Mark's Mailbag: Wrapping Up the Season and Looking Ahead
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Editor's Note: Some Mailbag questions have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. The Sabonis-Turner dynamic seems to be the most interesting future question for the Pacers and I would love your thoughts.
It seems as if Turner regressed this season, or at least did not progress as much as Pacer fans might have hoped. Meanwhile Sabonis did everything that was expected of him and then some.
Given the recent reluctance of true big men — see Whiteside in Miami — to be focal points in today's NBA, would the Pacers be better off committing to Sabonis at the 5? Or should maybe Turner's usage be adjusted so he finds his best role?
I think having both of them on the floor would be great if they can settle into roles that maximize their abilities. But if I have to choose one, at this point it is Sabonis.
A. My story on this issue was posted on Thursday, so hopefully it answers your questions. The ideal scenario seems to be to have them play together, but each player would need to show some improvement for that to work, and defensive matchups could be a problem even if they do.
Q. I just need to know. I'm really not trying to sound like a "the refs cost us the series, and the team deserves no blame" fan, but I need to ask: Will the team (Pritchard, McMillan) complain to the NBA office after this series?
I mean it's seriously ridiculous. We have come up on the short end of the whistle for years now, especially when we play against LeBron. He committed a free throw violation on every single one of his attempts, but the refs never called it once. But Lance got called for a free throw violation in Game 1 or 2. LeBron grabbed Bogey in Game 7, then went flying 10 feet like he'd been hit by a missile, and they call the foul on Bogey. The obvious goaltend that the refs didn't call in Game 5. The technical fouls on Lance that were only called because of his reputation. The technical on Collison in Game 7 was laughable. LeBron would never be called for that.
I mean, there are so many examples of this. As a fan, I don't think it's right. The team needs to let it be known to Adam Silver and the higher-ups that this should not be tolerated. So, I just wanted to know if anyone in the organization would say anything.
A. I really don't know if an official complaint will be filed, and I doubt Kevin Pritchard or anyone else would say so if true. It would look like sour grapes, and not help their case any. Those things are better dealt with privately.
I understand the fans' frustration. I thought LeBron got a favorable whistle, as superstars tend to do. I don't consider this any form of league-mandated policy, though. It seems referees naturally tend to favor the better players.
I asked McMillan his thoughts on the officiating as it applies to LeBron before Game 6. He said he didn't want to get into it but did offer an interesting anecdote. He said he sometimes lets players officiate scrimmages during training camp, and when they do the better players tend to get the more favorable whistle. Perhaps its human nature.
You have to realize all fans think their team gets "the short end of the whistle." If you were watching Game 7 in Cleveland, their fans were booing calls, too. LeBron's lane violations on free throw attempts were annoying but didn't really give him an advantage. I compare that to non-shooters stepping into the lane too early on free throw attempts, which happens frequently.
I thought Bogdanovic did foul LeBron on the play you mentioned, putting both hands on him, and then LeBron overreacted. He often sells contact, probably because he believes he'd never get a foul call if he didn't, as he's so much stronger than most players. And, remember, Reggie Miller did his share of flopping, especially late in his career, and got a lot of calls.
As for the goaltend, it was a missed call. But it was one of those bang-bang plays that is often missed. But the NBA's two-minute report acknowledged the missed call, but it also pointed out the Cavs should have had the ball after the previous possession when Thaddeus Young cut off LeBron on the baseline. The replay showed the ball had gone off Young; the Pacers shouldn't have even had possession on the goaltending play.
I agree regarding Collison's technical. That call seemed an extreme overreaction, and the television commenters said so.
I hope the league office takes a hard look at this issue and emphasizes fairness to the officials. But keep in mind, the very existence of the two-minute report, which points out all officiating mistakes made in the final two minutes of each game, tells you the league's desire for fairness and transparency with officiating. Referees are graded after each game. Some are let go at the end of the season if their performance isn't adequate. I think that's part of the problem now, in fact. There's been a lot of turnover in NBA officials lately, and some of the younger guys might be intimidated by the star players and the home court atmosphere.
Fans used to complain that Michael Jordan got the benefit of the doubt from officials — and he did at times — but the Pacers lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Chicago in 1998 primarily because they were outrebounded 50-34 and Dale Davis missed seven of his 10 free throw attempts.
