2nd Quarter Woes: Troubling Problem or Transient Phase?

As the second quarter drew to a close last night, Pacers fans everywhere began to panic. Famous Pacer fan Jason Whitlock bemoaned that “Frank Vogel still had a nast[y] habit of allowing the bench to come in and kill the momentum.”

Nobody could blame him or anyone else for the reaction. After all, in the last two games, the Pacers were outscored 51-21 in the second quarter as the bench, just like last year, seemingly handed away a substantial lead.

But is this really an indication of a season-long flaw for Indiana? Let’s not get too carried away.

Through five games, the Pacers have been outscored 124-82 in the second quarter this year. Indiana fans are (rightfully) concerned about last year’s flaw coming back to bite them, especially after the front office tried to address the problem with several new additions to the squad. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves in panic, lets all take a breath and remember that the bench looks nothing like what it will look like with a healthy squad.

It’s hard to overstate just how much a healthy Danny Granger will give to this team. Not only will he add versatility, but he will most importantly give the bench unit the scorer’s punch it needs in order to right the ship. Much of the blame for Indy’s second quarter woes has been placed on Lance Stephenson, and at first glance, he’s been awful in second quarters. He’s played 55 of the 60 total minutes and has shot less than 35% during that time (compare that to his 55% rate he’s been shooting in all other quarters and it’s even worse). His turnovers have also jumped. The decline is all due to his usage rate – while Lance is often the second option on the wing and third or fourth option in the offense, his usage rate jumps to 27% in the second quarter when he’s trying to be “the guy.”

In fairness to Lance, the team absolutely needs him to be “the guy” while he’s leading the second unit. It’s not the end of the world if he shoots a lower percentage while he’s out there with the reserves. Last year, Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined just how valuable Danny Granger was to the Pacers’ offense, even he happened to be less efficient than other great scorers. The idea is that while his shooting percentages were undesirable, the defense still had to game plan for him and it put the rest of the team in better spots. When Lance is on the floor with Sloan, Scola, Mahimni, and Johnson, who exactly is supposed to be the playmaker? Stephenson has rightfully taken the lead. He’s been aggressive, he’s been the leader, and he’s tried to carry the offense. He’s also not quite ready for that. When Granger returns, his floor spacing and shot making should move Stephenson back to where he belongs – the second wing scoring option – and we have all seen how good he is at that role early on this season.

Further, we have yet to see how Chris Copeland could factor into the equation. In the post-game press conference, Frank Vogel admitted that he may need to tinker with the rotation a little bit or possibly even run some different sets for the bench unit. Might that involve more than just garbage time minutes for the ex-Knickerbocker? One might argue that there are just too many guys in front of him – especially with the way Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill have played in spurts this year. Still, I believe Copeland will eventually get his chance as soon as he figures out how to defend the way Vogel wants. Copeland wasn’t just a good 3-point shooter last year, he was a great one, and as the season wears on and the playoff rotation comes into focus, Copeland is the guy that has proven he can play well in only 15 minutes of action. He may be more ready to deliver in that role than both Johnson and Hill at this point in their careers.

It’s also important to remember that Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games were played under extenuating circumstances. Vogel was more likely to run his bench for a little longer considering they were the first two games in a brutal “four games in five nights” run. Indy’s Head Coach is too smart to burn out his starters this early in the season. Would I have liked to see Paul George a little more in Tuesday night’s second quarter and see him make a run at 40 points? Sure. But I would be missing the forest for the trees.

In each of the last two nights, Coach Vogel kept George out of the game for at least seven minutes in the second quarter before playing him almost the entire second half. Vogel couldn’t be making it any plainer: he was purposefully giving away a little advantage in order to capitalize later on while also ensuring that his team would be rested enough to get through the week.

In the long run, I don’t see Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and David West sitting out of second quarters as long as they did against Detroit and Chicago. Still, with a healthy squad, they might be able to do just that. Remember that George Hill has missed the last three games, shoving CJ Watson into the starting role and pushing Donald Sloan and others into more important backup roles. As good as Sloan has been at times, the second unit will still function much better on both ends of the court with Watson running the show.

It’s early, and it’s much easier to focus on the problems than to highlight the positives. The good news is that in spite of the atrocious second quarters, the Pacers still sit at 5-0. Also, the same bench units that have played so lousy in the first half have also routinely stretched leads at the beginning of each 4th quarter. The talent and potential are there this year for the Pacers to turn the bench weakness into a strength. Just show a little patience and trust that one of the best coaches in the league will put it all together.

Topics: Bench Mob

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  • djmcba

    I think you are spot on. My take is that Vogel is trying to do a couple different things. As you mentioned, keeping PG on the bench for most of Q2 keeps him rested for the 2nd (and more important) half. We also have to give the bench unit some burn together to gel. It’s clear that as great as Lance has been, he isn’t quite sure how to be the guy yet. He needs to run the offense and make plays when he gets the chance – right now, Lance’s take on being the man is to pound the rock into the floorboards until there are 12 seconds on the shot clock prior to shooting/driving/passing. I think that, like the rest of Lance’s rapidly improving game, gets better as we move deeper into the season.

