Pacers Continue to Increase Depth of Bench
Imagine that it’s 2012, just a couple of seasons ago.
Andrew Bynum is a starter in the All-Star game. He’s had a triple-double against Denver, a 30-rebound game against San Antonio and a game of 21 points and 22 rebounds against Houston. At the end of the season he’s named second-team all-NBA.
Luis Scola is a starting forward in Houston, averaging 15.5 points. He’s two seasons removed from a 44-point game against New Jersey.
Evan Turner is a second-year pro with Philadelphia, two years removed from being the second pick in the NBA draft. He’s mostly coming off the 76ers’ bench, but starting 20 games as well and averaging 9.4 points. He’ll become a fulltime starter the next season.
C.J. Watson is in Chicago, starting 25 of the 49 games in which he plays, averaging 9.7 points and hitting nearly 40 percent of his three-pointers. He’s scored more than 20 points five times, and is two years removed from a 40-point game with Golden State.
Those four players aren’t the same players today as they were a couple of years ago – some are better, some are perhaps not quite as good – but they’re still reasonably close to their peak levels. If they were starters, healthy and joined by a capable fifth starter, they would be a competitive team, perhaps even a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
They’re also the nucleus of the Pacers’ bench today. They won’t necessarily be on the court together, since coach Frank Vogel prefers to keep a starter or two in the game at all times, but they will get the bulk of the rotation minutes. And if someone had told you two years ago they would be coming off the Pacers’ bench before long, you would have laughed.
The Pacers thought they had improved their bench significantly heading into this season. With the signing of Bynum on Feb. 1 and the trade for Turner and forward Lavoy Allen last Thursday, they believe they’ve made another major talent upgrade.
The rest of the bench consists of forward Chris Copeland (who was a major role player for the Knicks last season and the Pacers’ primary free agency target); Allen (a superb defender who can hit mid-range shots); center Ian Mahinmi (who has played better as of late, particularly on defense); point guard Donald Sloan (who has played well in limited minutes); forward Rasual Butler (a veteran locker room leader and shot-maker); and rookie forward Solomon Hill (a first-round draft pick who played well in Summer League games but has yet to prove himself in the NBA).
Now, the question is whether all this talent can mesh, accept roles and remain healthy. Some would argue a team can have too much depth, that it’s better to have a few just-happy-to-be-there role players who don’t expect to play but give effort in practice and show enthusiasm in games. Vogel disagrees.
“I don’t think you have too much depth unless your depth is bad guys,” he said. “If you’ve got bad guys who are malcontents, that can be a problem, but we would just get rid of them if that happened. We got good guys and guys who understand their roles and what we’re shooting for.”
The Pacers are shooting for a championship. There’s no thought to whether they can re-sign any of these players for next season, or how they’ll fit into the long-range plans. It’s all about this season. Should an injury occur, they believe they have quality depth at each position to fill in
Negatives? George Hill doesn’t see them.
“It can only be a negative if the guys are not prepared,” Hill said. “Our coaches will do a great job implementing everyone into this rotation and give everybody some confidence. They know deep down in the playoffs they’ll need every last guy.”