People also used to argue that the league wanted New York to beat the Pacers in the playoffs because it represented the bigger marketplace, but the Pacers have won three of the past four series with the Knicks.
One also can no doubt find games in which the Pacers got favorable calls that helped them win in the playoffs, such as in their Game 5 victory over Milwaukee in the first round of the 2000 playoffs, which propelled them to the Finals.
Bad calls do, in fact, go both ways. But I'll agree, they don't seem to go against the star players as often.
Q. I see some areas in Turner's and Sabonis's games that need improvement. Myles seems so hesitant to make a move and never posts up. Domas has no right hand at all. I hope they can address those things this summer. They've had Myles now for three summers and I don't see much improvement.
Aside from that, where do you see the biggest need for the team to address?
A. It will be interesting to see what Turner does over the summer to improve. He showed an interest, at least, in developing a post-up game the second half of the season. Until then, he had been practically defiant about it. Whenever I asked someone like Al Jefferson, who seems the perfect low-post mentor for Turner, he said Turner could worry about that later, he had other things to develop first. When I asked Turner about it early in the season he gave me a sideways glance, as if he was somewhat offended by the question. But it does seem he's become convinced he needs to add to his skills around the basket. That's the kind of thing that could make him an All-Star. He's mature and dedicated, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him improve over the summer.
Sabonis occasionally used his right hand, but not all that effectively. I agree, it would be wise for him to develop it. He also needs to keep working on his perimeter shooting. It's not bad, but he tends to shoot a flat shot that has little margin of error. As opposed to Turner, who threatens to bring rain with every 3-point attempt. Better to have a lot of arc than not enough, though.
As for the biggest needs, statistically they are offensive rebounding and 3-point shooting. The Pacers gave up 50 more offensive rebounds than they got during the regular season. That's a lot of points. They also hit 129 fewer 3-pointers. That's even more points. They were the ninth-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA, hitting 37 percent, but didn't look for that shot as often as opponents.
You can see the dilemma, though. You can bring in a great rebounder, but likely would lose something in another area, such as defense or scoring. You also can run your offense to get more 3-pointers, but you would give up something in other areas — such as post-up baskets from the big men.
Ultimately, it's about putting together a team that defends well and has chemistry. Players have to be committed to rebounding, particularly at the offensive end. So many three-point shots are taken now that missed shots often ricochet long, where the guards have to get them. Complicating the issue is that McMillan emphasizes defense and wants his players to get back to prevent transition baskets when shots go up. That means they're sometimes heading the wrong way when a rebound comes near them.
Basketball is difficult and complicated, isn't it?
Q. We now have a season in the books. A year full of practices, over 90 games counting pre- and post- season. By now management should be able to answer this question:
Does management think Turner and Sabonis can play together? At least together enough that they are each getting 30 minutes per game? I'm sure in their year-end press conference they will say they can, but what do they really think?
On paper it looks like they should be able to complement each other well, however, Nate rarely played them together. I think they should be able to play together, but my opinion or for that matter your opinion doesn't matter. What does management think?
If management does not think they can play together, it seems to me like they should trade one of them.
A. As mentioned earlier, I just wrote a story on this issue. It's clearly on the minds of a lot of fans, and I understand why.
It's important to point out, as detailed in the story, that the analytics this past season were not favorable for Turner and Sabonis playing together. That doesn't mean it won't work in the future, but they are going to have to find ways to complement one another by expanding their skill sets.
There's nothing wrong with having two capable centers, but I agree, long-term you're probably not going to keep bringing Sabonis off the bench. If they can't "play well together" — and they certainly like playing together and get along well — something might have to give down the road.
Q. Can you really draft/sign "locker room guys" that either maintain or improve on the Pacers' chemistry, while at the same time improving on the talent level?
Said another way, isn't it more likely that this was a "one and done" special chemistry year? Aren't those kind of chemistry years hard to predict, hard to draft and sign for, hard to plan for?
A. This is a good question, one I've never received. And by now I thought I had heard everything.
You can make it a point to draft/sign players with good reputations who have a reputation for being good in the locker room. It gets complicated, though, because you never know how a player changes as he goes through his NBA career. Some mature nicely, but others are affected by fame and fortune and become more selfish. Still others go through phases, good and bad.
