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Mark's Mailbag: Taking an Early Look at the Rotation

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. With the signing of Malcolm Brogdon on a four-year deal, does that move Holiday strictly to the backup point guard spot? I would like to see Holiday at the point and Brogdon at the two rather than Lamb. It would be a smaller lineup but I really think Holiday would flourish in a starting role for part of the season.

Also, do you see Alize Johnson becoming a part of the bench full-time this year? I believe he would also stand to benefit immensely from more NBA minutes, even though he is still a very raw talent. Reminds me of Dennis Rodman a little.

— Silas

A. It's possible Brogdon can slide over to a "two" position at times, especially before Victor Oladipo returns. Anyone who's a member of the 50/40/90 club, which Brogdon joined last season, qualifies for that role and he filled it often in Milwaukee when Eric Bledsoe ran the point. Brogdon said at his introductory press conference that he considers point guard his best position, but there's no reason two ballhandlers can't play together, especially if they also can shoot.

Brogdon playing off the ball could move Holiday up in the rotation, but I wouldn't worry about whether he gets to hear his name called before the game starts; the important thing for him is to get more minutes. But don't forget, there will be other options at point guard. Edmond Sumner will contend for it and there's still the possibility of other guards being added to the roster.

As for Johnson, I think there's a good chance he'll spend more of the season with the Pacers than last year, when he played in 14 games for a total of 64 minutes. But there are veterans ahead of him in the bench rotation, regardless of which forward spot he plays — TJ Leaf and Doug McDermott. He, more than anyone, showed promise in Summer League play, and if he can continue to improve his shooting he has a chance to make it in the NBA.

Rodman? I guess, given Johnson's rebounding, aggressiveness, ability to run the floor, and questionable perimeter shooting. But come on, shouldn't he remind you of Jimmy Butler? I wrote about their uncanny resemblance last summer. Butler is a four-time All-Star, so the Pacers won't mind at all if Johnson can begin to resemble him on the court.

Q. Brogdon looks more like a shooting guard than a point guard with his splits. Although Collison wasn't a high-assist guy last season, wouldn't it make more sense for Oladipo to man the point next season? Last season he saw the Pacers were better off when he wasn't taking 25 shots a game, but rather getting his teammates involved. With Brogdon, Lamb, Warren, McDermott, and Leaf, that's a lot of shooters who require some form of ball movement.

Also, Warren reminds me of a younger Sam Perkins.

— Jase

A. I just don't see Oladipo as a point guard. Not as the point guard, anyway. He likes to have the ball in his hands and can make plays, but he doesn't have a point guard's mentality. Brogdon does. He's more attuned than Oladipo to creating for others, and he's slightly less prone to turnovers.

I agree there are several shooters on the roster who will need ball movement to be effective, but I believe Brogdon is better suited to facilitating that system. Oladipo did seem to learn last season that the team wins more when he shoots less — they were 16-3 when he took 15 shots or fewer — but that doesn't make him a point guard. I think he'll always be a scorer first and foremost, and Brogdon seems eager to help him do that. As opposed to Oladipo being eager to facilitate for Brogdon.

Here's a link to a highlight reel that might make you feel better about Brogdon playing point guard. Bottom line, though, when the two of them are together in the backcourt, the traditional 1-2 designation can largely be ignored. They should be able to play off one another once they become better acquainted. It was encouraging that they got together in Las Vegas to work out.

Warren reminds you of Sam Perkins? I'm not sure about that one, but it's worth checking out the young version of Perkins, before he was Big Smooth, as shown here when he played for Dallas. That clip is worth watching simply as a reminder of what Perkins was, as opposed to what he became at the end of his career with the Pacers. I've never seen a player reinvent himself as his body aged as well as Perkins did.

Q. A couple questions here.

First off, how do you see the bench holding up being pretty young and inexperienced? Assuming Vic gets healthy I'll take our 1-6 to compete with most teams. How do you see 7-9 holding up, especially in the playoffs when veterans seem to be important?

Thinking of playoff success, or even championship aspirations as a fan, is there a past team (Pacers or other franchise) that you think this team can be compared to that was successful? Potentially six guys who can average around 15 and very unselfish team and leadership. Focus on defense but very capable offensively. Young and maybe a little bit hungry.

— Caleb

A. When all are healthy, the starters likely will be Oladipo, Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis. At least early in the season. If the Turner-Sabonis experiment doesn't work out as hoped, changes will be made. I'm not sure who you see as the sixth man, but let's go with Lamb, who will start early in the season and is a seven-season veteran who averaged a career-high 15 points last season.

After that, it's obvious Goga Bitadze will get rotation minutes as the only backup "big." Leaf and McDermott also appear in line for the rotation, along with Holiday. The success of that group will depend on Leaf showing continued improvement, McDermott being utilized to his advantage and Holiday (or perhaps Sumner or someone else) being able to step in and contribute as well.

It's difficult to predict how Bitadze, Holiday, and Leaf will perform next season. They all have shown potential, but lack experience. Most likely, patience will be required. Their success will have a lot to do with the strength of the bench.

As for comparisons to previous teams, I suppose the idealistic one would be to the Detroit Pistons collection that won the championship in 2004 and reached the NBA Finals in 2005. They did so with balance — five starters averaging between 9.5 and 17.6 points in the championship season.

Certainly all five projected Pacers starters next season are capable of a double-figure scoring average. Brogdon and Oladipo are very good defenders and Turner is an elite shot-blocker, so the defense should be credible as well. While other teams have an elite twosome, the Pacers are going to try to do it with a very solid fivesome. There are advantages to that. An injury to one of the two superstars can wipe out a team, for example, while a balanced team might be able to withstand the loss of a player.

