Among the guards the Indiana Pacers had on board last season, Donald Sloan got the short end of the stick. At 26 years old and already being a part of three professional teams, Sloan did have the chance to play more games in one season (48) than he’s ever been given.
Frank Vogel had to sort through a lineup featuring starters George Hill and Lance Stephenson, as well as reserves C.J. Watson, Rasual Butler, and eventually Evan Turner. After the All-Star break, it was evident that Vogel sat back and refused to switch up his rotations, not utilizing his bench the way he could have.
Chris Copeland‘s outside shooting rested on the sidelines, and Sloan got his few opportunities when Watson went down with the sprained elbow. Watson missed 19 games altogether during the year, and the Pacers’ point guard play tumbled toward the bottom of the league.
Last week, the Pacers guaranteed Sloan’s contract for the 2014-15 season. After thinking about the decision, Larry Bird chose to bring back Sloan instead of letting him slide into free agency, which would have happened on Friday if they didn’t agree to pick him up.
George Hill, six years in, still hasn’t been able to grasp how to run the position of floor general. He’s an undersized shooting guard that does better playing off the ball, and naturally feels better in catch-and-shoot situations.
Sloan wasn’t a focus in the games he played, and believed he needed to take a step forward in his offseason training. Topping the list of things he’s tried to improve are his strength, quickness, and shooting ability.
With the injury of Paul George taking an unexpected, traumatic turn on how Indiana will approach games, the 2014-15 season is going to mirror the dark days. You know, the years before George was drafted and they aspired to grab the No. 1 seed. It’s going to be somewhere along the Danny Granger days, without the 20+ points per game from the former franchise star.
Vogel now has a guard rotation of Hill, Watson, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, and Sloan at the back end. Once again, you can’t expect much from a guard that’s been overshadowed by new free agent additions. Stuckey becomes the veteran guard of the team, having seven years under his belt in Detroit. George expressed his love for Stuckey on the roster during his latest press conference, and believes he’ll be a large part of the offense without him.
Looking at starting Miles (or Watson) next to Hill, the Pacers will leave Sloan as the third string point guard for the second straight season.
Sloan hasn’t earned the right to say he should get more playing time, seeing as he shot 37.6 percent from the field during his 8.2 minutes per game last year. With the 4.7 minute drop from his 2012-13 season in Cleveland, his production diminished in direct proportion.
After playing in the 2014 Summer League, he feels a lot better about his game, and knows anything can happen in a given season. Just take a look at the Los Angeles Lakers, who had to call up two members of the D-League last year — Manny Harris and Kendall Marshall — just to complete a rotation.
Injuries happen in an instant (USA basketball can attest to that), and Sloan’s number could be called any minute during the year. Why else would Bird decide to keep his contract? There has to be some trust and belief there, and he had to be showing them improvements during private practices.
During the summer league games, Sloan performed well. He claims he’s been working on his outside jumper, making sure he can get effective shots off in a variety of situations. The pull-up shot over bigger guards, shooting off screens, and being comfortable as the main creator are all aspects he picked up on since July.
More than anyone, I fully understand the deficiencies of putting stock into the NBA Summer League. It places guys against fellow rookies or two-year players, with the exception of some veterans that are trying to resurrect their careers by getting back into the feel of the game. Most of the time, rosters are filled out with undrafted free agents, and ones that you will rarely play against during the vigorous six month schedule.
However, you can take a few things from it.
Sloan appears to have more assurance that he can shoot off the dribble, hitting multiple step-back jumpers similar to this one from the corner:
His form is improving, and all it takes is a few minutes in a game during the season to shine. You have to be ready and prepared, regardless of when that time is going to come. Because, at the same time, all it takes is a few appearances of mediocrity to find yourself back at the bottom of the barrel.
As it pertains to play-making, there is a feeling that Sloan can bring just as much to the table as any other guard in the lineup. As absurd as that sounds, the Pacers have no true creator out of their load of guards. All are either primary drivers, shooters, or combo guards that have no idea what role they fit.
In the summer league, Sloan showed his desire to find teammates, getting crafty near the rim on some occasions:
Averaging two turnovers per 36 minutes last season during his time on the court, Sloan has to get a better sense of how to take care of the ball. That only comes with time and minutes, things he probably won’t see with this crowded roster.
For the Pacers, it’s not crowded with talent. Roy Hibbert is going to feel insurmountable pressure since the team’s No. 1 option went down, and likely damage his efficiency when he increases his offensive load. Thus, the team is crowded with average offensive players that will fighting to prove their playoff worth. It’s a bad recipe for Vogel, who isn’t close to the label of an offensive mastermind.
Sloan has been battling to find a niche with a team, and to keep a steady job. The Pacers have given him another shot, but you have to do more than just award a contract to expect results. You have to test their limits on the court, against real competition.
Because of the new additions, Sloan will go through the same situation of last year; failing to garner a reputation, because bench-fillers can’t get noticed.