By: Rossy Pasternak
The start of Summer League signals the end of the craziness that is NBA Free Agency. Most teams have their rosters filled, with mainly only depth players remaining on the market. Throughout the next few weeks, SportsNak writer Rossy Pasternak will take a look at the teams that interest him the most heading into the upcoming season.
Larry Bird never ceases to amaze me.
Bird and the Pacers have been aggressive this offseason, bringing in Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson, and Thaddeus Young – not to mention firing Frank Vogel and bringing in Nate McMillan. The core from last year is mostly returning, save for Solomon and George Hill; the latter in exchange for Teague. These aggressive moves to bring in veterans signals Bird’s belief that the Pacers are good enough to compete against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East.
Bird’s moves are also relatively low-risk. Although Jefferson’s contract may be a bit too long for my liking – I doubt he will be useful in three years, seeing as he has already started to decline – the salary is not huge in comparison to the rising cap. Thad Young is a very good veteran who will likely step in and play a similar role to what David West did on the George teams that pushed the ‘Big 3’ in Miami to their breaking point. Teague is a fast point-guard that is on an expiring deal, and cost only George Hill.
PG – Jeff Teague
SG – Monta Ellis
SF – Paul George
PF – Thaddeus Young
C – Myles Turner
Jeff Teague is so excited to be back where he grew up, he decided to live in his parent’s basement! (in the house he purchased for them).
Last season, with George Hill manning the PG position, the Pacers usually ran their offence through Paul George. Obtaining Teague lets George play off-ball more, which should allow him to be a little more rested come the fourth quarter. The only problem I foresee with adding Teague to the mix – and you have heard this a lot about the Warriors – is that there is only one ball to go around. Teague loves to play with the ball, and tends to stop the ball from moving on offence. With Hill running point last season, the ball moved fluidly around the court. Hill also was an exceptional catch-and-shoot threat from deep, something which Teague struggled with in Atlanta.
Monta Ellis is another guard who likes to operate in isolation offensively. Ellis used to be one of the best 2-guards in the league at creating – and making – his own shot. While age has slowed him down a little, the athletic and energetic Ellis can still score in bunches. What worries me about Ellis is his defence. Last season, he could hide on the worse, and smaller, of the guards because he had Hill to guard the bigger and better one. Now, with Teague, the Pacers have a very small back-court that struggles to defend. There will be a lot more pressure on the front-court to cover up for their mistakes.
Paul George’s greatness is so under-appreciated, it amazes me. He almost single-handedly triumphed over the Raptors in their first round series last season. In the past, he has taken on LeBron James, and was only narrowly defeated. George is a freak of nature, a 6-foot, 9-inch beast who can get off his own shot at will. George is equally as fearsome on the defensive end, using his incredible length and athletic ability to stifle opponents. Yet, even with all of his magical powers on the hardwood, no one seems to notice. Hidden in small-market Indiana, with a middling team, George has faded from the NBA landscape since his battles with James and the Heat. I expect a pissed off George this season, looking to regain his status as one of James’ biggest threats to the NBA throne.
Thaddeus Young was a superb acquisition by Bird. Young brings some experience to the team, as well as being a perfect fit for this offence. Young continues the theme of good mid-range shooters that Bird has built this team around. Being able to step out and knock down shots, to a 51.4 fg%, is something that the Pacers lacked from the power forward position last season. Young can also bang in the post defensively, although he will struggle when he has to switch onto quick guards.
Myles Turner was one of my favourite players last season, even though he killed my hometown Raptors in a couple games during that series. Turner averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game in limited minutes during the regular season. While still struggling to adjust to the speed of the NBA game, Turner managed to have a profound impact on the court. In the second half of the season, while Turner’s playing time increased, so did his statistics. In the playoffs, while starting, Turner scored at the same rate, but upped his rebounding to 6.4 rebounds per game, as well as blocking shots at a rate of 3.3 a game. Turner can absolutely be a force on the defensive end with his length and his quickness, as long as Nate McMillan installs the proper scheme. Turner’s 2-way potential has drawn high praise from around the league, and should scare opposing teams.
