Indiana Pacers: Does Rick Carlisle’s use of Porzingis hint at frontcourt strategy?

Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Veteran head coach Rick Carlisle, one of the league’s most respected tacticians, will be tabbed in his third stint with the Indiana Pacers to help the franchise regain footing in the league after a disappointing bid last season which culminated in a lottery finish, the first of which for the team in the past six years.

While the team’s offense took some strides last season, with the Pacers logging the highest points per game tally in franchise history, there is still a lot of work to be done with the team’s scoring attack, especially with many of the main cogs coming back. Front and center in this is how the frontcourt duo of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner will be utilized on offense, especially with the two yet to truly coexist with each other on the offensive end.

Highlighting the Turbonis frontcourt will be even more vital next season, more so with the tandem’s breakup widely believed  to be a matter of when and not if given Indiana’s relative non-success so far with the two of them at the helm. However, a deep look at coach Carlisle’s late Dallas stint presents some hints on his possible frontcourt strategy.

Rick Carlisle could help unlock the potential of the Indiana Pacers’ frontcourt

In 2019-2021, the Dallas Mavericks boasted one of the league’s most potent offenses. Led by Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the then-Rick Carlisle-led squad played with a read-and-react attack predicated on extreme spacing. With their Latvian big man’s unique ability to stretch defenses way beyond the three-point line, their superstar playmaker had all the breathing room he needed to operate and wreak havoc on the court.

The Mavericks exclusively deployed Porzingis as a perimeter threat. Despite standing at 7’3, post-ups were sparse, which was justifiable given his proficiency behind the arc. Clearly, that’s not applicable to Sabonis, who’s easily one of the best post-up players in the game. Utilizing him as a floor spacer, as in his transitory Oklahoma City days, would spell doom for him and the team.

Turner is an entirely different story. While he doesn’t nearly possess the same acumen from downtown as Porzingis, he’s comfortable operating as a standstill three-point shooter. While I’d say that he’s more Maxi Kleber than Porzingis in perimeter prowess, we could see Rick Carlisle deploy him in similar fashion, albeit on a smaller frequency.

Myles Turner could benefit from Carlisle’s use of Porzingis in Dallas

Pick-and-pops and trailers are Turner’s bread and butter. Due to his inherent lack of a reliable back to the basket game, he’s primarily a jump shooter. In past seasons, a majority of those actions came in the mid-range zone. But with Carlisle at the helm, those should easily extend to the three-point line. Alas, the same could be applied to Goga Bitadze, who has shown flashes of a steady perimeter game.

Still, context applies here. Porzingis enjoyed a big chunk of the offense with those actions due to him being their undisputable second scoring option. Turner? He’s the fifth option in the starting lineup. Etching an ample portion of the playbook to cater to his niche plays, which are primarily early shot clock maneuvers, comes with a lot of risks, especially when considering the Indiana Pacers’ foursome of dangerous scorers.

That could change if Carlisle installs him in the second unit. While that may be counterintuitive given Sabonis’ catalyzing play with the bench, it could give Turner an injection of offensive liberty which should open up his game more, instead of stagnating by simply standing still on offense with the other starters soaking up most possessions by design.

Aside from growth on his perimeter game though, it would nice to see Turner function not only as an exclusive floor spacer. Given his sneaky athleticism, he could viably be the coaching staff’s go-to option when the need for a rim runner comes, a role which Rick Carlisle filled by committee in Dallas with various big men.

In conclusion, Rick Carlisle’s great profile in handling big men from his previous stint with the Mavericks should open up a realm of possibilities for the Indiana Pacers. With frontcourt talents like Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner leading the way, the team’s upside could take up a notch in the following season, especially if the championship coach manages to incorporate their skillsets more seamlessly than anyone has ever done before.

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