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Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis give Pacers non-stop production, long-term conundrum at center

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Last fall, the Pacers made Myles Turner a centerpiece by signing him to a four-year contract extension worth $72 million-$80 million. Turner has made good on that deal, even in a league overflowing with solid centers. He belongs in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation thanks to his strides in recognition. He has become a more reliable 3-point shooter. He’s delivering on his promise as a modern center.

“Knowing your future is set, knowing you don’t have to worry about numbers or anything crazy like that, just go out there and play,” Turner said, “it lifts a burden, for sure.”

Yet, Indiana backup center Domantas Sabonis has arguably outperformed Turner this season.

Sabonis said he was happy for Turner when Turner got his extension. However, the Pacers allocating all that money for Turner meant there might not be much left for Sabonis, who’ll be eligible for his own rookie-scale extension this offseason.

Or Indiana could pay both.

The Pacers have a good problem – too many good players. But it’s particularly complicated with multiple centers. That’s the position where it’s most difficult to play two simultaneously.

So, what will Indiana do with Turner and Sabonis?

The Pacers have enough financial flexibility to keep both. They could give Sabonis a sizable extension and continue to always play at least one quality center.

Yet, that could eventually come with drawbacks down the roster. Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans will all be free agents this summer. Decisions on those players must come in conjunction with a decision at center.

Turner, who seems more comfortable in the locker room since securing his long-term deal, said he has talked to Sabonis about Sabonis’ potential extension. Both players sound eager to continue together.

“I’m very happy here,” Sabonis said. “They play me in the way I want to be played. I feel like I’m effective. We’re winning. That’s the most important thing. And the culture – everybody here is like family.”

For now, the results are certainly impressive. Here are Indiana’s offensive, defensive and net ratings by center:

Player Off. Def. Net
Just Turner 106.8 103.5 +3.2
Just Sabonis 108.8 102.8 +6.0
Both 100.1 96.6 +3.5
Neither 102.9 105.0 -2.2

Turner is more of a pick-and-popper, Sabonis more pick-and-roller. So, the Pacers’ guards adjust depending on the screener, but the team’s scoring remains similarly effective with either center.

Turner protects the rim in a way Sabonis can’t. But Sabonis has gotten into better shape this season, and his higher energy level shows up on defense.

Sabonis will get outsized credit come award season as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Averaging 14.1 points and and 9.3 rebounds per game, he definitely deserves consideration. But if Turner (who averages 13.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game) came off the bench, he’d contend for the award.

Turner (29 minutes per game) and Sabonis (25 minutes per game) each warrant enough playing that it’s impossible to avoid them playing together. When they share the court, they wall off the paint, allowing Indiana to reach an elite defensive level.

But the Pacers score just well enough to keep their heads above water in those two-big lineups. Despite Turner’s and Sabonis’ differing offensive styles, there’s too much overlap in the space they like to use. Here are their shooting heat maps on shots from at least 10 feet:

shotchart (1)shotchart

The Pacers already do an excellent job of staggering Turner and Sabonis as much as possible. Those two increasing their minutes would mean much more time playing together. They’d inevitably more frequently face an opponent capable of exposing them, especially if Indiana advances in the playoffs.

Is it worth paying both?

No decision is necessarily imminent. Even without an extension, Sabonis won’t become a restricted free agent until 2020. On his relatively cheap rookie-scale contract, he’s a very affordable backup. The Pacers can keep him and Turner another season without compromising the rest of the roster.

But it’s often better to get out ahead of these things. The 76ers infamously kept Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor until trading Noel and Okafor for very little.

Of course, Philadelphia wasn’t any good with those three centers. There was no balance worth preserving.

The Pacers are 46-32 and tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with Turner and Sabonis playing major roles. Turner just turned 23, and Sabonis is only 22. Indiana is in a good place.

Eventually, though, the Pacers must determine how they’ll proceed at center.

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.

 

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over not one but two Pacers (VIDEO)

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Once Giannis Antetokounmpo gets rolling downhill, good luck.

The Pacers found that out the hard way with not one but two players getting dunked on by the Greek Freak. On the same dunk.

Damn. That’s not fair.

It’s also not the only highlight play for Antetokounmpo on the night.

Milwaukee was up double digits on the Pacers early in the fourth quarter, and of course, Antetokounmpo was leading the way.

NBA teams enhancing fan experience with high-tech replays

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ATLANTA (AP) — NBA fans will soon be able to look up at the big videoboard above the court and get a different look at that deep Trae Young 3-pointer early in the first quarter. Or see a different perspective of that monstrous Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk.

