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Free Agency: Ian Mahinmi is still the center the Indiana Pacers need

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According to the Indy Star, the Pacers will make an early push to re-sign Ian Mahinmi. His interest in staying put should be enough to entice the Blue & Gold to close the deal amid a weak free agency class of big men.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Even after communicating their belief that Myles Turner's best position long-term is at center rather than power forward, the Indiana Pacers will be making a very early morning call to eight-year veteran Ian Mahinmi, reports Nate Taylor of the Indy Star.

Mahinmi, who vastly improved his hands last offseason to prepare for his potential role as the team's starting five, averaged 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds on 58.9 percent shooting, all of which were career highs.

After serving as Roy Hibbert's understudy for three seasons, Mahinmi proved he could anchor a defense as well as the one time Defensive Player of the Year candidate. When he was limited by a sprained lower back in the post-season, the Toronto Raptors still finished just 34.7 percent of their field goals attempted at the rim against Mahinmi. Among centers who averaged at least 20 minutes per game, Mahinmi posted the third-best defensive real plus-minus (4.12), trailing only Golden State's Andrew Bogut (5.29) and San Antonio's Tim Duncan (5.08).

Mahinmi's dual-ability to use his size to alter shots in the restricted area as well as his mobility to help-and-recover, aided the Pacers in maintaining their identity as a team that prides itself on defense. On the year, Indiana posted the NBA's third-best defensive rating, behind only the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks.

Should the Frenchman choose to return, his presence would put less pressure on Myles Turner to be ready to anchor Indiana's defense full-time, an area in which he showed significant growing pains last season beyond blocking shots.

The Pacers allowed 16.8 points per 100 possessions fewer with Mahinmi on the floor (90.9) in the playoffs compared to when he was on the bench (107.7).

Having the 29-year-old back in the fold would also provide the Blue & Gold the option to resume playing both big men together in spurts, which is enticing if Turner can successfully extend his shooting range over the summer.

As Mahinmi demonstrates above as he draws the attention of two defenders and finds Turner in the short corner, his transformation into a capable passer out of the pick-and-roll makes him a real asset to Indiana's renewed focus on pace and space, especially if the team succeeds at surrounding the center position with long-range shooters in free agency.

On the season, Mahinmi's assist percentage doubled, while the number of turnovers he committed per 100 of his own possessions fell from 16.9 to 13.3.

Not unlike Rodney Stuckey and Monta Ellis during 2015-16, Jeff Teague, who was one of only five players in the league to average over eleven drives per game last season, will also no doubt benefit from the Frenchman's ability to roll to the rim with speed. Mahinmi thrived as the roll-man last season. In fact, his 1.13 points per possession (PPP) scored when crashing hard toward the rim, placed him among the top ten of the league when compared to those with at least 130 such possessions.

All of which explains why in a weak crop of unrestricted free agent centers, prioritizing re-signing Ian Mahinmi, who is faster than Zaza Pachulia, cheaper than Al Jefferson, and more reliable than Timofey Mozgov, to fortify their thin frontcourt is an astute move for the Pacers. Though he communicated his desire to stay put in Indiana, it was never a given that the 29-year-old would be willing to potentially have his starting job taken from him when he could choose to give it up voluntarily or, perhaps, retain it elsewhere.

According to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the Frenchman is being considered by the Celtics as a backup plan if they swing and miss on Al Horford.

There is no doubt that Ian Mahinmi's improved play last season earned him his keep somewhere, now it's up to the Pacers to decide exactly how much they want that somewhere to be in Indiana, rather than Boston.