Finally, at long last, the question that has haunted many Pacers fans for much of the past two seasons, has been answered.
Yes, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will be in the starting lineup together next season. At least that's the plan as of now according to coach Nate McMillan, who offered a quick and definite response when the question was posed on Sunday.
"Absolutely," McMillan said.
The two 6-foot-11 23-year-olds played together sparingly two seasons ago, with a negative overall impact. They shared the court more often last season, about 10 minutes per game, with more positive results. The obstacle to their long-term pairing had been Thad Young, the team captain and savvy veteran who was entrenched at the "four" position. But now that Young is gone - along with every other Pacer from last season who entered the summer as a free agent - opportunity is knocking.
Sabonis is rapping on the door loudest of all. Although he's been patient and accepting of a backup role during his two seasons with the Pacers, he made it clear in his exit meeting with McMillan and front office members that he wants more opportunity.
"He wanted to start, and the thought going into this off-season was we had to create more minutes for him," McMillan said.
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The Turner-Sabonis pairing has potential, but will present challenges as well.
Sabonis, despite playing off the bench, was the Pacers' best rebounder last season as well as their best player as judged by the Player Efficiency Rating that takes all aspects of the game in to account. Turner, who had the Pacers' second-best efficiency rating, led the NBA in blocked shots and hit a career-best 39 percent from behind 3-point line.
Sabonis might struggle to defend some smaller "fours" on the perimeter. But Turner, in theory, will be there to address penetration at the rim and Sabonis could dominate smaller defenders with his physical and sophisticated post-up game.
Sabonis, meanwhile, hit 9-of-17 3-pointers last season and was a 40 percent shooter through the first half of his rookie season in Oklahoma City. If he can establish himself as a legitimate 3-point threat and Turner can improve his low-post offensive skills, they would present a severe matchup challenge for defenders.
The fact they get along well and so badly want to play together won't hurt, either.
McMillan said their versatility should enable him to adjust to opposing lineups and strategies on a game-by-game basis, and even on the fly during games. McMillan added that he's not concerned with Sabonis' perimeter defense, figuring there will be ways to give help and that a size mismatch could often be more favorable than problematic.
"All of that will be something we adjust to during the season," McMillan said. "But we haven't said for him to all of a sudden get yourself light. There will be some nights we want him in the hole.
"He was here just two weeks ago. He looks great. He's been working his behind off getting ready for the World Championships."
Now he has more reason than ever to prepare for the NBA season as well.
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