It would have been difficult to predict the special chemistry of this season. Who could have guessed how gracefully Al Jefferson would accept being dropped from the rotation? Or, how well Victor Oladipo would handle his rise to stardom? Or, the positive attitude of backups such as Lance Stephenson, who was nearly an All-Star four years ago?
I don't believe this was necessarily a "one and done" chemistry year, however. The guys on this team have established character, and it's not likely they'll change drastically. It is possible, though, some will become more frustrated by lack of playing time or other issues in future seasons. There was a honeymoon aspect to this season, and you know those don't always last forever.
I'm confident management will be selective in who it adds to the roster next season. The fact is, however, most NBA players qualify as "good guys" who want to win and will conform to their environment. The important part is that newcomers understand and accept their likely role with the team and are willing to make sacrifices to win.
There always will be elements of risk beyond the control of management regarding team chemistry, but it can be controlled to a certain degree by knowing the nature of the players who are acquired and being sure they understand the role expected of them. McMillan has been exceptional in that regard, being upfront with players from the start of each season, even if it's painful for them to hear. Before this season, for example, he told Al Jefferson he would be out of the rotation unless an injury created an opening. Jefferson accepted that, and it was perhaps the biggest reason the Pacers had great locker room chemistry.
Q. Looking to next year (unfortunately instead of Toronto) where do you see the biggest positional need for the Pacers?
I would say a stud point guard or a "spread four."
A. The Pacers have no glaring needs, but obviously could be better at every position. How's that for an evasive answer?
It's true, though. In the meantime, I would argue that Darren Collison was pretty studly last season, leading the NBA in 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio. It appears he's only the second player in league history to accomplish that combined feat, after Brian Taylor, who did it for the San Diego Clippers in the 1980-81 season.
Collison wasn't an All-Star, but he was a great fit for this team. He doesn't have to have the ball to be effective, he's solid defensively and he makes the offense work. The fact he's the best shooter on the team doesn't hurt.
As for "spread fours," it would be good to have a better 3-point shooter there than Thad Young, who hit 32 percent of his attempts this season (after hitting 38 percent last season) but you likely would give up something in another area. Young does so many things for the team, easily noticed and otherwise. He has to decide whether to opt out of the final year of his contract, so that will force the Pacers' hand one way or another.
I also would like to see TJ Leaf get a shot before deciding whether it was necessary to look outside for help. He's an outstanding shooter, can drive to the basket, and will get stronger.
Q. What is Pacers #1 need to get better?
I believe a great 3-point shooter; like a Korver or Redick. When Bogs was off, we lose.
Draft one of the great point guards. Speed, defender, playmaker.
This team was fun to watch and we don't miss PG. I am sure he was miserable in OKC and he deserved every bit of misery. Good riddance!!!
A. As I mentioned earlier, rebounding and 3-point shooting are primary needs. The three-point issue can be solved with more attempts, however, if that becomes a bigger part of the offense.
Collison was the best 3-point shooter in the NBA last season and can be expected to hit better than 40 percent again. Oladipo should be able to improve from 37 percent. Bogdanovic hit a career-high 40 percent this season, which is what he was brought in to do. (Had he hit 40 percent of his attempts in Game 7 against Cleveland, the Pacers would still be playing.) Cory Joseph hit 35 percent, which is fine for a backup point guard.
If you add a shooting specialist, whose minutes get cut? Stephenson hit just 29 percent, but do you want to drop him from the rotation? There might be rioting in the streets if that happens. He would become a more viable threat if he'd just get under the shot more consistently. He was a 35 percent shooter in the 2013-14 season and has shot well at various points of his career.
As for drafting a point guard, it would be difficult to get a "great" one from where the Pacers will be drafting (23rd). Usually teams selecting toward the end of the draft follow the best-available player model.
I doubt Paul George was miserable in Oklahoma City, and I wouldn't wish that on him. He played on a team that won 48 games, same as the Pacers this season and six more than he won with the Pacers last season. He also didn't have to be a leader, which isn't his strong suit.
