Position Battles is a three-part series of stories, released every weekend, highlighting different spots in the rotation that are up for grabs on the Pacers roster. This week, we look at the battle for backup wing minutes.
The Indiana Pacers signed Doug McDermott to a three-year deal to be a staple in their second-unit.
Edmond Sumner signed an extension because the front office saw a future for him as a contributor.
Justin Holiday yielded two second-round picks from the Memphis Grizzlies in a trade last year, a value that is only worthy for an impactful player.
However, not all three of these players can get consistent minutes off the bench. Something must give.
It gets even foggier once Jeremy Lamb or T.J. Warren slides to the bench when Victor Oladipo returns from injury.
Size: 6’8’’ 225 lbs.
2018-19 stats: 77 games, 17.4 MPG, 7.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.5 TPG, .590 eFG%
The case for: McDermott is one of the best catch-and-shoot wings in the entire NBA. A guy off the bench who can knock down three-pointers at one of the best clips in the league is a great tool to have. He’s also got the best size out of him, Sumner and Holiday, so if T.J. Leaf doesn’t cut it at power forward, he may be able to squeak out minutes at power forward. He played 4% of his minutes at power forward last year, according to Cleaning the Glass. You might see that number increase this year.
The case against: Despite being one of the purest shooters in the league, McDermott doesn’t do a good job getting himself open. Some of that can be contributed to McMillan’s lack of offensive creativity, but most of it is because McDermott isn’t very good at moving without the ball. That’s a problem when shooting is really the only thing he does at a high-level. This showed in the playoffs when, despite shooting being even more critical in the playoffs, McDermott fell out of the rotation for game four against the Boston Celtics.
Size: 6’6’’ 181 lbs.
2018-19 stats: 82 games, 31.8 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 TPG, .490 eFG%
The case for: The value McDermott brings on the offensive end is what Holiday brings to the defensive end. He’ll likely be the best perimeter defender in the second-unit, which is important when playing teams that stagger one of their top playmakers with their second-unit. His three-point shooters isn’t lethal, like McDermott, but it’s solid enough to not be a liability.
The case against: There isn’t much to complain about with Holiday, but there isn’t much to rave about either. There’s a world where Lamb gets pushed to the second-unit and shows he can defend the opposing team’s primary playmaker. In that case, Holiday becomes a little redundant. We also don’t know how McMillan will play his rotations. There’s another world where he staggers Malcolm Brogdon’s minutes with the second unit to defend the opposing team’s primary playmaker. That’s another situation that could push Holiday out of the rotation.
Size: 6’6’’ 176 lbs.
2018-19 stats: 23 games, 9.1 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.4 TPG, .398 eFG%
The case for: Sumner has gotten better each year he’s been in the NBA. Believing that Sumner can be a consistent contributor this year is believing in his continued growth. He’s the most athletic of the three and the youngest. He’s just so raw and has so much room to grow. That’s a good thing. If nobody separates themselves from the pack, it’s worth weaving Sumner more into the rotation for development purposes.
The case against: He’s proven himself the least, significantly. For Sumner to become one of the primary backups, he would have had to improve quite a bit this offseason. He hasn’t shown he can shoot well at the NBA level. His decision-making is poor. It may be another year before Sumner fixes some of these flaws and finds himself in the rotation.
It’s worth noting that this analysis is less cut and dry and the previous two position battles. For starters, you must look at it pre-Oladipo and with Oladipo, and even within those situations, the minutes are likely to be filled by a combination of the three.
Pre-Oladipo is a little clearer. It makes sense to play Holiday as the backup shooting guard and McDermott as the backup small forward, with Sumner used in emergency situations. That’s a nice offense-defense balance.
Once Oladipo returns, and for the sake of the exercise, Lamb slides to the second-unit, I think Holiday will see the bulk of the leftover minutes. I realize I’m a little higher on him as most, but I think you get 80% of McDermott’s offense out of Holiday, but only 50% of Holiday’s defense out of McDermott.
However, it’s nice to be in a situation to be able to change who gets most of the minutes depending on the night. Need defense? Play more Holiday. Need offense? Play more McDermott.
Sumner seems to be the odd man out here. He’s just not ready at this point. He’ll be the first wing to crack the rotation whenever someone goes out with an injury, but I’d be surprised if he plays in more than 50 games. He’s one year away.