Pacers Mailbag: On Defense, lineups and the excitement of a new season
Answering your questions from the first few weeks of the Pacers' season.
Each month, I’ll open it up to paid subscribers for questions. As always, you can leave your thoughts in the comments or click here to send me an email.
Rob: There has been a lot of talk about the focus on defense. What are your expectations from this team on the defensive end? It’s clear they are going to be a fun offensive team to watch but need the balance of defense to be a playoff team.
That’s absolutely right. Significant progress with this team will be made in two ways, upgrade in personnel and improvement defensively. Their defense the last two seasons (28th and 26th in defensive rating, respectively) has been unacceptable. It’s the first thing everyone discussed at exit interviews last April.
It starts with each guy becoming a better individual defender, able to guard their yard and rely far less on help. They spent time in camp emphasizing that in many ways, including 1-on-1 battles. Obi Toppin likes to make sure we’re aware that he was the last winner. What happened against Giannis and the Bucks cannot happen. Even when they switched coverages and sent help, Giannis split the double-team and then slashed around defenders. I did like how Bennedict Mathurin, like a bulldog, embraced the physical matchup to close the game against Giannis.
It’s great how the Pacers are the top-scoring team (126), but they’re giving up the fifth-most points per game and easily the most in the paint (61.1). What they’re doing to discourage 3s is working; they’re tied with the Pistons for yielding the fewest made 3s per game: 10.1.
Like you said, there needs to be better balance. Assistant coaches Jenny Boucek and Jim Boylen have taken on more responsibility with the defense. And if this group can become a top 15 defense, then things get interesting.
Christopher: I can't believe how poised Ben Shepherd has looked in preseason. I was thinking we had 14 guys on the roster deserving to be in the rotation, but Ben has pushed it to 15. It's a good problem to have from a team perspective, but sooner or later players are going to be upset at not playing -- especially those in contract years. Which guys do you think are most likely to get traded by the deadline, and what would you like to see us get in return?
The depth is a good problem to have when you need it, in the case of fouls, injuries or a player having a down swing. But in the playoffs, you need stars. Stars win. Individual minutes increase and the rotation tightens in postseason play. That’s why I continue to emphasize the team’s need to consolidate roster spots.
Center Daniel Theis is most likely to be moved, there just hasn’t been a market that emerged. The Clippers were interested this summer and yes, Mason Plumlee’s injury could restart that possibility. The other real option is a buyout.
T.J. McConnell’s situation is difficult to watch as well. A veteran, coming off the best season in his career, and he’s getting DNP-Coach’s Decision most games. Depth at point guard is something you want, but he could really help a playoff team. Still, I commend him for being a leader and helping out on the bench however he can.
Both of these players are veterans of the NBA and in their 30s; and the competition in camp for playing time was fierce. Jalen Smith is more relaxed and comfortable in his role this season and as a byproduct, he’s playing much better and producing.