Nate McMillan Has Many Options At His Fingertips
The Pacers organization is at an intersection between two eras. The most recent time period featured two conference finals trips, but now the team enters a future with a variety of young players. The transition from one roster to the next will involve quite a few serviceable players, and this will create multiple lineup opportunities for the squad.
I wrote earlier this week about some unique lineups the Pacers can deploy, but this time I want to focus on more useful groups. Because the team will want to get minutes for guys who are a part of the franchise’s future, these lineups will include more players who are likely to stick around for more than this season.
Before we get into the best defensive lineup, let’s clear something up about the Pacers point guards. The best defensive point guard on the team is…
None of them. They all stink. Joseph stinks. Collison stinks. Joe Young really stinks. If a one possession stop is needed, you could see a lineup without a point guard. But if McMillan needs a defensive group to play for a three to five minute stretch, there are no good point guard options. Therefore, I am putting Joseph in this group because, according to NBA Math’s defensive points saved metric, Joseph is the best defender of the group:
- Point guard: Cory Joseph
- Shooting guard: Lance Stephenson
- Small forward: Glenn Robinson
- Power forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Myles Turner
Most of these positions were pretty easy to fill. Turner is already a skilled rim protector, Robinson is far better on defense than Bogdanovic, and Stephenson is more energetic than Oladipo.
But picking Sabonis over Thaddeus Young was the hardest decision.
Young is a veteran – and he is semi-agile. He has proven he can guard both in the post and on the wing at an average level. But Sabonis is already pretty good on defense, and he is going to be a Pacer for a long time. This gif, per Thunderous Intentions, shows some of Sabonis’ defensive skills. He blocks a pass to Gasol on the wing, then cuts off Kawhi Leonard on the switch.
His footwork and body positioning go a long way in preventing the pick and roll action from succeeding. His aggressiveness on defense will have a significant impact, and should get him some minutes in defensive lineups over Thad Young. If Young wasn’t likely on the way out, he would surely be in this group. But the future of the team is more important, so Sabonis should get the minutes over Young. Domantas and Turner building some defensive chemistry is vital this season.
This is the best defensive group the Pacers can play for their future, and against the many high powered offenses in the NBA, expect to see this lineup used somewhat frequently.
Garbage Time Lineup
As weird as it sounds, the garbage-time lineup is actually very important. With a focus on the future, the Pacers need to play a lineup that both builds chemistry and gives opportunities to some of the younger guys who won’t play as much. This will give them some playing time and help ensure no injuries for the rotation players.
- Point guard: Joe young
- Shooting guard: Damien Wilkins/Lance Stephenson
- Small forward: T.J. Leaf
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Al Jefferson
The 2 guard is tough to decide. Stephenson is probably a little too good to have in a garbage time lineup, but Damien Wilkins isn’t very good and is not part of the Pacers future. Either one fits in poorly, so pick your poison.
The rest of this group is guys who won’t get many minutes. Sabonis will play a fair amount, but he is young and needs to garner up some chemistry with Leaf. This lineup creates an opportunity for that.
Leaf showed in summer league he can play on the wing. It won’t ever be his best position, but it won’t ever be bad either. Here he catches the ball on the outside and simply beats his matchup to the basket for a layup:
Not only can he do it, he makes it look easy. Sure, it’s summer league, but it didn’t look awkward, and it shows he could grow into a player with a role out of the post.
He’s also relatively fast. Watch him run down the court and fill his lane here, leading to a dunk:
Of course both of these clips are things that a stretch four could do, too. But his speed and feel for the outside game will allow him to succeed at least in spurts. Even though this lineup isn’t supposed to be good, it could be used as a tool to help develop some young players and get a little value out of the older veterans.
More Pacers lineups were discussed on Locked On Pacers this week if you want to listen to some other possible iterations of players the team may use. McMillan has a tall task in front of him, balancing the future and the now. Let’s hope he can play the lineups that get the most out of the roster for years to come.