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Third Annual Last-Minute Gifts for the Pacers, Frontcourt Edition

May their games be merry and bright.

Original image via Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For the third-straight holiday season, the film room along with the virtual shelves of several advanced stats sites have been scoured in search of the perfect present for each player on Indiana’s roster in hopes that the impact soon will be near.

Unfortunately, most of last season’s gifts are collecting dust now that four players from the 2016-17 roster are on different teams and six are no longer in the league. However, it’s good to see that Thaddeus Young’s wrist is allowing him to make use of his hand warmer, again.

‘Tis the season for giving, so it’s the frontcourt’s turn to open gifts.

Bojan Bogdanovic: Curl Cuts.

Shooting 26.1 percent from three over the last five games, the Croatian sharpshooter has been in somewhat of a slump since his team’s overtime thriller with the Denver Nuggets. Until he busts out of it again, leaning on his ability to read his defender and generate open lay-ups could make it easier to navigate the inevitable rough patches.

Here, for instance, Bogdanovic leaves no space between himself and Myles Turner as he curls tightly around the screen set out on the wing, which results in him scoring at the rim without ever needing to put the ball on the floor.

More fun is when he sets up his man like he’s going to curl around the screener and instead makes a quick back cut.

Bogdanovic has the highest three-point rate on the team (.473), but he’s shown himself to be more than a one-dimensional specialist with his off-ball movement.

Thaddeus Young: Continued excellence in improvisation.

With a definite knack for roaming to the spots where his teammates need him to be at the exact moment when they need him to be there, the Pacers only call two plays for the lefty forward. Instead, he routinely finds a way to be effective on the weak side of Indiana’s pick-and-roll heavy offense by operating as a secondary option alongside the baseline.

Check out this possessions against the New York Knicks, when Young scored 20 points on 9-of-11 field goal attempts. As Darren Collison works the two-man game with Myles Turner, the 11-year veteran lies in wait for the exact moment when his man is forced to dash across the lane to stop the ball.

As soon as Michael Beasley makes his move, Thad takes swift advantage of the crevice in the offense by flashing into the paint and converting the open two.

Ironically, his ability to fill the gaps oftentimes acts as the glue that prevents the ball from sticking.

Domantas Sabonis: Active involvement in tandem with Myles Turner.

The Pacers are still barely breaking even when Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis are on the floor together. Worse still is that the team is already allowing opponents to launch 30.9 three point attempts per 100 possessions, which ranks 26th in the league, and when the pair of 21-year-old towers play simultaneously that number balloons to an untenable 34.7.

Over a larger sample size, incorporating more imaginative sets continues to seem like an easier fix than expecting one or the other of them to become a step quicker defending out on the perimeter.

Yet, sightings of Al Jefferson have nearly been more frequent than this previously described double-ball screens set, where Sabonis rolls to the basket while Turner drifts behind the three-point line.

Even creating more easy baskets around the rim with high low passes would be an upgrade over having one or the other of them just sort of hang out on the opposing low block when the ball is in play.

With so many options, it shouldn’t have to be either-or.

Ike Anigbogu: Fewer post-up possessions.

In comparison to the frequency by which the Mad Ants threw the ball to the league’s youngest player on the low block against the Westchester Knicks, Anigbogu was put more in position to catch drop passes from Fort Wayne’s slashing guards during Monday’s meeting with the Greensboro Swarm.

He only hit 1-of-6 field goal attempts, but the outing was at least a closer match to how he would fit as a potential fifth-option off the bench for a team running the league’s most prolific screen-and-roll offense.

Myles Turner: Communication defending the roll-man.

Among bigs with at least 25 possessions defending the roll-man, only Enes Kanter (1.556) is allowing opponents to score more points per possession than Indiana’s 21-year-old starting center (1.308).

Granted, Darren Collison’s porosity puts him in some tough spots where he’s effectively forced to defend 2-on-1. But, if Turner isn’t going to hedge, it’s his responsibility to drop at a depth where he can backpedal to the rim while also keeping the roller in front of him.

Here, Tyler Zeller is already behind Indiana’s 21-year-old starting center when he starts to retreat in an attempt to slow Spencer Dinwiddie until Collison can get back.

Zeller proceeds to score an uncontested lay-in, since neither Oladipo nor Bogdanovic reacted to the breakdown by bumping him from his spot.

All parties involved are at fault for not being on the same page, but Myles Turner is left holding the blame.

Al Jefferson and Damien Wilkins: Pearls of Wisdom.

Since permanently cracking the rotation seems unlikely, whatever knowledge and experience Wilkins passes down to his teammates needs to have more of a lasting impact than the younger players the Pacers passed on signing.

As for Jefferson, certain aspects of his low-post scoring arsenal could obviously still stand to rub off on Myles Turner, given that the 21-year-old shot blocker with the feathery mid-range jump shot has a tendency to get pushed off the block and settle for turnaround jump shots when smaller defenders get switched onto him.

T.J. Leaf: Steady minutes.

On the season, the Pacers have allowed opponents to score 8.7 points per 100 possessions more when Leaf has been on the floor as opposed to off, which is the worst mark among Indiana’s top-nine rotation players.

Part of the problem is that his sketchy lateral movement and slim frame can sometimes put him in a bind when power fauxwards attack his closeouts, but it’s also become increasingly evident that he’s going to need more than spot minutes every so-many games for him to get a hold on switching techniques and rotation assignments.

Glenn Robinson III’s eventual return to play will likely solidify the 9-man rotation at the expense of T.J. Leaf, which theoretically should free up the rookie to earn steadier, long-term minutes with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants where his defensive principles can be developed.