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The case for Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner

Does Indiana have to trade one or can they keep both?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Indiana Pacers
Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris (34) is guarded by Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) and center Myles Turner (33) during the first quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Credit: Brian Spurlock
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Frankly, I’m annoyed. And not at the Pacers, but at you guys.

Yeah. I’m talking to you, Pacer fans.

Indiana is a passionate fan base, but when it comes to the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis debate nobody seems to be able to deliver a rational thought.

On one side you’ve got the Myles Turner fan club, whose members ignore all his flaws in the clutch, like on offense (26.7 shooting percent in clutch in 2017-18), and his drop in offensive efficiency (averaging less 3-point attempts than any time in his career except during his rookie season), shooting an abysmal 12.5 percent this season.

Then on the other side you have the Domantas Sabonis fan club, all of whom look to his box score stats (14.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game) while ignoring Turner’s defensive impact.

This conservation inevitably diverges into a screaming match between which player Indiana should start and which they trade away.

But it doesn’t have to be a choice.

Turner and Sabonis have played 57 minutes together and have an average net rating of -0.9. But when you break down that statistic into the five-man lineups that might actually play together in the playoffs, you get a different picture.

In 23 minutes Tyreke Evans, Cory Joseph and Victor Oladipo, with the Turner-Sabonis pairing, have a net rating of 3.8.

In the 11 minutes where Sabonis played power forward next to Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Oladipo and Turner the team posted a crazy unrealistic net rating of 31.5.

So far Turner and Sabonis work together on the court.

I tend to think each player’s ability to allow Indiana to try different styles is more important than how they play together.

A great example would be two weeks ago when the Pacers played the Knicks. New York played a more traditional lineup with Enes Kanter and Noah Vonleh.

While some teams might try to bring a bunch of 3-point shooters to stretch the Knicks out, Nate McMillan recognized an opportunity to exploit the Knicks’ atrocious post defense.

The Knicks are allowing a 50.6 point-per-game in the paint, also known as the sixth-most in the NBA. Sabonis finished Indiana’s game against New York with 30 points and would have finished the game on the court had it not been for foul trouble.

The other side of this situation was evident when Indiana went up against Miami on Friday and Turner finished the game.

In the last six minutes of that game the Pacers needed defense to stop Miami from scoring in the paint while simultaneously needing someone to drag Hassan Whiteside away from the paint.

Turner obviously took it to another level here by actually putting the ball on the floor and going past Whiteside.

Turner’s presence on the floor forces Whiteside to hang closer to him when he sets a screen. This renders Whiteside incapable of stepping up to defend the ball handler. On this particular play it left Oladipo wide open to hit another clutch shot.

The ability to play Turner and/or Sabonis, depending on the situation, is one of the few things (outside of Oladipo) that makes the Pacers unique.

Just the threat of being able to play either person can make it harder for teams to develop a game plan against Indiana. It becomes even more vital in the playoffs when you have to make your first adjustment.

Last year’s playoffs, specifically game six, we saw Indiana starting to struggle; it was the switch to giving Sabonis more minutes that allowed the team to flourish.

Both players have different strengths and weaknesses that make them valuable in different moments. It shouldn’t be seen as choosing one or the other, but instead choosing which player gives Indiana a better chance at winning at that exact moment.