While doing the rounds at the Pacers Foundation Golf Outing last week, Frank Vogel talked to Candace Buckner about his favored starting lineup in talk about how the Indiana Pacers would build a "small-ball" lineup featuring Paul George at the four spot. Among those starters was no one of real surprise, with the possible exception of Ian Mahinmi, that is until you look around the roster and fail to find anyone who would be excepted to really challenge the soon-to-be 29-year-old center.
That's not to take swipes at Mahinmi. In his three years as a Pacer, Mahinmi's been a generally consistent and steady backup center for a Pacers team that thrived on defense. Mahinmi failed to get the same officiating favors that Roy Hibbert got for his defense, but he wasn't one lacking in the fabled verticality method. With the subtraction of Hibbert to go along with Vogel's insistence to stay focused on the defensive end of the floor despite the 14-seconds-or-less offense, it actually makes some sense to go with Mahinmi as the starter.
Of course, that requires ignoring three years of watching Mahinmi as not only being the backup center, but playing at about the level of one. Mahinmi's been a player who has consistently given the Pacers 20 minutes a night in his role, but up and down foul troubles and a lack of offensive game compounded by uncharacteristically bad free throw shooting last season (dipping form a respectable-for-a-big-man 62.1% in 2013-14 to just 30.4% in 2014-15) does carry lingering concerns about whether Mahinmi's production can be conducive to a starting role against superior level talent.
But if Mahinmi is going to showcase himself as a starter, he's picked the right summer to put in the necessary work according to George Hill. The two spent much of the summer working out together in both Indianapolis and San Antonio, and Hill had nothing but positive things to say about the potential starting big man on Media Day:
"We worked out everyday in the summer. I asked him to lift with me or could I lift with him to challenge myself and get stronger. We worked on the court on pick n' rolls and different pick n' pops and things together. I think it's going to be a great duo, with him down there and not just with me but all of the opportunities that he's going to get off of Monta Ellis and C.J. (Miles) and Chase (Budinger) and (Rodney) Stuckey and things like that, and Paul (George). I think it's going to give him a great opportunity to shine at his position, as well this year because the work he put in was remarkable, how dedicated he was this whole summer."
The overall success of the Pacers this season may rest squarely on the shoulders of Paul George, but it will be Mahinmi carrying a fair bit of the defensive load, especially if Vogel doesn't plan on playing without a traditional big in the lineup, much less a true seven footer who moves as well as Mahinmi. To get an additional punch from him on the offensive end would go a long way in helping the Pacers not only field an exciting offense, but an efficient one as well.
Mahinmi did play well in his starting opportunities last year. While some nights of foul trouble cropped up, he played relatively well for a 4-2 Pacers team, averaging 7.5 points per game and 7.5 rebounds, though recorded only one game of multiple blocks.