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Introducing Myles Turner and Isaiah Jackson — as a frontcourt pairing

Turner and Jackson finally played together against the Pelicans, and they should keep playing together — for now.

Indiana Pacers v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Here is who started the second half the last time the Indiana Pacers played the New Orleans Pelicans: Caris LeVert, Chris Duarte, Justin Holiday, Torrey Craig, and Oshae Brissett. Aside from the obvious of how much has changed over the last 10 months — with three of those players no longer on the team, one now earning DNPs on most nights, and the other currently sidelined for at least the next two weeks — what arguably stands out most about that group is the absence of a traditional center.

Of course, on that particular night, Jonas Valanciunas was a bulldozer, drawing nine fouls for the game, whereas Goga Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson were both jumpy, either defending at weird angles on the perimeter or biting on every pump-fake around the basket. Consequently, neither entered the game in the second half until after the 6:00 mark of the third quarter, as the team instead pivoted to playing small while fronting the post and managing foul trouble. For the half, Bitadze and Jackson combined to play a grand total of 15 minutes. Fast forward to now, however, and consider how the tables turned. Rather than leaving the Pacers with no choice but to downsize, Valanciunas stayed on the bench for the entire fourth quarter of Monday’s 129-122 win over the Pelicans.

Granted, very little — if any — of that had to do with Jackson, let alone Bitadze. After all, the latter never even stepped on the court, and the former tallied fewer points in 17 minutes (4) than what was the case when he battled foul trouble back in January (6). Still, something very notable happened during Jackson’s playing time: for the first time, he shared the court with Myles Turner, who in the span of a week went from getting benched during crunch-time against the Brooklyn Nets to playing arguably the most complete and impactful game of his career. Again, those two things aren’t related, but they also weren’t unrelated — at least not as far as Jackson being some sort of a hindrance.

Here, for example, though it may seem counterintuitive for Jackson to be defending Valanciunas, look at how the vision of being able to switch while minimizing weaknesses and keeping two bigs on the floor comes into focus. With Nembhard chasing over and then veering into Valanciunas as the screener, Jackson puts a cork on the ball, stagnating the offense just long enough for Turner to scram out the mismatch.

Sure, Valanciunas still weaponizes his shoulder to convert the hook shot with his strong hand, but that’s largely a case of losing the battle to win the war. Remember, with the Pacers piling on possessions in transition after halftime, Zion Williamson was the only “big” who played for the Pelicans during the fourth quarter. In the meantime, Turner played solid defense without fouling, which is obviously an upgrade from last season when Jackson was getting dislodged and couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

Plus, when Valanciunas wasn’t on the floor, the Pacers had the option to switch with more size against Brandon Ingram (who did A LOT of mean things to Buddy Hield) while still maintaining secondary rim protection. This was probably the lanky scorer’s toughest shot attempt of the game.

On that note, with Trey Murphy being the off-ball wing on the floor and shooting over 40 percent from three on 4.5 attempts per game, the Pelicans didn’t really have an obvious hiding place for Jackson to play weak-side roamer during these stints, much less help off the strong-side corner to which he was tightly tethered.

That said, the same hasn’t been the case in other match-ups. When the Pacers were switching with the aim of keeping the defense out of rotation against actions involving Kristaps Porzingis, Jackson was cross-matched with Rui Hachimura, allowing him to stay low while also pouncing driving lanes as opposed to defending in space.

Likewise, there was a stretch during the fourth quarter against Detroit in which he was assigned to Killian Hayes, which gave him enough rope to cover up the rim — even from above the break.

Taken altogether, there’s an intriguing pathway where the Pacers could magnify Jackson’s mobility and skills as an event creator while protecting his fouls and keeping him out of the cat-and-mouse game, where he can get lost and struggle with positioning. In that way, when Jackson is defending the screener, they could switch and off-ball switch with Turner to prevent mismatches. Then, when Turner is defending the big, they could play drop or at the level, with Jackson functioning to lurk around every corner. In essence, where Turner would block shots while absorbing the ball, Jackson would block shots on the perimeter or when he rotates to the ball.

Offensively, Jackson is more a magnet for tags as the screener and has only attempted one three in 10 games this season, so Turner would most likely be operating like he has in the past, floating around the perimeter while perhaps not being checked by opposing fives.

Such was the case, here, when Jackson’s roll-gravity opened the possibility for the extra pass to Buddy Hield in the corner.

Given how vocal he has been about playing at his natural position, it remains to be seen how playing with Jackson would be received by Turner, as well as potential trade partners, over a larger sample size. But, that’s the thing: playing Jackson with Turner doesn’t have to be a starting combination, it just needs to be a combination — in some capacity.

At this time last week, the Pacers were coming off a loss to the Nets in which Turner didn’t play with Jackson, and he finished with as many combined fouls and turnovers (7) as points (7). Now, in a strong rebuttal to the strain he showed in carving out space against smaller guards and reading help defenders in Brooklyn, he dominated the Pelicans — running the floor hard in transition, drilling shots against drop coverage, ducking-in against zone, and immediately rolling to establish deep position against switches. He wasn’t just filling gaps. He was physical, and he was on the floor at the end of the game, providing a juxtaposition not only to his own experience versus the Nets but also to Valanciunas, who watched from the sideline after forcing the Pacers to adjust in the prior match-up.

That’s a credit to Turner, along with how much the Pelicans struggled to contain Tyrese Haliburton and how quickly the team was changing ends of the floor and getting into offense. Still, in addition to finishing with 37 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks, Turner played six minutes with Isaiah Jackson, which is more than Jackson played in the second half against the Pelicans last January, when he logged roughly two minutes of action. As such, while Jackson didn’t really have much of a hand in Turner’s onslaught, it’s possible that Turner could have an impact on revealing what the Pacers have in Jackson.

For as long as the roster remains as is, what the win over the Pelicans goes to show is that boosting Turner’s value, whether to the Pacers or in trade with another team, doesn’t have to come at the expense of examining all options for how to best mold his understudy, even if only in small — and potentially temporary — bursts.