PG – Joe Young
SG – Rodney Stuckey
SG – C.J. Miles
SG – Glenn Robinson III
SF – Jeremy Evans
SF – Georges Niang
PF – Lavoy Allen
PF – Rakeem Christmas
PF – Shayne Whittington
C – Al Jefferson
Rodney Stuckey and Monta Ellis will likely pick up much of PG duty when Teague comes off the floor, as Joe Young is a bit too young (terrible pun, I know) and unseasoned to run the point. Young will definitely see some time at the point as well, but expecting anything more than what he did last season (3.8 pts, 1.6 ast, 1.2 reb) would be foolish.
With Stuckey mostly playing backup at point, it will be up to C.J. Miles to man the 2-position when Monta Ellis is resting. Miles shot 36.7% from deep last season, so he provides an outside threat. He is not outstanding on defence, but his length makes up for a lot of his gaffes. Miles has the capability to be a scoring threat coming off of the bench, and averaged 11.8 points per game doing so last season. Glenn Robinson III will need to step up in a bigger role during his third season. Robinson stands an impressive 6’7″, and will have to use his size on the defensive end to carve out a role on this squad.
Much like at the two guard positions, the backup small forward position will be filled by committee. Evans is a former second round pick, whose biggest accomplishment in the NBA has been winning the dunk contest. Niang comes in as a rookie, coming off of a slew of injuries in his college career. At one point, Niang was the centrepiece of Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team that was pushing for a Final Four birth. Now, however, he is nothing more than a bench player who can come in and eat minutes while Paul George rests.
It will be Allen who sees the most minutes behind Thaddeus Young. Allen has carved out his niche in the NBA as an energy big who battles hard for rebounds. He averages as many rebounds as he does points (5.4 per game), so he doesn’t bring much to the table offensively. Christmas is a springy young player from Syracuse who still needs some seasoning, which is likely to come in the D-League. Whittington is another guy who will probably find himself in the D-League, or glued to the end of the bench, barring injuries to the players in front of him on the depth chart.
Al Jefferson comes to Indiana after a down year in Charlotte. Jefferson played a career low 47 games last season due to injury, but when he was on the court, his impact was felt. He averaged his third-lowest point total in his NBA career, the other two coming in his rookie and sophomore years. Jefferson will be extremely valuable to the Pacers this season. If used off of the bench, he provides a go-to scoring option in the low post while the starters rest. If he starts in place of Turner, which I only see happening if Turner struggles, then Jefferson can provide more grit and toughness to a starting lineup that possesses those traits in bunches.
Although the firing of Frank Vogel puzzles me, seeing as he did an exceptional job with his team in the playoffs and his history with the franchise, I love Nate McMillan. McMillan was one of my favourite head coaches in the league when he and Brandon Roy were doing well with Portland. When Roy went down, McMillan didn’t stand a chance. Now, he has an in-his-prime Paul George, as well as intriguing and useful pieces surrounding him. It will be hard to make this team perform as well on the defensive end as they did with Vogel, especially with the losses of Ian Mahinmi and the Hill’s (George, Solomon, and Jordan).
George and Turner can play exceptionally defence, but other than them, none of the Pacers are known for their excellence on that side of the court. The Pacers will have to score in bunches and hope just to slow the other team just enough to win. They will also have huge matchup problems on switches with their bigs once their bench lineup comes in. Turner and Young can step out and defend most guards adequately on the perimeter, but if they are constantly attacked, they stand no chance. Once Ellis is off the court, the Pacers can mostly switch everything on the perimeter. Teague could hide on the weakest link, and George and Stuckey or Miles could switch without a worry.
The Pacers took a very intriguing approach to the offseason. Indiana has always been a blue-collar team who pride themselves on their defence. Larry Bird has thrown that ideal aside, going after offensive weapons such as Teague and Jefferson, not to mention Eliis last offseason.
It will be exciting to see how this strategy unfolds.
What are your thoughts on the Pacers? Comment below!
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