    The other factor is that our starting line-up is so good (one can reasonably argue that it is the best unit in the NBA) that coaches are trying to take advantage of time when that unit is not out there – such as Thibs leaving Luol Deng on the floor during the 2nd when PG was out – if a team’s starters can’t hang with our first unit, the coaches are going to try and get them minutes against the 2nd team in which it is more likely they can bridge the gap.

    I think Frank is right that the falloff in Q2 isn’t sustainable for success, but there are a lot of new faces and he’s got to figure out who he can trust. It seems pretty clear that he doesn’t trust Copeland yet and probably won’t until Copeland starts draining treys and/or he familiarizes himself further with our defensive schemes.

    My only concern is that we are continually waiting on Danny – partly because his game provides an ideal solution. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t play 5 consecutive games this year. Hopefully we don’t keep preparing our rotation for his full-time return as I don’t think his body is reliable at this point.

    I should probably get back to work now.

    • Derek U

      Copeland had a TERRIBLE preseason, unless something isn’t being reported I’m assuming he’s in the “dog house”. I still have faith in that signing!

  • Derek U

    It’s nothing more than a transient phase. This is a new bench unit all around and needs some time to work out the quirks. Lance also needs to find a grove with puting the bench unit on his shoulders as he hasn’t played well when it’s just him out there. I have faith he’ll figure this out.

    wouldn’t hurt for Vogel to get a little better at substitutions as well, but he’s made a lot of progress over the last couple years with it. I love watching the players and Vogel all grow together. It feels like years of patience is finally paying off!

  • poot

    poot re-neggs

    all preseason i was touting Granger as returning to the starting 5 was a lock.
    well i change my vote. that was assuming Lance got a bit better.
    Lance is now looking better, in my opinion, than Danny in his prime.
    the leap has been astronomical. i am really shocked.but a good shocked.

    with OJ, Solo, and Sloan getting tons of time early on in the season, we are not only an incredibly talented bench at every position, but extremely deep. Basically every position has multiple guys that can step in and not give up too much (we are transitioning right now, not troubling)

    .

    .

    also want to call Doolittle a piece of shit one more time. that asshole is the only one who picked the Bulls to win last night of the espn 5on5, and is the only one (other than bulls.com writer) that thought bulls would have a better season and was the only one who thought bulls were a favorite in a playoff series between the two

    in other words, Doolittle, get a new job. you’ve overstayed your welcome and your opinions are garbage. i hate you

    • Realist

      I heart poot

  • Ian

    Is there a reason why the Pacers always play the whole bench at once? Don’t teams like Miami leave one of their superstars in with the bench guys? Admittedly they have a lot of superstars, but still. I feel like either West or PG should be in there in close games with the bench, at least until Lance gets more comfortable leading the unit. This is a luxury having Scola gives us, subbing West a bit early in the 1st and letting Scola play with the first team for a bit and then having West play more with the 2nd team to settle them.

    Like everyone else I want to see what Copeland can do. And lets not get too excited about the idea of Hill blocking Copeland. I realize Hill is better fundamentally, but he’s scored about 10 points total this season. Copeland can score 10 points in 3 minutes when he’s on.

    I think Lance is still trying to figure out how to take over the game. He doesn’t know when to drive, when to shoot and when to pass. PG is still going through this as well though he’s much farther along (but you still saw the learning curve when he made a couple of ill-advised drives to the hoop against the Bulls).

  • Oak Moses

    The second quarter play this season seems to be making the case for Granger to come of the bench when he comes back. Being “the guy” with the bench crew maximizes Stephenson’s weaknesses and allows the defense to focus solely on him. It’s clearly not working. Playing Granger in those 2nd quarter situations seems like a possible solution, assuming he still has a bit of lead-dog left in the tank.

    Another possible idea would be playing George Hill with the second unit more when he gets healthy. C.J. Watson seems to fit in well with the first unit, so subbing Hill out earlier and then running the offense through him when the second unit is on the floor might be more effective than just allowing the Lance Stephenson show to continue. If you project this forward to the time when Granger his healthy, a 2nd quarter where Hill, Granger, and Scola are on the floor for 5-6 minutes together seems like a nice recipe for success.

    Running the offense through Scola, like we used to run the offense through West until PG became what he is, could work also. He’s probably the best backup PF in the NBA, so if we focused on getting him 10 shots during his 16-20 minutes on the floor, I don’t think we’d be unhappy with the results.

    As for Copeland, I still like the signing, but I don’t think we’ll see him a lot outside of small-ball situations.

  • Frank Cook

    Who is supposed to lead the second unit? I think until Granger returns, the answer is Scola, but being new to the team he is still deferring to the players who have been here longer. I fully agree though that the first five games have shown that Lance should not be asked to be the first option on either the first or second unit at this stage of his career. He’ll get there, but he isn’t there yet. A month from now I see Granger playing his way back to shape on the second unit, but until then we need to learn to play more through Scola. He’ll step up soon.

  • dani

    i feel bad for Cope just warming up the bench for 6 million.i dont know why is Solomon King,Hill :) ahead of him??? 8.7 points on 47.9 percent shooting, including 42.1 percent from 3-point last yr with Knicks and we cant even give him 5min of playing time instead just garbage time at the end of the game.Someone will have to space the floor eventually sooner than later when playoffs come