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.