As Indiana Dominates Lob City, Many Questions Emerge. But There's Only One Path to Success

After two straight losses to the Knicks, the Pacers badly needed a jumpstart. Now, after a 102-89 thumping of the Los Angles Clippers, it looks like Leandro Barbosa and a shakeup of the rotation might be just that.

Barbosa was sublime in his first ever stint on the court for Indiana, scoring 9 points in his first 9 minutes as a Pacer. His first bucket game on a darting drive to the rack, where he finished with is typical, Phoenix Suns-era ease. Next he stuck a long three-pointer late in the shot clock to keep the bench’s offensive momentum going. Then it was Leandro making an expert baseline cut and George Hill, in his new role as the second unit’s point guard, forgoing a rushed, contested jumper with the shot clock waning to dish to Barbosa, who turned and laid it in. Not to be out-done on the savvy passing, Barbosa also turned a sorta-fast break into an easy two for Dahntay Jones in transition as he slung a cross-court pass over to him in a way that left the defense helpless to mount a challenge at the rim.

He wasn’t perfect: he committed an offensive foul, coughed up an ugly turnover that led to one of several Blake Griffin dunks, badly missed an interior shot and forced up a three that clanged off the iron. But there couldn’t possible have been a single Pacer Nation faithful in attendance who wasn’t absolutely thrilled with Indiana’s new instant-offense weapon.

As for Hill in his new role, he not only expertly led the second unit offense as the point guard, but also manned the helm for most of the fourth quarter at the one spot along with the starters. This, in addition to hitting three treys of his own in the second half and just generally running an excellent pick-and-roll with Tyler Hansbrough in the early going. Three straight possessions led to points — first by a rolling Tyler then by a picking-and-popping Tyler and finally by Granger off an offensive board that began as a driving Hill kicking it over to Amundson, who not so surprisingly missed an open jumper.

After tonight, with the way he played and the way Barbosa looks poised to be the key guard scorer off the bench, it would be hard to argue with anyone who says Hill should move to the starting point guard spot. Honestly, it might be best.

Of course, if Darren Collison and Leandro end up playing significant minutes together as reserves, the obvious question becomes: who do guys that little guard? But the flipside would also be true: who stops them?

Speed kills in the 2012 NBA and you would be hard-pressed to find a quicker back-court than those two provide. Additionally, Collison, with his ability to lead the the pick-and-roll, may be able to help Hansbrough continue to revive his recently flatlined scoring stroke. If that can occur, and Barbosa can keep scoring regularly, the defensive issues will be minimized no matter how many mismatches may occur.

Really, who knows if one game’s worth of newfound offensive dominance is enough to spur Coach Frank Vogel to make further changes? Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star, who spends more time around this team than any other non-Pacer employee, has been banging the drum that Hill should be the starter all year. In my eyes, thinking from both a “why fix what (for most of the season) wasn’t broke” and traditional-positionality view, that wasn’t the right direction for this team to take. But after the success that occurred tonight, the question is certainly worth asking.

Moreover, regardless of who plays where and when, this team did something much more encouraging tonight than anything any one individual did: it reasserted the “depth as a weapon” advantage it had over virtually every team it played in the early season. Back then, it didn’t seem to matter who was on the court. Such questions only became relevant once the team stopped beating virtually all comers on the road and nearly anyone who entered Bankers Life. The monday morning QBs have since called for trades, lineup switches and whether or not certain All-Stars should be part of this franchise’s long-term plans.

Ultimately, how the entire roster plays in whatever role each man is assigned is what will end up defining how far this team can go this season. Discussing combinations of players and  lineups and matchups is all fun and good, but what really makes a team good is when everyone does their job.

Right now, after tonight’s individual performances — and especially following the frustration embedded throughout the fan base following recent struggles — questioning what those jobs should be is all the rage. But no matter who plays where or at what time in the game, this remains a roster that is entirely dependent on a half-dozen — or more — guys playing at a high level to win. There is no big three. There isn’t even a big four. Like the 76ers and the Nuggets, this team can only beat the league’s best teams when nearly everyone does their job. It’s an uncommon road to success that is entirely dependent upon the whole being better than the sum of the part.

And that won’t change no matter what parts play where and when.

This team’s depth must be a weapon no matter what.

