Before the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers take the court against each other on Wednesday night in Indianapolis, we shot some questions over to the courteous Tom Lewis from Indy Cornrows and got his thoughts about a wide range of topics regarding his beloved Indiana Pacers. In last year's season series, the Pacers won both games from the Clippers and have won three in a row dating back to the 2012-2013 season. Let's take a gander at Tom's answers to the questions he was asked.
Justin Russo: It goes without saying that losing Paul George to injury has completely changed the scope of the Indiana Pacers franchise for the foreseeable future. However, it allows you to get a closer look at some of the guys who wouldn't have seen an increased role. Can you talk a little bit about the overall impact Solomon Hill and Chris Copeland -- two guys who combined to play just 491 minutes last year -- have had this year?
Tom Lewis: Solomon Hill remains one of the few bright spots of the season as others begin to fade after a surprisingly solid start. Hill has seized the opportunity thrust upon him after, not only PG's injury, but a rash of early season injuries that forced him into a lead role. He has shown the defensive ability to guard shooting guards through power forwards, if needed. More importantly he has shown an offensive game, developed through hard work that requires the defense to account for him. Daydreaming about Hill and Paul George playing together on the wing with all of that size, length and strength has been a coping mechanism this year. As for Copeland, he started the season as a fan favorite, a guy considered capable of scoring in bunches despite seeing little time last season. Cope has seen plenty of minutes this year and that "backup QB" shine has worn off due to a lack of consistency with what he does well, shoot the rock, combined with his known weaknesses -- guarding anyone. Copeland has been starting at small forward which presents difficult matchup and, unlike Solo, Cope's basketball IQ to find ways to succeed is not impressive.
JR: Despite being without Paul George, the Pacers find themselves right in the thick of things for the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. Granted it's early on, but the Pacers have a realistic shot of making the playoffs despite their injuries and losses in free agency. Are the playoffs a realistic expectation with this roster or is this something that you guys feel won't last for another few months?
TL: The playoffs should not be a realistic expectation and in the midst of a five-game losing streak with a daunting schedule on the horizon, surviving the next game is the only concern. That being said, the Eastern Conference keeps everyone in touch with playoff dreams. Running off five games in a row can push any team into the mix. But right now the Pacers are in survival mode, trying to find a way to win against some of the top teams in the league and as the frustration builds it is hard to see this group having enough to keep it together throughout the marathon season and remain a playoff team.
JR: Even though the Pacers lost Lance Stephenson in free agency, it has seemed like a general addition by subtraction type of situation due to his inability to be a worthwhile offensive scoring option. With the money Indiana saved by not paying him, they ended up getting guys like Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, and Damjan Rudez. They've all seemed to play well. How would you assess their production/play thus far?
TL: No matter what they say publicly, the Pacers were ready to move on from Lance Stephenson this summer and I personally felt combo of Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles would be a better fit for the Pacers alongside Paul George. Injuries obviously robbed us of an opportunity to find out. Stuckey is actually quite comparable to Stephenson without all of the noise, but Miles has been a disappointment thus far. It is hard to say if Solomon Hill would've emerged as a factor if no one was injured, but now that he has, he and Stuckey would've more than made up for Lance's absence. Damjan Rudez has been a bit more than the shooter we expected. He has a savvy, veteran game and ability to make plays at both ends of the floor, actually very comparable to Copeland but with a better feel for the game and in fact, he has taken more of Cope's minutes of late. Also, like Cope, Rudez is slow and struggles to keep up with more athletic wings, but the guy has some game.
JR: Lately, due to Donald Sloan's struggles, Frank Vogel has gone to a lineup primarily comprised of Rodney Stuckey as the point guard. In your estimation, how has Stuckey done running the show while George Hill attempts to eventually make his way back into the fold?
TL: George Hill really isn't a true point guard and neither is Stuckey. He's been fine, but the lineup isn't working with Copeland starting, as well since that moves Solomon Hill to shooting guard. George Hill will return in a couple of weeks, but moving Stuckey back to shooting guard with C.J. Watson starting at point guard has to be an option Frank Vogel is considering.
JR: The Pacers aren't playing the same type of defense that they did last year, namely due to injuries to their best defensive players, but they're still 9th in the NBA in Defensive Rating (102.3). It's a far cry from their 96.7 Defensive Rating that led the NBA last year. Yet Frank Vogel has them competing hard on that end of the court every night. In your estimation, with the job that he's done with that team, where would you put Frank Vogel in the NBA head coach hierarchy?
TL: I'd definitely put Vogel in the top half of the coaching ranks. He made his bones in the NBA by cutting up film and helping prepare game plans and he is now fantastic at putting together a game plan to attack an opponent regardless of the lack of comparable talent. Getting his guys to execute that game plan isn't always easy and in some cases, the options available just aren't capable. But there is no doubt he has the respect of his team and ability to motivate them to play better than the sum of their parts. This has been true the past few years, when there weren't injuries and he was maximizing what the Pacers had to reach the Eastern Conference finals.
If you would like to talk with Tom Lewis more, you can head on over to Indy Cornrows or even tweet him @IndyCornrows. As always, be respectful. Tom's great and willing to answer anything you have to offer his way. Shoot some questions in the comment section below and perhaps he'll answer if he gets some extra time.