I'll say it again, fans should be grateful to George for giving the Pacers a chance to get players — really good ones, it turned out — for him. He could have done what Gordon Hayward did in Utah, play out his contract and then leave. There's nothing wrong with that, and Utah has recovered nicely, but George handled his exit from Indianapolis well. I know he had given every indication he would stay until his agent delivered that "gut punch" to Kevin Pritchard, but he doesn't like confrontation and tends to tell people what he thinks they want to hear. I also believe he has let his agent have a lot of control.
If George does indeed wind up playing in Los Angeles next season, the Pacers will have come out of his departure much better than the Thunder.
Q. I just watched the press conference.
It sounds like Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan think that Myles and Domas can play together. They also would like to see Thad come back and like TJ Leaf.
If Thad comes back and if Myles and Domas are both able to play 28-30 minutes per game, that leaves 36-40 mpg for Thad and Leaf. That's not a real problem next year as Thad could play around 24-28 mpg and Leaf around 12-15 mpg. If Thad stays past next season, we could run into a problem.
Here is my question: Can Leaf play some minutes at the 3 so he can be on the floor for 25 minutes per game between playing the 3 and 4?
A. I would like to see Leaf get more opportunity next season, because I'm curious – and optimistic – about what he might do. His role will depend largely on the how the roster shakes down.
If Glenn Robinson III is re-signed, he's a candidate as a backup three. If Trevor Booker is re-signed, he's a candidate as a backup four. Of course, we don't know yet about the status of Young and Bogdanovic, neither of whom are locks to return next season. Young has a player option on his contract, and the Pacers have a team option on Bogdanovic's contract.
McMillan views Leaf as a stretch four rather than a three, but perhaps Leaf can play both as he matures physically. They're essentially the same position offensively if you're spreading the court. Defense would bring the major differences, determining whether he has to guard quick players on the perimeter or, perhaps, strong players the basket.
It's a big summer for Leaf, who says he's already added a lot of strength but needs to add more. He's only 21, so he will. It will be interesting to see how he performs in Summer League in Las Vegas.
Q. What do you think about our point guard situation right now in general?
—WineSherpa (via Twitter)
A. If Cory Joseph and Darren Collison both return, it's solid. Collison had one of the better seasons of all NBA point guards this season and Joseph is a good backup who brings versatility. He can play behind Collison or with him as well. Between them, they bring just about everything a point guard can bring, offensively and defensively.
We don't know of their status yet, however. It's been reported Joseph will complete his contract, but that's not official. The Pacers also have the option on Collison's contract, and will have to make that decision.
Q. Is Nate McMillan the coach after his contract expires?
—WineSherpa (via Twitter)
A. I would think so. He gained a lot of respect for the Pacers' "overachieving" season, and his players seem to have great respect for him. If you saw or read about Kevin Pritchard getting choked up while talking about McMillan during the season-ending press conference, you have an idea of what management thinks of him.
I know some people have found things to second-guess regarding McMillan, during the regular season and in the playoffs. That's true of every coach the Pacers have ever had, though, including Hall of Famer Slick Leonard. That's nothing new, and it's not fair to judge every coach's decision in hindsight. It's about the big picture, and the Pacers' had a surprisingly good one this season.
Q. What can we expect to be the Pacers' biggest offseason move as far as talent goes? Positive and negative.
A. Not to be evasive, but that's impossible to predict.
Thad Young's decision whether to play out his contract or become a free agent will have a major influence on how the Pacers approach free agency. And at this point it's impossible to know which free agents are available and interested in the Pacers. Cory Joseph also has a player option.
The Pacers have options on the contracts of Collison, Bogdanovic, Al Jefferson, Stephenson, and Joe Young. Glenn Robinson III and Trevor Booker are unrestricted free agents who could be re-signed.
As Pritchard said in his press conference on Tuesday, he'll have to decide whether to go all-in on free agency this summer or wait a year. More "name" free agents are available in 2019, but more teams will have cap space, so the competition for those players will be greater.
That decision will hinge partially on what's available to the Pacers this summer, and it's way too early to guess on that.
Trades are simply impossible to forecast. Last year at this time, nobody could have guessed Oladipo and Sabonis would wind up with the franchise.
Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in his next mailbag.
Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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.