8p9s Roundtable: Early Season Thoughts

Nov 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) posts up against Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) posts up against Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

A year ago the biggest question about the Indiana Pacers was “How many games could they go before their first loss?” This year the biggest one so far is “Who gets injured next?” Needless to say, the Paul George injury would have been bad enough, but starting the season missing George Hill, David West, and C.J. Watson has had a huge impact on the Pacers win total. Oh and on top of that Rodney Stuckey’s few minutes on the court have been fun, but he’s trying to get back to 100% too.

All that has added up to a 1-4 record and frustration as help is only on the way as players get healthy, but the timetables are uncertain. The 8 Points, 9 Seconds staff gathers for a roundtable to answer a few questions about the good, the bad, and they ugly so far this season.

How good is Roy Hibbert playing compared to his peak last season?

Tim Donahue: He’s been solid offensively and on the boards, and he remains a very positive force defensively. According to SportsVU player tracking on NBA.com, he’s allowing only 32% at the rim – even better than his 41% last season. The Pacers are only giving up 9 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (91 vs. 100), despite the disaster that has been the starting unit. If you remove the 64 minutes he’s spent with the starters as a group – they’re allowing almost 110 points per hundred – Indiana is allowing a paltry 79-point opponent offensive efficiency with Roy patrolling the paint.

All in all, he’s probably not far off – maybe even better, if you exclude the Washington game. It just matters less.

Jon Washburn: I actually think he’s playing slightly better. Hibbert’s defense has been just as outstanding as always, and he’s dealing with even more threats at the hoop than normal. He has also hustled back to thwart numerous fast breaks, which show he has been completely engaged.

Jalen Bishop: Similarly. It doesn’t feel the same because Indiana stinks this year but his play is good. You know what he’s capable of doing defensively and he’s displaying why he’s a top three defensive center in the league. The stats and eye test back it up. I’ve been impressed with Hibbert’s play on offense without PG and Lance. All the pressure is on him to be a competent scorer and he’s done that so far.

Ben Gibson: He’s a positive force on both ends of the floor, which is all Indiana needs from him. Even though his defense wasn’t ever the issue, the lack of offensive output at the worst times last year wasn’t enough for the Pacers to get wins when they needed them. I think as the regular starters return, Hibbert’s offense will improve as he isn’t a focal point for defenders. This year he’s been making an impact on offense, with only one bad game (Washington) on that end, but on defense he was still there as he’s been getting blocks and making sure his area around the basket is well patrolled. When shooters are within 6 feet, Hibbert has them shooting 16.5% worse than they normally do, and that’s slightly better than what he was doing last year.

Which role player has been the most pleasant surprise so far this year?

Bishop: Chris Copeland. It’s fun seeing him to launch threes and call his own post-ups as if he’s a perennial All-Star. Cope is basically averaging J.R. Smith career numbers so far. Yeah, that’s not exactly noteworthy but what do you really expect from a guy who’s job is to hover around the arc.

Donahue: My first instinct is to say Copeland, but these results aren’t really all that surprising. Both Cope’s strengths and weaknesses are on display, reminding you of both the urge to play him, and why people can resist that urge. No, the most surprising player to me is Solomon Hill.

To be honest, I was starting to lose hope, until the Atlanta game.That was the first time I thought he looked like he belonged on the floor in an NBA game. Since then, Solo has shown visible progress, and – while mistakes remain abundant – he is learning from them and getting more confident with each contest.

It’s hard to see a high ceiling on Solomon Hill, but he is becoming more credible as a rotational wing for the future. It doesn’t hurt that Pacer coach Frank Vogel is among his fans. “He’s a tough-minded guy,” Vogel said. “I love what I get from him. (He brings) an edge to our defense. He’s growing in confidence on the offensive end. He’s going to be a fourth/fifth option – much like Paul George was, when he got his first taste of real minutes. It’s gonna take time, but I like what I’m seeing from him out there.”

Gibson: I think Copeland’s been the most fun, but Solomon Hill’s emergence has been what I’ve kept my eye on. Adding depth to the bench will be big to any hopes of a playoff push and Solomon Hill is working to become a competent part of the rotation. He’s going to make mistakes, but that’s part of growing as a player.

Washburn: As much as I want to say Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill has to be answer. We are talking about a guy about whom all of us wondered whether he was even a real NBA player near the end of the preseason.

Which role players has disappointed you the most?

Washburn: It’s got to be C.J. Miles. Before the Washington game, he had a PER of 1.2. Is that a joke?

Donahue: It has to be Luis Scola.

Unlike many others, I did not think Lu-lu (as Chris Copeland calls him) was a disaster last year. He did slump,but Scola was a big part of that dominant start. I had hoped that he’d be able to give the offense a lift while filling an expanded role during David West’s absence. It has not worked out that way. He has a team-worst Offensive On/Off differential,as the Pacers score almost 18 fewer points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

In a lot of ways, Scola just looks out of place out there. He is rebounding – career best ORB% (11.1), DRB% (29.5%), TRB% (18.5%) – and hitting 48% of his field goal attempts. But, oh…the turnovers. His 29.7% individual TOV% is more than twice his career worst mark (last year’s 14.8%), and the team is turning the ball over almost 21% of the time with him on the floor.

