- Indiana's much hyped Paul George at the 4 experiment lasted only one game, as they blinked first and had both Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill starting in order to match up with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The problem for the Pacers is they pretty much burned their boats behind them when they decided to be a small-ball team because they don't really have any starting-caliber big men left on their roster. Playing Mahinmi and Hill (backup 5's in the modern NBA) together was a recipe for disaster early as Indiana couldn't run offense through either of their starting big men and neither of them can really space the floor, although Mahinmi did bust out a mid-range jumper and a dribble-drive over the course of the game, which stunned me watching and Gasol playing him.
- The Pacers got the game turned around when they went to their bench and brought in Myles Turner, who was making his NBA debut. It didn't take him long to show what he could do - he swatted a few shots, crashed the boards and hit a few turn-around jumpers in the post over Brandan Wright. He hit a step-back J out to 20 feet and looked like a 10-year NBA veteran in the process. This kid is crazy talented and the fact that he slipped all the way to No. 11 in the draft is an absolute crime. He'll be a starter sooner rather than later - he brings a totally different element to the team than Mahinmi, Hill and Lavoy Allen.
- To be sure, there are a couple of things he still needs to figure out. For one, he's going to stay in foul trouble for most of the season. He's a rookie shotblocker whose still growing into his body and learning how to battle for position in the post without picking up cheap fouls. Another is there's no reason for him to be living in the mid-range. As he gets bigger and learns some of the tricks of the trade, he'll be able to establish deeper post position on guys like Wright and then his turn-around will be money. This might not happen right away but eventually he'll take a few more steps back and then he'll be raining 3's. Myles Turner and Karl Towns are going to be the first shot-blocking stretch 5's and they both have a post-up game too. I remember watching them at the McDonald's Game two years ago and thinking this is the future of basketball.
- Courtney Lee started the game killing Monta Ellis on the offensive glass and that's something to watch all season. After watching Monta every night for the last two seasons, I can't overemphasize how bad he is on defense. Forget even his lack of size for his position. Where he really takes it to the next level is what he does playing off the ball. I don't even know what he's doing half the time and I'm not sure he does either. He does manage to gamble his way into a lot of steals but he more than makes up for it with ball watching, losing track of his man and getting stuck halfway between his man and the ball when playing "help" defense. The Pacers have the personnel on the perimeter to get away with Monta's defense on most nights but there are some nights where it's just going to kill them.
- The other part of the transition from Dallas that Monta is going to struggle with is that he doesn't have a natural pick-and-roll partner in Indiana. Playing with a ball screen is really the strength of his game and it's what he should be doing all the time - playing with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas is really what resurrected his career. The only Pacers big man whose even a threat in the two man game is Turner and he already has a lot on his plate. One thing I'll be curious to see on nights when Paul George is at the 4 is how much they use him as a screener with Monta. It was funny watching him go up against a team with Brandan Wright because those two guys were perfect next to each other in Dallas.
- Paul George had a tough night efficiency wise but he was going up against Tony Allen and there's really no one else in the starting line-up that the defense has to key on if Monta isn't playing in the two-man game. Having PG-13 out there with Mahinmi and Hill is really a waste of his talents and hopefully that line-up will be shelved soon enough.
- Chase Budinger and CJ Miles did their job shooting 3's and spreading the floor but it's hard to see how they have enough size to battle with the bigger 4's in the NBA, even in the midst of the small-ball revolution. It really kind of feels like the Pacers were one year ahead of the curve when it comes to making this transition with the rest of their roster - I'd feel a lot better about this plan if it was Year 2 Myles Turner and they had another 3/4 swingman type guy to make some of the pressure off George.
On the Memphis side of things, you would think they would have a huge advantage in terms of continuity at the start of the season but they are low-key making some pretty significant changes with their 2nd unit and they are quietly starting to change the identity of their team. They still have the same faces in the starting line-up but things start to get interesting when they start bringing in guys off the bench.
- The big change this season was the addition of Brandan Wright because there's really no point in having him out there if you are going to slide him into a two-post offense and have him fill the same role as Kosta Koufos. Wright is a specialist if there ever was one in the NBA - he's the roll man in a spread pick-and-roll offense. He's amazing at that and he's pretty much just a guy at everything else. They weren't really using Wright well in the first half but they really got things going in the 2nd when they started playing 4-out around him and constantly put him in pick-and-rolls. Memphis was moving the ball and getting open looks from 3 in the 4Q, which was obviously a pretty big change of pace for them.
- The guy that killed them in the first half was JaMychal Green, whose not a bad player but whose a textbook traditional backup PF who doesn't really have a role in the modern NBA. He's not a great post-up player, so he can't punish the mismatch on offense, he doesn't have great shooting range, so he's not spreading the floor without the ball in his hands and he's not a perimeter defender, so he's very vulnerable to mismatches on the other end of the floor. Eventually they took him off the floor and moved Jeff Green to the 4 next to Wright, which makes a lot more sense not only in terms of maximizing personnel but maximizing the rest of their roster, since they have a bit of a surplus of wings. Vince Carter can probably be kept in hibernation until Christmas but I want to see what Jordan Adams has and he could potentially be a nice extra bit of 3 point shooting, playmaking and shot-creating off the bench.
- They were running a lot of sets with Jeff Green as the playmaker on the 2nd unit. He had 3 assists and 3 turnovers, which kind of sums up the Jeff Green as a featured player experience. That might be the best way to get the most out of his game but I'm not sure it's the best way to get the most out of this roster. This seems like a pretty clear case for staggering minutes with one of Conley or Gasol on the floor all game long. I'm a pretty big fan of that approach because it maximizes the skill-sets of your best players and makes sure they both have plenty of time with the ball in their hands. For the same reason I think OKC should have one of Westbrook or Durant in the game for all 48 minutes. There's no reason to have minutes where one of those guys is off the ball and then have minutes where the offense is running through the backup PG.
- I can't talk about Green without also mentioning his atrocious perimeter defense, which was killing Memphis all night. At least on Thursday, he didn't seem to know how to chase guys around screens or get down in a stance and stay in front of people. On top of that, he just flat out missed assignments on CJ Miles several times that resulted in wide open 3's. Green is one of those players who looks great on a given night but he low key kills you over the course of a season. It's probably not a coincidence that Boston got better last season after they moved him and Rondo.
- On the plus side of the perimeter defense scale, Tony Allen was doing Tony Allen things all night. One thing that's very underrated about him is how quick his hands are - he just pokes balls away all the time and he always seems to be able to get his hand in the cookie jar without getting caught. I'm always looking at guy's footspeed when I'm scouting them as perimeter defenders but I'm starting to wonder if I should try to pay more attention to their handspeed. On the other side of the ball, I'm going to say that TA has "defender's touch" because I've never seen a guy who can miss more open shots in the lane and his shots just seem to rim out and bounce out a disproportionate amount of times.
I don't know if Jarrell Martin is going to play this year but I'd be interested in seeing what he could do as a stretch 4 in the Brandan Wright package on the 2nd unit. If Memphis is going to be able to make up any ground in the West this season, it's because that package gives them a different look and a way to rack up points via the 3-ball really quickly. Let's get JaMychal Green out of there and try to find some 3-point shooters in that spot in the rotation.