Notebook: Storylines from the First Week of Training Camp

Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss catches you up on all the latest storylines from Pacers' training camp. Don't forget that Pacers FanJam presented by CNO Financial Group is free and open to the public this Sunday from 4:00-7:00 PM at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The first week of Pacers training camp is nearly in the books. The Blue-and-Gold has hit the hardwood for four days as they begin preparing for the 2014-15 season. They had two practices on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday and a longer afternoon session on Thursday.

It’s probably too early to gain any insight as to how individual players or the team as a whole might look this season. Veteran power forward David West said the first week of camp is mostly about doing conditioning work to get rid of “summer legs” and installing the coaching staff’s system.

“Just having a defensive approach to the game,” West said of the early focus, “trying to get an understanding of our offense as we tweak it and alter it for the guys that are here.”

With the preseason schedule tipping off with the Pacers hosting Minnesota on Tuesday, we’ll soon get a better feel for how the team is meshing and the roles different players might fill.

In the early going, Rodney Stuckey seems to be the odds-on favorite to win the starting shooting guard spot. In the portions of practice open to the media, Stuckey has been working with the starters each day, mostly playing off the ball but occasionally running the point as well.

Stuckey would seem to be a nice compliment to starting point guard George Hill, who is comfortable (and on occasion, prefers) sliding over to shooting guard in spurts.

“It’s always good to have another guy next to you that can play the 1 (point guard) and give you a little bit of break,” Hill said about Stuckey.

Hill also was quick to mention that Stuckey’s strengths (he excels in transition and at getting to the rim) are similar to those of departed shooting guard Lance Stephenson, who started next to Hill in the Pacers' backcourt the past two seasons. Head coach Frank Vogel believes Stuckey could take a similar role in the team’s offense.

“We’ve talked about that direct comparison,” Vogel said. “Not that he’s going to come in and try to be Lance Stephenson, he’s going to be Rodney Stuckey. But a lot of sets will be similar and possibly how the rotation looks could be similar as well.”

Last season, Stephenson would typically start games but come out midway through the first quarter. He would then start the second quarter with the second unit to give them an offensive spark. Reading between the lines with Vogel’s comments, Stuckey could have a similar role.

A (mildly) educated guess would be that C.J. Miles starts at small forward, though he’ll face competition from both Solomon Hill and Chris Copeland. Miles has sat out portions of practice with a mild calf strain, but it’s not believed to be serious.

Vogel: No Timetable for Paul George’s Return

While injured All-Star forward Paul George is holding out hope that he can return to the floor this season, Vogel isn’t expecting to have him in uniform in 2014-15.

George told broadcasters Chris Denari and Mark Boyle on the Pacers.com live show on Media Day that “it’s very possible” he could play at some point this season, though he also said he had “come to peace” with the possibility that he could miss the entire year.

“I want him to push his rehab to try to get back as soon as is safe, but we’re going forward like he’s not going to play this year,” Vogel said Friday. “…If he makes it back sooner than then, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.”

George remains very involved with the team – he has been present and in uniform for every practice so far this year – and his teammates are making a concerted effort to keep his spirits up during his rehab. Hill said he’s gone fishing with George multiple times and made it clear that he’s not on his own.

“We go out there and fish and clear our minds, talk about things that (are) either good or bad or basketball-related or not basketball-related,” Hill said. “Just showing that I’m there. I’m a brother that he can count on to talk to no matter what.”

Allen Providing Depth In the Post

Backup center Ian Mahinmi cannot participate in contact drills at the start of training camp as he recovers from a shoulder injury suffered while practicing with the French national team two days before the start of the FIBA World Cup.

Mahinmi’s absence has created an opportunity for Lavoy Allen to get an extended look at center, and so far, the coaching staff has liked what they’ve seen.

“(Allen looks) really good,” Vogel said. “We’ve got a joke that if you need a rebound, Lavoy will get it for you. He goes and gets the ball at a really high level.”

The 25-year-old Allen is a proven commodity in the NBA – he started 54 games in two and a half seasons in Philadelphia before he came to Indiana last February in the Danny Granger-Evan Turner trade. He averaged 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in just over 21 minutes per game in 2012-13.

But the Pacers have plenty of depth in the post, returning starters West and Roy Hibbert, as well as their primary backups, Luis Scola and Mahinmi. Still, the Pacers liked Allen so much that they re-signed him over the summer.

“I think his skill set and abilities suggest that he’s really a backup 4 (power forward) in this league or backup 5 (center),” Vogel said. “So for us to have him as a third center or a third option at either position, that’s quite a luxury.”

Allen, who says he has a much better feel for the Pacers system than he did last spring, is ready to make an impact whenever he gets an opportunity.

“If they call me, if they need me, I’ll be ready to go,” Allen said. “Whenever my time comes, I’m ready.”

Allen also seems to be a good fit in the locker room with his comic personality. Over the course of a short interview on Friday, he declared himself “the best-looking big on the team” and said he was barred from the dance contest at this Sunday’s FanJam because he was “too good.”

Rudez Soaking It All In

It’s been hard not to notice new Pacers forward Damjan Rudez the first week of training camp. You’ll find a wide smile across the Croatian’s face at nearly all times, whether he’s posing for pictures on Media Day, listening to Vogel in the post-practice huddle, or doing an interview.

For the 28-year-old who has played for seven European clubs in his professional career, his first NBA camp is a dream come true.

“This is something I worked for my whole life,” Rudez said. “I’m enjoying every second. Being around all these great players, trying to compete with everybody every day, trying to get better, it’s really an opportunity of a lifetime.”

So far, Rudez is playing primarily at small forward, though he can also play the power forward position. A shooter first and foremost, Rudez’s game is very similar to his new teammate Chris Copeland, who also made his NBA debut at the age of 28.

Vogel admitted that Rudez is still adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, but the sharpshooter has left a positive first impression with his work ethic.

“Good looking shooter, really good basketball IQ, he’s picking things up really quickly,” Vogel said.

Rudez is also very personable off the court. He speaks three languages fluently (English, Croatian, and Spanish). He’s an avid reader of the website Grantland, but his fondness for the site isn’t limited to their NBA coverage. Rudez also enjoys keeping up with American pop culture, and listed The Wire and The Sopranos as two of his favorite television shows.

“Croatia being a small country, it’s really influenced a lot by exterior influence,” Rudez said. “…We watched a lot of American television and sports.”

Whittington Sits Out Friday

Rookie center Shayne Whittington was held out of Friday’s practice after getting kicked in the leg on Thursday.

Vogel said it was the same leg Whittington broke in the spring while getting ready for the NBA Draft, but this injury isn’t believed to be serious.