“We talk about playing the game through random action, a lot,” Vogel said, when asked to discuss Luis’ struggles. “[Scola] has been one of the best on our team with that. Playing the dribble-handoff game, hitting the corners in quick pick-and-rolls, and things like that. He’s just a little quick with his passes, and maybe trying to rush things too much. He’ll stabilize, I’m sure.”

Vogel is probably (probably) right, here, but there’s plenty reason to worry. This is a 34-year old player whose surrounding cast doesn’t look to get better in the immediate future. Not a recipe for bouncing back any time soon.

Bishop: Even though his numbers look okay, I’ll pick Luis Scola. Through five games, he’s been super careless with the ball. He turned it over four times in the first five minutes of the game against the Grizzlies and most of them were without defensive pressure. I hate watching him drive to the rim to throw up an awkward layup and I can say the same about him defensively. He’s not to fun to watch.

Gibson: Scola, finally had a zero turnover game against Washington, but his three turnovers a game have been part of the Pacers larger turnover problem. I’d be much more forgiving if he was doing anything offensively, but he’s barely scoring 6 points a game while posting a +/- of -12.4. Considering he averaged 7.6 off the bench last year, it is hard not to disappointed in his output. Even though he’s going up against starters I don’t think we would have anticipated him playing this poorly so far.

Will Donald Sloan have a place in the rotation when George Hill and C.J. Watson return?

Donahue: Possibly, but I can’t imagine it being a big one.

Sloan has put up numbers (15-6-6 through first five games, but so have his counterparts. In the last four games, the other team’s starting point guard have averaged 24-5-6 while shooting over 49% from the floor. That’s not all on Donald, but he certainly carries a large part of the responsibility. Pacer fans fond of complaining about George Hill’s defense are being forcefully reminded what a bad defensive point guard actually looks like.

His future minutes on a healthy Pacer team (sans Paul George) will be more a function of lack of wing depth than Sloan’s skill or value as a point guard. Sloan won’t get minutes ahead of either George Hill or C.J. Watson at the one, but there is a very real possibility that either or both of those guys will see extended minutes at the 2. Vogel is less than thrilled with having to use Chris Copeland and Damjan Rudez at the wing, and he will be sorely tempted to trade size for more known quantities. That could create open minutes for Sloan.

Bishop: The same amount that he played when Watson and Hill were in the regular rotation. It’s unfortunate because I have enjoyed watching him fight and scrap against starting point guards.

Vogel could use him as a second team shooting guard since Miles is struggling and Stuckey is hobbling at the moment. Indiana ran two point guard lineups a bit during last year with C.J. Watson at the 2 so Sloan could find time there.

Washburn: I think he definitely has a spot in the rotation against certain lineups. With an entirely healthy team, he may still get several DNP-CDs, but I could also seeing him get 12-15 minutes in lineups with Watson/Hill at the 2. His improvement might actually make him or Watson a possible trade target should the Pacers want to upgrade another position once the team returns to full health.

Gibson: Maybe. I only say maybe because with Lance Stephenson gone, there is more time for him to play shooting guard or move as Dohahue suggested, put George Hill or C.J. Watson there. But outside of what Donahue has already said about how Vogel may manage the the 2, his minutes will take a drastic hit.

On a scale of Forgetting to Buy Milk At The Store to The Hinderberg Exploding on the Titanic, how big of a disaster is C.J. Miles so far

Bishop: He’s been bad. I actually gave him a C+ grade in the game vs. Memphis because he scored nine points in the first quarter. Indiana probably doesn’t score 10 that quarter if he didn’t hit those 20-foot jumpers.

He’s in an expanded role that he clearly can’t fill. I would like to think he will get back to the mean and start making shots but he’s the only wing guy with range that can do some stuff off the dribble. Every shot of his is gonna be guarded and it doesn’t help that his game is revolved around 20-foot jumpers.

Donahue: In the narrow terms of actual play? Oh, the humanity. In terms of how worried I am? It’s a five-minute drive to the store for milk.

He’s not hitting shots, so he’s useless at the moment. Up until the Washington game, he was getting reasonable looks. After Tuesday night’s loss to Milwaukee, he himself estimated he’d played perhaps two good quarters. I didn’t see the full game against the Wizards, but it’s safe to assume he didn’t add to that total on Wednesday.
It’s too early to get to worked up about a guy getting paid less than the full MLE. The shots will start to fall, and then the other flaws won’t be as damaging. Talk to me after Thanksgiving, if no progress has been made.

Washburn: It’s been really bad. I actually thought that the combination of him and Rodney Stuckey could potentially replace 90% of what Lance gave this team without adding in the crazy. Unfortunately, his beautiful jumper has rarely found the bottom of the net, and he looks like a guy that learned how to play defense from Kyrie Irving.

Gibson: I think he’ll get better, but at the moment…

dumpster /