The Indiana Pacers have had a tough time with their reserve wings. Now that Mindaugas Kuzminskas is available, should they claim him?
A training camp injury to Glenn Robinson III presented a tough question for the Indiana Pacers before the season even started: Who is going to play backup small forward? Nobody knew the answer, and the current answers have been underwhelming at best.
Lance Stephenson, while recently improving, has been underwhelming so far this season. Damien Wilkins has only been able to play 59 total minutes after a promising preseason. Victor Oladipo has even gotten some run at small forward, and those minutes have gone relatively fine, but I’m sure the team would like to save Oladipo and have him playing with full energy at the shooting guard position.
Now, another answer may have presented itself, and the Pacers may be able to acquire a rotation-level small forward without having to give up anything. Joakim Noah returned from his suspension and the New York Knicks needed to clear a roster spot for Noah, so they waived 28-year-old Lithuanian small forward Mindaugas Kuzmiskas.
Kuzminskas is the kind of player that you claim off waivers instead of waiting for him to clear the waiver process. He’s on a cheap contract, he would be a restricted free agent next summer, and most importantly, he’s a good basketball player.
Only five teams have the means to claim Kuzminskas without making a corresponding roster move, and the Pacers are one of them:
The Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers would both go over the luxury tax with a Kuzminskas claim, so they are likely out. The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers are the only two teams on this list that make sense. Of course, another team could waive another player to add Kuzminskas, but the Pacers appear to have an early leg up on most teams.
But again, most importantly, Kuzminskas is good at playing basketball, and that is why the Pacers should make a claim for him. In his rookie season, “Kuz” averaged 6.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists in just 14.9 minutes per game. He did so shooting 43 percent from the field overall and 81 percent from the foul line.
Kuzminskas is long and tall for a wing player; he’s 6’9″ with a 6’11” wingspan. This allows him to finish tough shots at the rim and rise up over his matchup on the perimeter. Here’s one of those finishes at the rim, over none other than Myles Turner:
Those sorts of crafty finishes make Kuz dangerous going to and around the rim. In this clip, he showcases both, faking out not one, but two Atlanta Hawks on his way to an easy layup:
It’s another showing of Kuzminskas’ handle and ability with the ball. He’s got the moves to get by his man, but that pump fake wouldn’t work if he didn’t have a 3-point stroke.
He only shot 32 percent during his rookie season, but it was his rookie season; he’s bound to improve from long range. In his final season in Europe, he shot 34 percent, so there is hope he can have a better percentage from outside. He has a nice looking shot and is able to finish over taller opponents, so he can hopefully make this a more consistent result:
On the defensive end, he is just okay, but that is still better than many of the Pacers wings have been so far this season. He uses his length to be pesky and to block shots when he can. Randy Foye is the victim here:
A decent defender, a shot-maker, and a long player who can be effective in decent minutes?
Sign me up. The Pacers would be wise to jump all over claiming Kuzminskas, so don’t be shocked to see it happen.