The Pacers are going to have huge problem - albeit a really good problem to have. Indiana is off to an expected 5-4 start thanks to the leadership of Thaddeus Young and double-double machine Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers still succeeded without future superstar Myles Turner.
Myles Turner made his second season debut Sunday against Philadelphia after missing seven games due to a concussion and neck injury. He did not start due to concerns about his conditioning.
Needs to get conditioning back up to speed. Possibly this weekend— Charlie Clifford (@cliffWISH8) November 1, 2017
Unfortunately, Sabonis struggled to stay on the court all game Sunday and fouled out with a little over two minutes left. Indiana was forced to play Turner for 24 minutes. They never had the chance to play the two of them together.
Turner struggled, going 4-14 and an abysmal 2-6 from the free-throw line, but he showed flashes of why Indiana is so excited about his future.
The Pacers’ problem is they now have too many starting caliber players at power forward and center. Turner, Young and Sabonis are arguably the second, third and fourth best players on the team (behind Victor Oladipo).
While Young’s box score stats of 14 PPG, 6 RPG and 1.8 SPG aren’t eye-popping, he’s taken a leadership role as Indiana’s captain. His defensive rating of 106 is better than any other Pacer starter, and he’s consistently making savvy veteran plays on ends of the floor.
Both Turner and Sabonis add different strengths to the Pacers. Turner is still developing as an offensive player but he stretches the floor and he’s more of a threat when cutting towards the rim.
Sabonis, on the other hand, is a better screener and his chemistry with Victor Oladipo has played a critical role in Indiana’s recent success. The Pacers love to run the high screen, especially with Sabonis forcing Oladipo's defender to go around him, giving Oladipo an easy jumper.
It’s unclear whether Turner can provide the same setup for Oladipo who, in Turner’s absence, has blossomed into a legitimate All-Star. Turner was told in the offseason that the Pacers were his team, but in just two weeks it's become Oladipo’s team. That isn’t a bad thing because Turner is still an extremely raw offensive player.
But the biggest issue for Indiana through their first nine games is defense - particularly points in the paint (PITP). Fellow Indy Cornrows writer Caitlin Cooper wrote about how, despite allowing 50 or more PITP six times, Indiana is 4-2 in those games. That’s not sustainable, but with Turner inserted into the starting lineup the Pacers defense automatically improves.
In 2016 Turner averaged 2.5 blocks per game and so far this season he has a defensive rating of 99 when on the floor - the best of any Pacer starter. The team has a defensive rating of 105 as a whole. While it's only a slight difference, that number could have been the definitive factor in at least two of the team’s losses.
The logical long-term move by the Pacers would be to trade Thaddeus Young, either for a future draft pick or another small foward to replace the injured Glenn Robinson so they can stop playing Lance Stephenson. But Young is one of the team’s leaders and will be a critical part of the reason they remain in playoff contention.
Theoretically there are 96 minutes at power forward and center to be shared amongst Turner, Sabonis and Young. Each one has earned the right to play 32 minutes at some combination of center and power forward.
If Turner, Sabonis and Young all play even minutes, then T.J. Leaf is put to the side. But it could work if Leaf or Young shift to play small forward at a limited capacity.
Young has never played small forward. But if McMillan goes with a Sabonis, Turner, Young backcourt lineup, it could work in limited situations against bigger teams. Indiana’s next three games are against the Knicks, Pelicans and Pistons - all teams that don’t have good small forwards and feature either a traditional center or power forward.
Young playing a backup small forward is better than the alternative of Stephenson. Young is shooting 33 percent from three, which is better than Stephenson’s laughable 13 percent. Defensively, Young’s ability to create turnovers should even out any defensive inefficiencies at small forward.
At this point the backup small forward has been a dumpster fire for the Pacers and shifting Young into that spot would allow Sabonis, Turner, Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic or Darren Collison to all play on the floor together forming ideally Indiana’s best offensive lineup.