. You don't have traditional roles for centers, forwards and power forwards; everything is a point-this and point-that.

I see a huge talent gap in Indiana's post offense. You can only ride West and Hibbert but so long. They don't have a viable power forward because they traded Tyler Hansbrough and Miles Plumlee. You have to have a strong post presence to win games. Players like Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, even Kevin Duckworth, made these teams contenders every year on a consistent basis. Your center's job is to protect the rim, the forward's job is to protect the post and the perimeter. How can you do that effectively when these positions are guarding shooters because of a new defensive set where none of these positions is stationary or orbiting their respective area?

I see a problem with Solomon Hill as the backup center. I know Larry (Bird) knows what he is doing, so hopefully he will adjust the roster as time goes on, because I see a recipe for losing … big time.

- Major

A. I disagree with your premise. The Pacers are one of the more traditionally structured teams in the league. Roy Hibbert is primarily a post-up center. David West has both a mid-range and post-up game. Lance Stephenson is capable of posting up when matched up against smaller players. Among the backups, Luis Scola is much like West, a power forward with both a post-up and midrange game. Those two, in fact, could put on clinics for post play. They have a variety of moves, and can use either hand around the basket.

Defensively, you have to guard your man so it's sometimes necessary to step away from the basket. You can't control what the offense will do. Hibbert, however, is one of the best rim protectors in the league. And, the Pacers will play some zone defense this season. As for Solomon Hill, don't worry. He'll never play backup center, unless the opponent goes small – like, microscopic small.

Q. Are you as concerned as I am that while Coach Vogel is experimenting with different lineup rotations during the preseason with so many new faces on this roster that there will be no continuity with our bench heading into the regular season? It seems to me the sooner a lineup rotation is settled on the better. Then the guys can get familiar with playing together and can hit the ground running when season begins.

- Jimmy

A. Bench continuity could be an issue early in the season. That's to be expected, with so many new faces. The final two preseason games should be telling, as Vogel will treat them like dress rehearsals. Still, there's bound to be some experimenting, and different players will emerge over the course of the season. If the bench turns out to be as deep as the Pacers hope, Vogel likely will use different players, based on the opponent. He's also likely to keep a couple of starters on the floor at all times, so the reserves will have to fit with them. I don't think you'll see five bench players on the floor together, at least early in the season, nor do I believe you'll see a consistent eight- or nine-man rotation.

Q. What's going on with the Pacers sloppy performance in preseason so far? Their offense needs better shot selection and less three-point attempts!!

- Christopher

A. You wrote before the win at Cleveland and the game prior to that, a loss at Chicago, so your concerns have likely been muted. The offense has gradually improved throughout the preseason. I wouldn't worry too much about 3-point shooting. They've been inconsistent so far in the preseason, but seem to have capable shooters. They hit just 10-of-37 3-point attempts in the first two preseason games, but 28-of-64 in the next three. They hit just 6-of-26 in the win at Cleveland. It's been somewhat deceiving, because Roy Hibbert has not played extensively in most games. The more he plays, the fewer three-point shots they'll take. At least you would like to think that's the case.

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