Much has been said about Indiana's revamped starting lineup, but what of the second unit? This group looks to be the most effective bench in the Paul George era. Here's what to look for when they step on the hardwood.
Ever since Paul George became a key member of the Indiana Pacers, a common topic of conversation has been how poorly constructed the Pacers' bench has performed.
Indiana has cycled through a smorgasbord of players trying to find the right combination of supporting cast members to help ease the load off of George and the starting unit. Guys like D.J. Augustin, Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson, Orlando Johnson, Sam Young, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, and Evan Turner have all found their way into the rotation during those years, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
The Pacers are hoping this year is different, however. Larry Bird's slew of offseason changes have Indiana's starting lineup tailored to the Quest For More Points,TM but the bench looks to provide stability and complementary scoring on a more consistent basis as well. A couple of key additions give Indiana some good scoring options, and they also can strengthen the continuity of returning reserves.
Backcourt: Aaron Brooks, Rodney Stuckey, and Joe Young
We've discussed what Brooks's signing means for Indiana. He was brought in on a cheap deal to be Indiana's primary ball-handler for the second unit and improve three-point shooting. His experience will only slightly delay the emergence of Joe Young as the permanent backup point guard, and if Brooks struggles to get in a rhythm, his contract is such a bargain that there would be no harm in replacing him. For now, though, Brooks will run the show, taking away the ball-handling duties from Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey is listed as a point guard, but his skill set is definitely more in line with a 2. Last season, with the task of running the offense, thrust into his hands, Stuckey experienced a decline in every statistical category (save for free-throw shooting percentage) from his first year with the Pacers. With Brooks to help orchestrate the offense, Stuckey will be freer to run off screens and score off of back cuts instead of having to create every shot for himself.
It's only a matter of time for Young. The second-year man from Oregon needs to continue to develop his game after showing flashes during the previous season. Young is a speedy guard who is capable of making quick cuts and drives and can also pass with precision out of the lane. The scoring potential exists, but Young needs to improve his shooting consistency. During his stretch of extended play last year, he produced double-digit efforts in games at Denver, Phoenix, and Golden State consecutively, and followed it up with three straight games of 2 points each.
Frontcourt: C.J. Miles, Lavoy Allen, and Al Jefferson (and Rakeem Christmas)
The biggest free agent signing for the Pacers this year was Al Jefferson, the 12-year veteran center who came over from Charlotte. While the Pacers claim they would like to play up-tempo that just isn't a style that Big Al is suited to play. There will be a concerted effort to run a slower, halfcourt offense for Jefferson to do work in the paint, where he has exhibited the league's most diverse collection of post moves at the center position. It isn't often that a team signs an established scorer like Jefferson to bring off the bench, but a solid ~20 minutes a night will give Indiana their best backup center in quite some time.
Miles has always been a bit of a streaky shooter, and least season was no different. His three-point shooting will absolutely be his biggest contribution for Indiana, and with other focal points on the second unit, Miles could settle into a quality 3-and-D role instead of a top-bill scorer. The additions of Brooks and Jefferson probably will not affect Allen too much, who continues to do the dirty work for the Pacers' bench. His scoring and offensive rebounding have increased every year since the trade of 2014.
As with all new teams, it takes time for the chemistry to build. For the time being, though, it appears -- at least on paper -- that Indiana's bench will be the most effective group they have had in the Paul George era.