Q. I thought when the Pacers were sitting with the 32 pick and Carsen Edwards was still on the board...they'd take him. He's shot almost 70 percent in summer league, good enough for the Celtics to give him a contract. I think we missed the boat on a hot-shooting backup 1-2. Time will tell, but with our lack of scoring, why would we not make that pick?

— Ron

A. The Pacers acquired the 32nd overall pick from Phoenix along with Warren, but passed it on to Miami on draft night in exchange for three future second-round picks. Two of those were sent to Milwaukee in the trade for Brogdon. So, the Pacers really weren't in position to draft Edwards, although they could have not done the deal with Miami and kept the 32nd pick. Kevin Pritchard believes second-round picks have value and wanted to accumulate assets, and if they were necessary to make the deal for Brogdon then it was a good investment.

I get your point, however. I don't know exactly what the Pacers front office thought of Edwards. He worked out for them prior to the draft, but that's only a small percentage of evaluating a player ahead of the draft.

I've thought all along that Edwards will be a solid NBA player — not necessarily a starter, but a rotation player in time. His performance in Summer League, in which he averaged nearly 20 points and hit 47 percent of his 3-point shots, inspired Boston to sign him to a guaranteed contract.

If Edwards can balance his offensive game and be a better facilitator, he could have a long career. He's quick, aggressive, confident, and can deal with physical play. But if he's going to try to get by as a 6-foot shooting guard who just fires up 3-pointers, it could become problematic. He's capable of passing well, so it's mostly a matter of his mindset.

Keep in mind, as I wrote last week, Summer League isn't always a predictor of regular season success. It's not unusual for someone to excel in the playground-like atmosphere of summer league but disappear in the NBA. Take, for example, Anthony Frederick, who is the Pacers' record-holder for single game scoring in Summer League play with 40. I'm willing to bet you've never heard of him. He wound up averaging 3.3 points in the 1988-89 season and never played for the Pacers after that.

I think Edwards will have a better fate than that, but it will be interesting to see how it turns out. He's a unique player, but he's going to be dealing with taller and equally athletic players in the NBA.

Q. Aaron Holiday is a great young asset who will presumably be the point guard of our second unit. How much do you think his ability to create his own shot is going to help the second unit this year?

— Jake

A. Shot creation is always a great asset. The 24-second shot clock requires that offenses have that kind of player, because 24 seconds can go by quickly when the opponent is playing good defense or a ball gets bobbled and has to be recovered.

I think the most important thing for Holiday, though, is to focus on facilitation. He took more shots on a per-minute basis than anyone on the roster except Oladipo and Tyreke Evans last season, and about the same as Bojan Bogdanovic. He only shot 40 percent, though, so that doesn't justify high shot volume. He'll have shooters around him when playing with the second unit, so he shouldn't become too ball dominant.

Q. There's been a lot of roster churn. How long does it usually take to mesh?

— Scott

A. It's difficult to pinpoint, but it usually takes a while. We all know the importance of chemistry in basketball, and it doesn't happen overnight — or, over a week or two. With four new projected starters until Oladipo comes back, the team can expect some rough patches early on.

A coaching change often has the same disorienting effect. The Pacers started 1-6 in Larry Brown's first season (1993-94) but won 47 games and reached the conference finals. They started 2-5 in Larry Bird's first season (1997-98) but won 58 games and reached the conference finals. Then again, they started 5-2 under Isiah Thomas and won 41 games and started 3-0 under Jim O'Brien and won 36.

The schedule could be a factor as well. If it's frontloaded with home games against weaker teams, that would help the won-loss record. But one could go the other way and argue it would be better to play road games against elite teams early — games you might lose anyway — and save the "easier" games for later in the season after chemistry has improved.

Q. What is your concern with the Pacers' second unit until Victor comes back? Also, will there be any more signings and what do you think we still need?

— Tyler

A. Before Oladipo's return and with Jeremy Lamb in the starting lineup, the bench will consist of Holiday, Sumner, Leaf, McDermott, Bitadze, and Alize Johnson — with another possible addition or two.

On the whole, that group lacks experience, other than McDermott and perhaps any other veteran added to the roster. Consider that last season's bench by comparison included the likes of Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans, and Kyle O'Quinn, all of whom had been in the league for at least six seasons, as well as Sabonis, a proven player in his third season.

It also could struggle to rebound. Bitadze, though, looks to be a physical presence and he'll play with Turner or Sabonis at times. Starters and reserves are usually mixed once the first substitutions are made, so the "bench" shouldn't be judged strictly as a self-contained unit.

There's room and money left for additions, and one in particular has been reported, but at this point a team is likely to be patient and selective. Opportunities always come up during the season and it's often good to have the flexibility to add to the roster count. As for need, a wing defender could be awfully handy.

Q. I know that the Pacers only won one game in Summer League, but I did see promise. I was wondering, does DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell have a chance of landing a spot on the Mad Ants? I thought he played well. Solid D, and smooth transition play. His offense was solid, too.

— Anonymous

A. Akoon-Purcell finished Summer League well, with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists in the final game. He had a two-way contract with Denver last season and played well overseas, so it would not be surprising at all to see him on the Mad Ants' roster next season.

Q. What does the second unit look like with and without Oladipo on the team? Aaron Holiday surely deserves quality minutes, but could another addition at point guard hinder his chance?

— Sean

Q. Is Aaron Holiday clearly the second point guard on the depth chart, or will there be a competition for the backup spot?

— JBarrett

A. The possible acquisition of an experienced point guard has raised questions about Holiday's role, understandably. Holiday could have to battle for a place in the rotation. Over the course of the season, though, he should get opportunities. You can't have enough capable reserves who are willing to fill that role because injuries will always be a factor, so I suspect Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan are willing to see how it plays out. But, again, Edmond Sumner could be in the mix as well.


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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