Tags: Darren Collison Frank Vogel George Hill Leandro Barbosa Tyler Hansbrough

  • NoLookPass

    Hill looked sharp at PG for sure, seemed like half his assist found someone to knock down a big shot at the end of a shot clock.

    The bench looked great but them getting so much burn and West’s foul issue seemed to mask a major upcoming issue of where are all the shots going to come from? Worked out great tonight but not every night is going to see just a +3 FGA advantage for the starters with Danny taking almost half of their total.

    We need Lou or Foster if he ever gets back to only take sure open shots and D Jones to play under control to make sure our 3 big bench scorers get their touches. Tyler getting 1 second half shot and the fact most all of his damage came with 3 starters on the floor has me worried about them stepping on each other toes out there leading to some selfishness down the road.

    I know that I sweat the small things but we need to get some sort of set roles before the playoffs and find a way to keep our guys happy and with 8 legit scorers that’s going to be a hard task.

  • Jason

    “There is no big three. There isn’t even a big four. Like the 76ers and the Nuggets, this team can only beat the league’s best teams when nearly everyone does their job. It’s an uncommon road to success that is entirely dependent upon the whole being better than the sum of the part.

    And that won’t change no matter what parts play where and when.

    This team’s depth must be a weapon no matter what.”

    Perfectly put. Having no playing time for a guy like AJ – who was playing pretty solid – is definitely a good “problem.” Whatever the combination is starters/bench each night doesn’t matter so much when the ten guys playing are each playing for the other. We’ve seen these guys played great, fluid, unselfish ball with strong D. We know they have the talent. The ups and downs are the signs of a team putting it together, slowly but surely. A championship this year is highly unlikely. Any rational person who really knows the game knows that. However, that doesn’t mean we may not be watching the gelling of a core that can, in the next couple of years, compete at that level. Tonight was another good night showing that. Hopefully they keep it up and make that March 26th matchup with Miami a W!

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  • Chase Sterling

    I don’t agree with Hill starting at point guard yet. A majority of his points came from him dribbling to long and then making a great shot before the buzzer. Collison should still be the point for the near future. I am a big Hill fan but he looks great dominating teams off the bench. Lets keep him there for now.

  • little B

    @Chase Sterling
    Good points:
    1. about Collison still starting for now, give Hill a few more games with the second string and see it if continues and also give him some practice time with the starters
    2. about Hill dribbling a little too long, but to his defense that was more when the starters were in and he probably wasn’t as sure how they move around (which they really don’t). But the good thing is he can create his own shot alot easier than collison. I love when collison brings the ball up really quick and fires a jumper, and usually drills it, like he did last night. But he doesnt do it often enough and he also doesnt move the ball quick enough when setting up plays. Hill wings passes around and creates great shots for players. How often do you say that about Collison.
    But for the Pacers to get to the next Level, they do need alot better point play(which Hill might be the one that has to get them there), and maybe(hopefully) that will be enough to make them an elite team in the league.

  • little B

    @ Wade
    You pretty much pinpoint everything right on. It took about 6 Pacers that played great to good to whoop on a pretty good team last night. So I wouldn’t say the Pacers need 6 guys to do well, maybe 5. That is alot to ask for though, but I think it just shows this team will be good for a long period of time. Easier to fill in pieces when one is removed. Also with Indiana being a small market team, it will probably always have to go about it this way. Find alot of good players, not a few amazing players. I am not knocking on these Pacers, I love them. They remind me of the early 2000′s teams, and the mid-late 90′s teams. Remind me of the Pistons who were dominate but yet had no real superstar on their team. They had a TEAM. You never knew who was going to come out blazing. Which I think makes them hard to play against and matchup against. Look at the bulls right now. Alot of good players, playing amazing, then when they put DROSE in and they are level above. This year’s Pacer team is good, but next year’s team can be great, and I don’t think they need to do anything to it. Just need a little more time together and possibly(probably) a change at point. Could they be better? yes, every team can.

  • Joe B

    I have mentioned before that the Pacers are one well-above average to near great point guard away from being a true contender. What the Pacers get with Barbosa, Hill, and Collison is a mix of the skills that normally come in one elite point guard. Now, depending on situation, Vogel can use these three pieces almost interchangeably. Barbosa isn’t a great assist man, to make an understatement, but he can pass well at times (the Jones play). If DC and Hill can improve their passing game and defense in Vogel’s system as we move to the playoffs, Barbosa might just be enough to make up for cold streaks both go through…