Mark's Mailbag: Sabonis as a Starter?

Q. What was Myles Turner’s focal point as far as which area he wanted to improve the most for his off-season training?

-Donald

A. Turner talked mostly of general improvement, which makes sense for a 21-year-old. He did mention that he got stronger, too.

What you’re probably hoping to hear is that he worked on his post-up game. He’s done that, but it’s difficult to know how much. He still seemed to shy away from scoring with his back to the basket in the preseason. I’ve seen him working on it with a coach after practice in training camp, but it doesn’t appear as though he’s transformed himself into Kareem-Abdul Jabbar or even Rik Smits. He has the finesse to be effective there, he just needs to develop more confidence and ingrain some moves.

Turner also expects to hit a better percentage of his 3-pointers. He hit 34.8 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, but tailed off toward the end. He’ll likely do better this season, when the light cast his direction by coach Nate McMillan turns from olive to bright green.

Q. Would a Hoosier Summer League be something that interests Pacer management? Orlando’s Summer league is in a great location, but does not provide adequate seating for fans.

-James

A. I remember Donnie Walsh talking about the possibility of trying to bring a Summer League to Indianapolis years ago, but I haven’t heard anything about it in a long time.

You’re right, the Orlando Summer League doesn’t provide much seating for fans – certainly not like in Las Vegas. But I think NBA teams like going to more “exotic” locations for the summer league, since it lasts for a week. It’s not like the front office members hang out at Disney World all week, but there’s plenty to do there and it seems ingrained.

Q. Was wondering if you could see Sabonis and Turner starting together, with Bogdanovic coming off the bench? This could help fix our rebounding problem, while playing tall but still be able to knock threes from all position.

-Arnaud

A. If Sabonis and Turner are starting together, and Bogdanovic is coming off the bench, I presume you’re keeping Thad Young in the starting lineup. That would indeed be a better rebounding lineup, but that would move Young to the “three” position and he would have a difficult time defending some small forwards.

I think he could play the position against some teams, though, and I would be in favor. He’s still agile for his size (and age) as he’s proven in the way he defends pick-and-rolls. He’s able to switch off onto guards, an asset that was sorely missed when he was injured last season.

Regardless of who starts, I think Turner and Sabonis will be together on the court frequently. Rebounding will be the biggest issue facing the Pacers this season, and they are the team’s most physical rebounders. Overall, though, I don’t know that Sabonis is a significantly better rebounder than Thad Young, who seems better able to track down the longer rebounds because of his quickness. Young led the team in rebounding in the preseason, for what that’s worth.

I started to write that a Turner-Sabonis-Young frontline would damage the team’s 3-point capabilities, but not as much as people probably think. Turner hit .348 of his 3-point attempts last season, Young .381 and Sabonis .321. Turner and Sabonis are capable of improvement, while Young’s percentage was a career-high. Bogdanovic shot .367 from the 3-point line. The difference between him and Sabonis isn’t that great, and Sabonis is capable of closing the gap, but the Pacers will need every 3-pointer they can get. Bogdanovic is a classic spot-up 3-point shooter while Sabonis and Young are not, so they aren’t as likely to be able to spread the defense.

Still, I think Sabonis is an intriguing player with great upside, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him become a starter – one way or another.

Q. Do you think Bojan Bogdanovic can do something similar to what James Johnson did for Miami? As in: most think he doesn’t have a real future with the team, but performs very well, exceeds expectations and has an extended stay with the team.

-Josh

A. I had to check Johnson’s stats, because I freely admit to not being a James Johnson expert. He improved his scoring average by more than seven points last season, something that rarely happens in a player’s eighth NBA season, when he averaged 12.8 points while playing most off Miami’s bench. That also was more than three points beyond what he had ever averaged in a season. Just goes to prove that some players can keep improving, and need to be in the right place at the right time so they’re not left out.

That could happen with Bogdanovic this season, although to a lesser degree. He averaged 14.2 points in 27 minutes per game for Brooklyn last season, then 12.7 points in 23.1 minutes for Washington. He’s 28 years old, but in just his fourth NBA season, so it can be argued he’s still adapting. He has a starting opportunity and will get up plenty of 3-point shots, that being his primary purpose for being in the NBA. He hit 39 percent of his attempts in 26 games with Washington last season, so if he can continue at that pace and defend well enough to stay on the court for extended minutes, his scoring average could go up.

But not at a James Johnson level. It’s not like Bogdanovic will be featured in the offense, so he’s not going to suddenly average 20 points a game.

Q. Mark, do you foresee Sabonis entering the starting lineup at some point this season to play along with Turner? If so, do you think Turner could handle the “four” spot on the defensive end?

-Anthony

A. Sabonis is a starting caliber player. Oklahoma City thought so even last season, when he started 66 games of the 81 games in which he played as a rookie. He’s obviously improved this season, and capable of starting for the Pacers.

However, I don’t know that he’s a better player than Thad Young, whom I consider underrated. He’s also more versatile than Young, and just 21 years old.

For those reasons, I think it’s best to bring him off the bench this season. He can back up both “four” and “five” and get starter minutes that way, just as Lance Stephenson will get starter minutes backing up “two” and “three” and perhaps even “one.”

Regardless of whether he starts or not, I think Sabonis can play with Turner. Sabonis is a capable postup player and Turner loves to play on the perimeter – the farther out the better, it seems. Defensively, both are going to struggle if defending on the perimeter, but they might have advantages of their own on the offensive end.


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Some mailbag questions have been edited for length and clarity.

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