Much of what was said at Monday’s media day can be summed up with this otherwise rather innocuous photo:
Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo were confirmed as starters. Lance Stephenson was reaffirmed as sixth man. And, as the three veterans interspersed between them seem to communicate, while there’ll be ample opportunity for the roster’s youth, it won’t be freely given.
“They’ll get opportunities,” Kevin Pritchard responded when asked about the importance of evaluating players like T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, and Domantas Sabonis early in the season. “It’s the NBA. It’s an 82-game season, but they’ve got to earn it, too. We don’t want any entitlements.”
Think of it like this, experimentation won’t so much be the natural byproduct of lowered expectations as much as intersquad competition, whether with regard to the starting point guard position or the final two roster spots.
“I want to keep an open mind with the guys that we have,” Pritchard said. “I want to see how they compete, who’s ready, who had a good summer.”
Still, there was some subtext — beyond the above mentioned photo — which seemed to suggest that whatever open positions are available will be for the veterans to lose.
For instance, head coach Nate McMillan mentioned in passing that there will be three new faces in the starting lineup. Given that Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, and Paul George are no longer options, Thaddeus Young can logically be penciled in with the first unit alongside Turner and Oladipo.
Various measured responses to inquiries about Glenn Robinson III’s emergence also seemed relatively telling with regard to the team’s initial pecking order.
“He’s been working extremely hard the last two years to get out on the floor,” McMillan said. “...he’ll get that opportunity and be competing for minutes at the wing spot.”
Of Robinson III’s potential to make a leap, Pritchard thought it possible with the following addendum: “He’s athletic, obviously. But, he’s got to use that athleticism all the time, and he’s got to be determined. Every single game Glenn gets in the game, he’s got to impose his will. Because sometimes he can be too nice of a guy. Glenn is just kind of a nice guy, but I think he’s really determined to show he can exist in this league.”
As such, although both men in charge acknowledged that the athletic wing will have the chance to be in the rotation and might be poised to breakout, he was conspicuously absent from a few other notable conversations.
“One or two of our guys in the next year or two needs to be playing (like) or become an All-Star in order for us to have success in the future,” McMillan said while speaking to the need for homegrown All-Stars on the Blue & Gold Breakdown. “We feel we have guys who have the potential. Now, they must develop into some of the top players in the league.”
When pressed as to whom exactly he might be referring, Indiana’s head coach responded, “I think you certainly have to look at Victor (Oladipo). I think you have to look at Myles Turner. I think you have to look at Lance Stephenson. I think those three guys are very capable of becoming All-Stars one day in this league.”
Granted, it would be far-fetched to project Robinson III, who only started 27 games last season out of necessity, as a future All-Star. But, by not including him among those three names, McMillan more or less intimated that he perceives the 23-year-old as a tier below them.
Likewise, while addressing whether he was satisfied with the team’s shooting, Pritchard specifically pinpointed Turner, Young, Bogdanovic, and Collison as strengths and even tagged Stephenson and Oladipo as “improving” shooters, but never made mention of the reigning Slam Dunk Champion.
As a refresher, Robinson III shot above 40 percent on catch and shoot threes last season, and the Pacers posted an impressive plus-7.8 net rating in the 376 minutes that he played with Jeff Teague, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner, a mark that ranked fifth in the league last season among lineups that played at least 300 minutes.
Nevertheless, though it’s evident that the Pacers want to breed a competitive environment, it appears that Glenn Robinson III and the rest of the team’s young talent will have to separate themselves from their more seasoned counterparts in order to take what probably won’t belong to them, at least not initially.
“They first have to earn it,” Pritchard said of the opportunities that will be there for the team’s developing players. “No one’s given anything.”
Sometimes a picture really does say a thousand words.