Pacers on Monday's Win, Home-and-Home with T-Wolves, Hitting Midway Point

Jan. 14, 2020 - Following Tuesday's practice, the Pacers reflect on Monday's win over the 76ers, look ahead to a home-and-home series with Minnesota, and evaluate the team near the midway point of the regular season.

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Pacers on Monday's Win, Home-and-Home with T-Wolves, Hitting Midway Point

Jan. 14, 2020 - Following Tuesday's practice, the Pacers reflect on Monday's win over the 76ers, look ahead to a home-and-home series with Minnesota, and evaluate the team near the midway point of the regular season.
Jan 14, 2020  |  02:07

Turner-Sabonis Tandem Finding Footing

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

It was overshadowed by Malcolm Brogdon's rust-shedding return and T.J. McConnell's sneak-attack, falling-down, crowd-pleasing hustle play, but it was a revealing moment in the Pacers' victory on Monday: Myles Turner had a play called for him to get a shot in the first quarter.

It doesn't sound like much, but it reflected a significant element of the Pacers' season, both to this point one game short of the midpoint and going forward toward the playoffs. The fact Turner had to have a play called for him by coach Nate McMillan spoke to the sacrifice he's made in the offense. The fact he hit the shot spoke to his improving comfort in a limited offensive role.

"It is what it is at this point," Turner said following Tuesday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "I know I'm not going to get as many shots, but I have to make the shots I do get count."

That should not be construed as a complaint. Turner's tone of voice, body language and, most of all, performance, indicate he's accepting his role. No kid grows up dreaming of becoming a role player, but nearly every successful team seems to have one — the player who doesn't get as many scoring opportunities as most teammates but contributes to the cause in less glamorous ways.

Turner had only touched the ball four times when the first timeout of the game against Philadelphia was called with 6:31 left, and only one of those came at the offensive end. He took a pass from Domantas Sabonis behind the 3-point line with about nine minutes left and immediately passed it Brogdon. Other than that, he was setting picks or standing on the weakside waiting for a possible ball reversal.

McMillan recognized Turner's inactivity and drew up a play for him during the timeout. On the Pacers' first possession after the break, Turner posted Al Horford 15 feet from the basket on the left wing, took a bounce pass from Brogdon, took two quick dribbles into the lane, faked, and hit a turnaround jump shot.

McMillan said Tuesday what he's been saying all season, that he's not attempting to get anybody more involved in the offense, but rather is just letting it play out based on the defense. But he did acknowledge making a point of getting Turner a shot in that situation.

"We definitely do that, if guys haven't gotten a touch or a look: try to run something to get them an attempt," he said. "I try to do that for all of our guys."

Halfway through Turner's fifth NBA season, he's superficially stuck in neutral. He's averaging 12.9 points on 45.5 percent shooting, including 35 percent from the 3-point line. Those percentages are down slightly from last season, as is his blocked shots average. His best offensive season remains his second one, when, as a 20-year-old ordering non-alcoholic drinks he averaged 14.5 points and shot 51 percent from the field.

He played more minutes and got up more shots then than now, however. He was the third option in the offense behind Paul George and Jeff Teague that season, and was just barely behind Teague. Now he takes the fewest shots among the starters, averaging 10 per game. Six players average more shots than him on a per-minute basis.

One couldn't blame him for being frustrated, particularly after his 27-point outing at Chicago last Friday when he became the focal point of the offense with Sabonis and Brogdon sitting out.

"Nah," Turner said. "It can't be. It could very well be for some people, but I can't look at it that way. With my role on this team right now it's different than it's been in the past. I've accepted it.

"I went through some spots where I was frustrated at the beginning of the season but when you're winning it's easy to follow suit. When things are working there's not much to complain about."

Myles Turner

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Winning helps, indeed. The Pacers won 45, 42, 48, and 48 games in Turner's first four seasons. This time around they are on pace to win 51 despite what fairly qualifies as an injury-plagued season. Victor Oladipo has missed every game. Brogdon has missed 12 games. Lamb has missed 11. Turner has missed eight. Sabonis has missed three.

Oladipo's impending return will require a new adjustment period but brings the potential for major improvement that could bring something Turner has never experienced: homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Turner — who was by far the last player off the practice court Tuesday after working on the various shots he gets in the offense — describes the Pacers as "still searching a little bit" on offense. But they appear to be getting closer to what they hope to find. Oladipo's return will advance that process, as will Turner's ongoing adjustment to playing with Sabonis. Their pairing remains a work in progress but has been successful so far — they have played in 31 games together for an average of 19.4 minutes and the Pacers are plus-2.4 points in those minutes.

Best of all for the Pacers, they are better than that since mid-December. Following the loss to the Clippers on Dec. 11 in which Turner failed to score in double figures for a third consecutive game, he has averaged 15 points on 48.5 percent shooting in 16 games. He's scored 10 points or more in each of those games but two and had nine in both exceptions.

It is what it is, sure. But what it is lately has been good.

"He's learning how to play it," Sabonis said. "We kind of struggled at first trying to get used to it, but I think he's happy now and he's confident playing with me."

While much has been made of Turner and Sabonis starting together the past couple of seasons, the more relevant issue is whether they finish (close) games together. McMillan has done that more often lately, such as in the win over the Sixers. They were on the court for the final 5 minutes, 17 seconds, aside from a two-second blip with 11.6 seconds left when Sabonis was subbed out for matchup purposes.

Turner in particular came up big down the stretch. He made a heads-up cut to the basket to take an inbound pass and draw a foul with 1:41 left, and hit both foul shots to give the Pacers a one-point lead. He also grabbed three rebounds in the final 50 seconds.

Both he and Sabonis finished with double-doubles.

"I think we're producing pretty good," Turner said. "I like the end of the game lineups when we're both in at the same time. It gives us a big boost and it's only going to get better the more experience we get."

It remains to be seen how Oladipo's return impacts the Pacers, including the Turner-Sabonis combo platter. He'll get shots, obviously, and take scoring opportunities from some, if not all, of the starters. But he'll also create scoring opportunities for teammates with his ability to get to the basket and draw defenders.

Turner might get more shots as a result. Or, he might get less. The bottom line of analysis will be the won-lost record and playoff outcome.

"I don't think anybody thought we would have the record we have this year (with all the injuries)," Sabonis said. "I feel like once the whole starting lineup is together, that's when we really have a chance of gelling together."


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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