With the team’s playoff seeding already locked in prior to their regular season finale against the Charlotte Hornets, the Pacers could’ve elected to cutback the minutes of key rotation players in addition to their decision to rest Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Thaddeus Young. Instead, the two remaining starters along with Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson, Trevor Booker, and Domantas Sabonis each logged at least 15 minutes of action while Alex Poythress waited to check-in until there was less than 3:30 to play in the game.
This, though particularly glaring, was not an isolated incident.
When the 45 days the 24-year-old forward could spend with an NBA franchise were set to expire, the Pacers converted his two-way contract into a guaranteed deal rather than sending him to the G League so they could continue to have him travel back-and-forth between the two teams.
From that point forward, he averaged four minutes per game while appearing in just 14 of Indiana’s last 46 games.
And, here’s the rub: Even if games in which they trailed by sizable deficits are ignored on the presumption that mounting a furious comeback was well within the realm of the possibility, the Pacers led by 20 or more points headed into the fourth quarter in five games when Poythress was listed as active.
Of those games, he played less than two minutes in a blowout win on the second night of a back-to-back against Utah, did not play by coach’s decision with the Bucks in town, and only subbed in before the under-six timeout in one of the other three contests.
The lone exception was at home against the Suns, when Nate McMillan proceeded to reinsert Oladipo, Bogdanovic, and Sabonis into the game to stop the bleeding after Phoenix had dwindled a 32-point lead down to 18 with 3:32 to play; thereby, avoiding winning by less than 15 points.
Meanwhile, Poythress was only sent to the Mad Ants on assignment for one additional game after signing his guaranteed contract at the end of December.
All of which brings to question the purpose behind filling a roster spot with inexperienced youth when the only steady opportunity for said youth to gain experience was at practice.
How did Alex Poythress impress?
Twas the night after Christmas, and the emergency-depth forward was one of few bright spots in Indiana’s no-show loss to the Pistons.
In what were arguably his most meaningful minutes of the season, Poythress was on the floor when the bench held Detroit scoreless for the first seven possessions of the second quarter and cut a 23-point deficit down to single digits.
For his part, he used his inside arm to deflect and steal a pass to Anthony Tolliver.
And, he recovered with high hands to disrupt the pass to Tobias Harris and forced an offensive reset after jumping out above the level of the screen against Ish Smith.
Harris scored 30 points on 11 shots, so keeping him from catching the ball was a definite win.
None of what he did in non-garbage time was particularly flashy. The Pacers basically just had him chill out in the short corner and set screens on offense, but he managed to finish the game a team-best plus-15 in a season-high 22 minutes because he and the reserve units with which he played brought a much-need injection of energy on defense.
How did Alex Poythress disappoint?
The 6-foo-7 forward put up slightly better numbers in seven games with the Mad Ants this season (20 points, 8.9 rebounds) than when he was named a G League All-Star in 46 games played last season (18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds), but his three-point shooting regressed.
Notably, Poythress knocked down slightly better than 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc during his 2016-17 season, albeit on less than 100 attempts. Still, that mark represented an encouraging improvement over the 30 percent clip he registered during his final season at the University of Kentucky.
On teensy sample size, he went a combined 9-of-33 (27 percent) from three in 32 games with the Pacers and their affiliate this season, which casts some doubt as to his ability to complement his tough defense with stretch shooting.
What’s next for Alex Poythress?
His $1.54 million salary becomes fully guaranteed if he isn’t waived before July 25.
On the off-chance that the Pacers keep Poythress on the books as a foil to T.J. Leaf, he can still be assigned to the Mad Ants an unlimited number of times next season to continue to develop his skills with more consistent minutes.
Of course, that was also the case after they signed him in December.