Tag Archives: Myles Turner

Trying to Forge an Identity in Indiana

In recent years, the Indiana Pacers have had a strong, recognizable identity. With players like David West and Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup, the Pacers ran a deliberate offense built around set plays. Defensively, they played aggressive, effective team defense and had the benefit of stellar rim protection from Hibbert.

Once David West opted out of his contract and decided to sign with San Antonio, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird decided the team should go to a more uptempo style. He proceeded to trade Hibbert and make numerous other tweaks to the roster to suit the style he wanted the team to play.

The plan hit a snag early on, when Paul George balked at playing “small ball” because it could mean he’d be spending significant time at the power forward position. Despite this, Bird and head coach Frank Vogel went ahead with the plan.

Initially, the Pacers really took to the new style, getting off to a fast start as the season began. Over time, however, the Pacers have slowly shifted back toward a bigger, more traditional lineup. One of the reasons for this has been the emergence of rookie center Myles Turner. Turner can run the floor and shoot well from the outside, allowing the Pacers to space the floor and play more uptempo, but still have plenty of size in the lineup.

As long as Turner is starting and playing well, Indiana has the best of both worlds when it comes to meshing their old and new styles. The problem here is that the Pacers are caught in the middle – Bird maintains his interest in playing faster and smaller, while Vogel is more comfortable with a bigger lineup, although he does use a smaller lineup from time to time.

Flexibility is a good thing, but only up to a point. The Pacers don’t have an identity right now…no one from the outside really knows what they are, and those within the organization are just as unsure about what kind of team this is or what direction they are taking.

Another consequence that has come from the attempted style change is that the Pacers’ defense has become very inconsistent. At times, their defense has been among the best in the NBA, but other times, their defense has been very porous.

The team is now in a position of having no direction or identity on either end of the floor. On top of that, the individual roles of the players are in flux as well.

In the early part of the year, Paul George was the team’s go-to guy in late-game situations. He wasn’t coming through, and the Pacers were losing nearly all the close games they were involved in. Of late, Monta Ellis has been moved into the “closer” role, but the results haven’t been much better.

So, the team is grasping at straws trying to find a guy who can hit big shots in crunch time…and that situation also creates uncertainty in terms of leadership among the players. NBA teams tend to function best when they have a go-to guy and/or established leader, and Indiana has neither at this point in the season.

Despite all this uncertainty, Indiana is still having a better year than they did in 2014-15. The team shows a lot of promise, but their performances have been up-and-down and they’re hovering just above the .500 mark as a result.

In order to get the most out of this roster, Bird and Vogel need to settle on a rotation and offensive style of play. The inconsistency in the style of play and inconsistent results go hand-in-hand…and establishing an offensive identity will help the defense perform more reliably as well.

Leadership is a more organic parameter, but generally, your best player needs to be your strongest leader. Paul George is still evolving in that role, and has struggled at times to carry the burden of leadership. This element is a shared responsibility among Indiana’s players right now, and the Pacers won’t reach their potential until that area is solidified.

Going into this season, everyone knew this team would be a work in progress. Now that we are about 50 games in, however, the issues they need to work on and resolve have been identified. If the Pacers can make further progress in these areas by April, they’ll be a tough out when playoff time rolls around.

Indiana Pacers: A State of Flux

A lot has changed since the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers ended their season just short of a playoff berth last spring. Gone are veteran power forward David West and defensive-minded center Roy Hibbert. The style of play has also changed, going from a deliberate pace to a more uptempo approach. The other thing that has changed? The team is winning.

Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird was planning to make at least one more run with the core group he had after the 2014-15 season. However, David West chose to opt out of his contract to sign with the San Antonio Spurs (at a greatly reduced salary). Once this domino fell, Bird decided to reshape the team in order to play the uptempo style that he prefers.

In order for the Pacers to play at a faster pace, plodding center Roy Hibbert had to go. He was given, er, traded to the Lakers during the offseason. Now, some players needed to be added that would fit the uptempo game. The most significant of these additions was Monta Ellis, a 6-3 combo guard who is an accomplished scorer and underrated passer. A younger, more athletic center was brought on board when Bird drafted 6-11 Myles Turner out of the University of Texas. There were several other minor player additions made, all with an eye toward playing at a faster tempo.

The big question now would be: after missing nearly the entire season recovering from a gruesome leg injury, what would the Pacers get out of All-Star Paul George?

George was a bright, up-and-coming talent who had already achieved All-Star status after being drafted by Larry Bird in 2010. While practicing with Team USA on August 1, 2014, George suffered a severe leg fracture, causing him to miss all but the last six games of the regular season. After a lengthy rehab process, would Paul George ever be the player he once was?

We now have the answer to this, and it’s an emphatic no. Paul George is not the player he once was, but incredibly, he’s better. So far this season, George has averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game. He’s also shooting an impressive 45% from 3-point range. Add to that the stellar defense he plays every night, and it would be fair to say that George has come back with a vengeance.

There was talk before the season started that George would be moved to power forward in this new uptempo scheme, but that hasn’t been an issue for him or for the team. While George is spending some time at the ‘4,’ it’s not dramatically changing the way he plays…he’s still showing the all-around game that he’s always had, but he’s doing it even better in this system.

pg and cj miles

A guy who deserves a lot of credit for Paul George’s performance so far this year is C.J. Miles. Why? Because C.J. has been willing to take on the daunting task of defending the opposing team’s power forward when that player has superior size and has a post game. Miles is three inches shorter than George, but he’s battling with those big men for the good of the team, and so far, it’s working.

It’s usually difficult for a team to find any success with multiple new players and a new offensive system, but after a slow start, Indiana is really taking to the uptempo approach. It’s a fun system to play in, and the Pacers have a roster stocked with guys who are well-suited for a faster style of play. As much as their offense has improved, their strong defense from last season hasn’t fallen off very much, and that’s a real key to why this new philosophy has been successful.

And, the most important piece to this puzzle has to be Paul George coming back and playing at a superstar level after suffering such a devastating injury. Pacer Nation would have been thrilled if George had just returned to his prior All-Star form, but he’s a better and more dominant player now than he ever was before.

Indiana found out this past Tuesday night just how far they have to go to get to an elite level, however, falling at home 131-123 to the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. The Pacers are now playing a similar style to that of the Warriors, but the Warriors do it better than anyone. The Indiana Pacers are clearly on their way up, but they haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet.

The Pacers have been one of the surprise teams of the league thus far, and the future looks bright as well. They should continue to get better at executing this offense as the season unfolds. The main concern, other than significant injuries, would be maintaining their defensive focus in such an offensive-oriented system. If they can do that, Indiana will be a tough “out” for anyone they play once the playoffs begin.