Indiana Pacers 2013-14 Player Review: Ian Mahinmi

Andy Lyons

Experiencing a bump in productivity following the signing of Andrew Bynum, can it be said that Ian Mahinmi provides an adequate return on investment for the Indiana Pacers?

Ian Mahinmi / Center / Age 27

Regular Season:

77 GP, 16.2 MP, 2.5 FGA, .481 FG%, 1.9 FTA, .621 FT%, 1.4 ORB, 3.3 TRB, 0.9 BLK, 0.8 TOV, 2.7 PF, 3.5 PTS

Per 36 Minutes:

77 GP, 1248 MP, 5.5 FGA, .481 FG%, 4.2 FTA, .621 FT%, 3.1 ORB, 7.4 TRB, 2.1 BLK, 1.7 TOV, 6.0 PF, 7.8 PTS

2014/15 Contract Status: $4,000,000 through 2015-2016 season. Fully guaranteed. No player or team option.

When the Pacers shipped second-year player and possible reserve center Miles Plumlee to Phoenix as part of an offseason deal to acquire Luis Scola, backing-up the Pacers' DPOY candidate became the sole responsibility of Ian Mahinmi. With his minutes comfortably locked-in as the only reserve option in the middle, the Frenchman did not start playing his best basketball of the season until the Pacers decided to throw Andrew Bynum into the mix.

Looking over his shoulder at a former All-Star and NBA Champion, Ian displayed a renewed sense of energy throughout the month of February. Over that span of twelve games, Mahinmi achieved the highest plus/minus of his entire two-year tenure with the Pacers. Peaking at +11.1, Ian's plus/minus experienced a six-point swing when compared to  the month of January (+4.9) and a thirteen-point difference in comparison to December (-2.5). The Bynum-effect also likely made an impact on the Frenchman's defensive intensity. Defending the paint, blocking shots, and earning key deflections, Ian's defensive rating reached a season-best during that span as he allowed just 93 points per 100 possessions.

Initially spurred by the prospect of possibly being replaced in the line-up, Mahinmi's bump in productivity did not exactly carry-over to the postseason. In fact, Ian's stats per 36 minutes (5.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks) almost all experienced a decline from a year ago (7.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks).

How did Ian Mahinmi impress:

Seeing as how it likely was not just pure coincidence that the Frenchman's scoring average, plus/minus, and defensive rating all experienced marked improvement following Andrew Bynum's arrival, Ian should be commended for his decision to compete for his spot rather than choosing to sulk when the team's powers that be briefly exhibited a willingness to transfer his minutes to a newcomer.

Beyond any implications from the Bynum signing, one of the reserve center's most noticeable strengths is simply his steadfast willingness to play within himself. Rarely, if ever, will spectators actually witness Mahinmi attempting to buck the system. In other words, Ian knows his role on this team. With only 11.4% of the team's plays being used by him while he is on the floor, Ian's role very rarely includes being utilized as a scoring option. What he gives to the team does not involve consistent touches (he averaged 2.5 FGA). It does not and should not in any way involve him shooting jumpers from any distance (he attempted just 12 spot up attempts all season). His purpose is to anchor the league's best defense when Roy Hibbert exits the game and to be a team player. To the Frenchman's credit, he was successful at both this season.

Roy Hibbert was considered a front-runner for the DPOY this season mostly because of his expert ability to defend the paint, allowing just 41.4% of opponent field goal attempts at the rim. Fortunately for the Pacers, Mahinmi's low allowable conversion rate at the rim (44.5%) proves that he is more than capable of holding down the fort whenever Roy needs to take a breather. Due to Roy's lack of foot-speed, Ian was actually a better option defending spot-up shooters and smaller line-ups this season. When defended by Mahinmi, opponent's converted just 36.2% of their spot-up attempts in comparison to the 45.3% allowed by Hibbert, per Synergy Sports.

How did Ian Mahinmi disappoint:

It is imperative that Mahinmi stays mindful of his role and does only what his team needs because he is not a particularly reliable option on offense, to say the least. For those complaining about Roy's field goal percentages this season, rest assured that utilizing Ian's limited offensive capabilities would not have been the answer for the Pacers' bench woes or languishing offense more broadly. On the year, the team's reserve center averaged just 0.85 points per possession (ranking 326th in the league) and converted just 34.8% of his post-ups. Prone to mishandling the ball as well as committing offensive fouls, 18.9% of plays involving Mahinmi resulted in a turnover this season, per Synergy Sports.

Averaging 6.0 fouls per 36 minutes, committing unnecessary fouls is definitely somewhat of a drawback to Ian's otherwise stout reserve-level defense. If it can be said that Roy gets the benefit of the doubt with regard to his usage of the law of verticality, then it could easily be argued that Ian oftentimes experiences the exact opposite.

What's next for Ian Mahinmi:

Despite playing the highest total minutes of his entire career during the playoffs, Ian's stats per game did not experience any noticeable improvement this postseason when compared to last. Given the need for quality bench scoring and the noticeable drop-off in team rebounding, the Pacers' decision to sacrifice Miles Plumlee last summer can appear dubious in retrospect. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Enjoying a bigger role in Phoenix's open-court offense, there is no firm guarantee that the former Pacer would have performed to the same level in Indiana as a reserve in a completely different system.

While Ian was not the cheapest reserve center in the NBA this season, he also was not the most expensive. If he can channel what he brought to the table in the month of February for an entire season, paying Ian $4M each of the next two seasons will seem like more than a decent return on investment .

***

How would you grade Ian Mahinmi's performance as the team's reserve center during the 2013-2014 season? What do you see as some of his strengths and more noticeable weaknesses?

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