In a reversal of roles, NBA teams are bringing the video game experience back to the live action – one arena at a time.

The Atlanta Hawks Friday will become the fifth NBA team to unveil significant financial investments into new 360-degree replay technology designed to eventually give fans the power to change the way they see the game.

“It’s the wave of the future,” said Hawks vice-president of live experience Joe Abercrombie, who says the technology also is “one more thing to give people a reason to come” to the arena.

The Bucks, Mavericks, Pacers, Wizards and now the Hawks are using the technology to package and replay highlights in the arena during games. The Bulls, who host the 2020 All-Star game, are scheduled to come online next month.

“It’s very nice. I especially like that up-above view,” said Allen Hazlett a fan from New Berlin, Wisconsin, after seeing the new technology at Thursday night’s Bulls-Bucks game in Milwaukee.

“I think it’s an added benefit for the fans. For those that aren’t here all the time, to see that, I think, really ups the fan experience for them. I don’t think people realize until you go somewhere else and you don’t see it how lucky we are to have this arena. Everything here is state of the art.”

The six teams have joined NBA partner Intel, which provides the technology for the new video replays. The process begins with 38 5K video cameras strategically located around arenas. The high-tech cameras work together, bringing 360-degree replays to in-game video boards, TV broadcasts and fans’ devices through social media.

It’s the latest effort by teams to entice ticket-buying fans to come to new and renovated NBA arenas. Atlanta spent almost $200 million to renovate State Farm Arena; Milwaukee last year opened its $477 Fiserv Forum.

“For us it was really a no-brainer,” said Matt Pazaras, the Bucks’ senior vice president for business development and strategy.

“There’s nothing like seeing a Giannis dunk live, and if we can supplement that experience with this technology, great. But if people are experiencing the Bucks wherever they are, hours away or thousands of miles away, we can still make the experience better.”

NFL fans already have seen 360 replays on TV. Those replays start from the traditional side camera before swinging around to bring the viewer behind the quarterback.

Not that the NFL was first in line.

Gamers have been manipulating all-angle replays for years. Video game-savvy kids may roll their eyes when their parents come home from NBA games eager to share their stories about their first looks at 360-degree replays.

Those video games were designed to mimic the real games. Now it’s time for some role-reversal.

Rich Green, Intel’s director of sports, said popular video games Madden NFL 19 and NBA 2K20 “have camera angles and if you do replays, you can spin the camera around.”

Added Green: “Now we’re going to have that in live games. Now they can watch their favorite player and follow just him. It increases their level of engagement.”

The new technology isn’t just for the fans.

Coaches and scouts can make use of the enhanced replays to improve player evaluations.

“I think the future of this is going to weigh heavy for basketball operations and player development,” Abercrombie said.

Players now have better tools to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Abercrombie said players who take dozens of shots in a practice can now study their shooting form in a new way.

“Players have asked ‘Can I shootaround and you take a look at the way I’m shooting and I want to spin around and take a look at the way I’m releasing,”‘ he said. “You think about traditional coverage of a game, there’s only four angles. Two on the floor and two up.

“When you think about 360 view and repetitive shooting over and over again, they can say ‘Oh, I see where my tendencies are.”‘

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, a former executive at Turner Entertainment, says TV sports leaders have dreamed for years of the day fans could control the way they watch a game.

“We’ve been reading for years that ‘You can be the director,”‘ Koonin said. “Actually, you can do that with this. The capabilities are unbelievable. … We think it’s the next generation of sports media.”

Green said there is more to come as new ways to utilize the technology will be found that are not yet possible.

Green said such high-tech terms as “voxels” – similar to pixels in the 3D age – and “volumetric video” will become common. He said fans will be able to follow a game from the viewpoint of their favorite player.

“How you watch a play could be completely different from how I watch it based on how we control what angle we want to see,” Green said. “That’s why we’re just scratching the surface.”

 

Watch Lance Stephenson get into flopping battle in China

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You can take the flopper out of the NBA but you can’t take the flopping out of his game.

Unable to land an NBA contract this season, Lance Stephenson signed with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association. He has taken his flopping skills to China.

However, he may have met his match with one Chinese player, who tried to sell a non-contact, off-the-ball, sniper-in-the-grassy-knoll level flop that even legendary flopper Vlade Divac would have called extreme. The Chinese referees saw through that and awarded a technical to Stephenson’s team.

Then Stephenson drew another foul later in the game with a flop as he tried to grab the ball away from a player after the play. That drew a foul on the opposing player, who complained and then got his own technical.

It’s all just Lance being Lance.