The Indiana Pacers Need Better Production at the Small Forward Position

[NBAE/Getty Images]

As one might expect, trading away a star small forward like Paul George without replacing him with a player of a similar caliber would translate to lesser production at that position. It only makes matters worse that Glenn Robinson III was going to be relied on as a critical component of the team’s small forward rotation and that he is likely out until at least mid-January. To start the 2017-18 regular season, their current personnel for their small forward rotation has underachieved.

Regardless of the circumstances, the Indiana Pacers must receive greater contributions from their small forwards. While there are other players at different positions that are underperforming and the blame doesn’t entirely belong to their small forwards, it would be a great start to receive stronger contributions from that spot. Not only will having Myles Turner back directly help the team, but it indirectly benefits them by not having to play Al Jefferson. At that point, the focus will then be on their underperforming small forward rotation.

Problems at Small Forward

Bojan Bogdanovic: Right now, Bogdanovic is producing averages of 10.7 points (50% FG, 28.6% 3P, 75% FT), 1.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, and 1.7 turnovers with no steals or blocks in 24.8 minutes per game. The Pacers haven’t found success with him in the game as his on-court advanced metrics are just a 104.8 offensive rating, a 114.4 defensive rating, and a -9.7 net rating. His on-court numbers are easily the worst out of all of Indiana’s regular starters. If the Pacers are unable to cover up his poor defense, then they can’t afford for him to start.

Damien Wilkins: At the moment, Wilkins is currently averaging 1.3 points (50% FG, 0% 3P), 0.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, and 1.7 turnovers with no blocks in 10.7 minutes per game. Indiana has been unsuccessful with him playing as his on-court advanced metrics are just a 96.5 offensive rating, a 109.5 defensive rating, and a -13 net rating. The only player with worse advanced on-court numbers is Al Jefferson, and he is the third string center and is only used on an as-needed basis. Indiana needs to start getting something out of Wilkins or else their bench unit will continue to be hampered.

Possible Options

The Indiana Pacers are currently low on wing depth, so they don’t have a whole lot of options on their roster right now to choose. I analyzed what their choices could be if the production from their current small forward rotation does not rise to an acceptable threshold. Their choices come down to continuing to have faith in their current plan, use small perimeter lineups when the matchup allows it, use Lance Stephenson more at small forward, or to acquire a new wing player.

Use a Small Perimeter: The unit of Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Victor Oladipo, Thaddeus Young, and Domantas Sabonis played for seven minutes together last game and produced a 118.5 offensive rating, an 88 defensive rating, and a 37.5 net rating. The one change I would make to that unit would be to have Myles Turner at the center spot obviously. The sample size is small, but those are their best pieces to use at the moment when the opposition allows them to go with an undersized perimeter. It’s just not something that can be used as a regular lineup.

Use Lance Stephenson More: Lance Stephenson is currently Indiana’s only option outside of Bogdanovic and Wilkins against normal sized small forwards. He is currently averaging 8.0 points (27.3% FG, 15.4% 3P, 40% FT), 1.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, and 1.0 turnover in 20.7 minutes per game. Stephenson currently has a 126.0 on-court defensive rating, which is the worst on the team. However, he has a 115.1 on-court offensive rating, and that’s their best offensive rating behind only Myles Turner.

It has been a truly rough start to the 2017-18 regular season for Lance, but I do believe that his on-court defensive rating isn’t necessarily on him. Their blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers tanked his defensive rating and rarely was he at fault defensively when Portland was hot. Also, he is coming off of a performance where he had a 100.0 defensive rating, which was one of the best on the team. Lance is easily the best-equipped available player on their roster to handle small forward assignments and is by far their best career defensive rebounder.

The primary topic of discussion right now isn’t whether or not the Pacers should start Lance Stephenson at small forward because his play hasn’t made him deserving of that role. However, one option would be to remove Wilkins from their rotation and to split his 10.7 minutes per game between Stephenson, Joseph, and Oladipo. If Stephenson picks up his play and thrives, then the thought of him starting at small forward could be entertained. Indiana could at least help salvage their bench unit while they wait for Robinson III to get healthy if they don’t acquire another wing player.

The central question facing a potential Collison-Oladipo-Stephenson perimeter is can they be cohesive together on offense? Collison is a floor-spacing threat while Oladipo is respectable, but Stephenson gets dared to shoot it. Their whole perimeter would be made up of transition ball handling threats, half-court lane penetrators, pick-and-roll ball handlers, and passers in general, which would maximize the complementary offensive skills of Young and Turner. As long as they aren’t forcing bad shots, the unique elements of the lineup could work.

Offensively, Stephenson has struggled to convert on most of his shot attempts, but he has executed as a pick-and-roll at a tolerable level. While it’s still early, he currently ranked in the 4th percentile in overall offensive efficiency, which is mostly because he has a horrific 30.3% adjusted field goal percentage so far. My point is that there is no perfect solution right now, but I do think that this is idea has the most significant potential of their options that they have with their current roster until Glenn Robinson III is back.

Acquire a New Player: If the Pacers don’t want to use Lance Stephenson more at the small forward position, they could at least go out and sign a small forward to use until Glenn Robinson III returns from injury. They could use another player that is big enough to play at the small forward spot, and that can at least knock down perimeter jump shots. A few players that come to mind as a temporary option are Gerald Green, Anthony Morrow, Hollis Thompson, Matt Barnes, James Jones, or even V.J. Beachem or Georges Niang.

Considering how their team isn’t a contender, I wouldn’t go out of my way to trade for a veteran wing player. It would require either giving up some future salary cap flexibility or would demand them to give up assets that are necessary to complete a rebuild. However, if they were able to trade for a young wing player that they believe in at the cost of either taking on a bad contract, or for a reasonable amount of assets, then I would consider doing it. However, sticking with a temporary signing is likely their best and most accessible option at the moment.

Wait For Glenn Robinson III: The Pacers do have the option of continuing what they are doing now and waiting to see if Bojan Bogdanovic can improve defensively and if Damien Wilkins can start contributing offensively. I would not rely on either of those things happening on a consistent basis because of the history of their careers, but it’s still an option that they have nonetheless. To me, it seems like a long time to wait and see if veteran players will start doing things that they haven’t done during their careers.

About Grant Afseth 249 Articles
Grant Afseth is the lead Indiana Pacers writer for and founder of Indiana Sports Coverage.