The State of the Pacers’ Bench
With no Danny Granger so far this season, the Indiana Pacers have been a little bit thinner than they originally expected. While Paul George has certainly emerged in Granger’s absence, the Indiana bench is undeniably weaker with Lance Stephenson having to fill a starting role. Despite the fact that much of the bench has been underwhelming for most of the season, the Pacers still have some time to figure out who can fit into the playoff rotation over the next couple of months.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been Gerald Green, who was signed this offseason after providing a decent offensive spark for the Nets last season. In 31 games last year, Green averaged 18.4 points per 36 minutes on 48% shooting. Combined with his 39% from beyond the arc, a PER of 15.8 and freakish athleticism, it looked as if the Pacers were getting a nice bargain at $3.5 million per year for a backup wing who can provide some punch off the bench.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, Gerald Green has regressed to resemble the player who played his way out of the league following a short stint with Dallas in 2008-09. In 43 games this season, his offensive rating is a horrendous 90, and his PER, at 7.6, is barely half of what you would expect out of an average player. He’s converting on less than 35% of his shots from the field, and a laughable 28% from three. Defensively, Green is grading slightly better than he normally does, but is still probably one of the weaker links on a strong defensive team. By no means did anyone expect Gerald Green to look like James Harden or Manu Ginobili off the bench, but hardly anyone thought he would struggle this much. It has been painful.
After dealing Darren Collison, D.J. Augustin was brought into town to provide support to George Hill at point guard. While he hasn’t been as disappointing as Gerald Green, Augustin has been nothing special. Strangely enough, he is shooting almost the exact same percentage from three as he is from the field overall, at slightly over 33%. While 33% from the field is not good by any stretch, his offensive rating (106) slightly outweighs his defensive rating (104) in the limited 16 minutes per game he’s playing. His 10.5 points and 5.2 assists per 36 minutes don’t jump off the page, but he has been passable in the few minutes he gets. Plus, considering how wretched he played at the beginning of the season, the transition to mediocre has been a nice turn of events for Indiana. His size issues may always present a challenge—as we saw when Paul George fouled out against the Nets and George Hill was left helpless having to defend the bigger Joe Johnson—but the Pacers can probably get away with Augustin in the backup role when the playoffs come around. Although, if something happens to George Hill, it will be time to panic.
On a more positive note, the Pacers have gotten decent work out of their two primary backup big men, Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi. Both have embodied their starter equivalents in small ways; Hansbrough fills the rebounding void that occurs when David West leaves the floor, and Mahinmi provides rim protection when Roy Hibbert is on the bench. Both continue to be fairly limited offensively, with Hansbrough’s offensive rebounding and uncanny knack for getting to the line being the main offensive assets between the two of them. For his part, Mahinimi doesn’t do anything particularly well, but he can do a little bit of everything: finish at the rim, hit an open jumper and cut to the hoop. His bad hands continue to be his largest drawback.
Basically, neither have been studs, but for a combined price of slightly over $7 million, Indiana has bigger concerns than two backup big men who have been fairly productive. With Hibbert and West as the starters, Frank Vogel probably isn’t losing much sleep over Hansbrough and Mahinmi. They need to come in and be middle relievers who don’t do anything memorable while ensuring the opposition doesn’t add much to the lead.
Outside of the four previously mentioned, the bench unit has been rounded out by the likes of Sam Young, Orlando Johnson, Jeff Pendergraph, and Ben Hansbrough. Assuming that Danny Granger eventually returns and is not dealt, this group will probably be pretty irrelevant when the playoffs roll around. Johnson has shown some flashes of skill and Young can be a reliable defender, but it’s hard to believe that Frank Vogel will place any level of responsibility out of this inexperienced group come playoff time. And if he does, it will most likely be out of necessity due to matchups, foul trouble or injury.
Moving Stephenson, who is having a surprisingly good year, back to a reserve role when a healthy Granger returns will help fortify the bench. This is significant because it gives Vogel a quality backup to George and Granger, since Green presumably will not regain that role this season. Grouped with Augustin, Hanbrough, and Mahinmi, the Pacers can have a decent bench to turn to as they make a playoff run. It probably isn’t the type of unit that will win you any games, and making a savvy upgrade could be huge, but it most likely won’t be bad enough to swing results the other way.
The pickup of Leandro Barbosa last season is a good example of what the Pacers should hope for before the trade deadline or even later into the season. Leandro was unable to provide much in the playoffs, but he did add a spark in the regular season and had a few more shots gone down from him in the Orlando series, that acquisition would likely be remembered more fondly—especially since it effectively cost the Pacers nothing. The team traded a second round pick to the Raptors for Barbosa, but since they were able to acquire a second round pick from the Kings in last summer’s draft (which became Orlando Johnson) for cash, the only penalty to the pickup was a few million dollars that never affected the team’s salary cap.
Regardless, any move the team makes is likely to be small.
That means that the starting core will decide just how far this Indiana Pacers team can go. There are playoff teams with worse bench units, but this group lacks any sort of a game changer. Frank Vogel can look for some quality minutes out of his bench come playoff time, but he knows that his starters will have to carry the vast majority of the weight.
*All statistics are via Basketball-Reference