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Position Battles Part II: Starting Small Forward

Brooks Hepp takes a look at the second of three position battles on the Pacers: starting small forward between T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb.

Indiana Pacers Introduce Free Agents - Press Conference Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

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 starting small forward once Oladipo returns.

The Indiana Pacers have their opening night starting lineup set.

Malcolm Brogdon-Jeremy Lamb-T.J. Warren-Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner.

But what happens when Victor Oladipo returns?

It gets a little less clear. Warren and Lamb both have experience starting and coming off the bench, and both of them have traits that make them intriguing fits in both spots.

The Candidates

T.J. Warren

Size: 6’8’’ 215 lbs.

2018-19 stats: 43 games, 31.6 MPG, 18.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 TPG, .549 eFG%

The case for: If Warren’s three-point shooting from last year (42.8% on 4.2 attempts per game) is the real Warren and not a one-year anomaly, then he will be the perfect floor-spacer alongside Oladipo’s playmaking and exactly what the Sabonis-Turner frontcourt needs at the wing. With Warren in the starting lineup, you have three great outside shooters, an elite playmaker and one of the best screeners in the league. That has the making of a very strong offensive unit.

The case against: There’s always the possibility that Warren’s outside shooting last year will not be sustained. Prior to last year, he shot 28.3% on 1.3 attempts per game. If he regressed back to his shooting in his first few seasons, then that takes away the most intriguing aspect of starting Warren. Also, he has a history of injury, headlined by only playing 43 games last year. Ideally, you would want more stability in the starting lineup. He will likely struggle defending starting-caliber wings.

Jeremy Lamb

Size: 6’5’’ 185 lbs.

2018-19 stats: 79 games, 28.6 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 5.5RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 TPG, .499 eFG%

The case for: Lamb doesn’t do anything at an extremely high-level, but he also doesn’t do anything poorly. That might be the best thing for the fifth starter in a lineup with four superior players. He may be smaller than Warren, but he actually has a larger wingspan than Warren (6’11’’ versus 6’9’’), which is part of the reason he’s a better defender. He’s also a better rebounder. Those are some of the little things that might make him a better fit.

The case against: The case against Lamb starting has more to do with the positive impact he could have on the bench and less about what he can’t provide with the starters. The bench has a lot of unknowns, and players with clear flaws. The jury is out on Aaron Holiday and Goga Bitadze. Doug McDermott and T.J. Leaf struggle defensively. It would go a long way to have Lamb in the second-unit to stabilize some of that uncertainty. He also has more experience coming off the bench than Warren and may be more comfortable in that position.

The Skinny

This will begin as Warren’s spot to lose, but there will be plenty of time to decide which fit is best until Oladipo returns in December or January. I’m anticipating that both will see a lot of time staggering with the second unit to get a feel.

But bottom-line is that it will come down to Warren’s shooting. As I said before, if last year is the new Warren, then he’s the floor-spacer the starting lineup needs. If that was a one-year anomaly, then he might be best used as a vacuum scorer in a second-unit that lacks in playmaking. That should be apparent by the time Oladipo returns from injury.

However, the starting unit has a lot of instability as it is. It’s Brogdon’s first year in Indiana. Oladipo will be working through his return. Turner and Sabonis will be trying to make their twin-towers pairing work. So if Warren can’t consistently stay healthy, there’s no point in making the starting lineup even more unstable by flip-flopping Warren and Lamb around Warren’s injuries.

This, as with all the position battles, has a lot of variables.

Check back in next weekend for Part III of Position Battles, where we will take a look at the battle for backup minutes at the wing.

In case you missed it

Part I: Backup Point Guard