Indiana Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird made some fantastic moves this past offseason to upgrade his team’s bench. Bird acquired Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson. He also drafted Solomon Hill out of Arizona.
The offseason acquisitions made sense under budget circumstances. All-Star Paul George was seeking mutual agreement on an expensive, long-term contract extension. Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West all received contract extensions within the past year-and-a-half. Not to mention the possibility – which came to light – of Lance Stephenson having a breakout season this year and potentially receiving a new contract as well.
Thus, Bird was working with limited funds in attempting to upgrade the bench. Scola is surprisingly affordable considering he has always been a starter in the NBA. He earns approximately $4.5 million this season and just under $5 million in 2014-15.
Bird brought in Copeland for two years and about $6 million. Copeland has played sparingly, but I expect to see him used a little more this season and next because of what he’s earning. Otherwise, he could be trade bait after this season.
Scola and Copeland are both somewhat of a defensive liability, especially in head coach Frank Vogel’s system (Indiana Pacers lead the NBA in team defense).
Watson was the most important free agent for Indiana, coming to the Pacers for two years and $4 million. That’s an incredible deal and a serious upgrade from former Pacer D.J. Augustin. Watson has been excellent off the bench for the Indiana Pacers.
Add in Danny Granger, having recovered from injury, and Ian Mahinmi, and one is staring at a solid bench.
However, even though the rotation of the bench has been consistent as of late, the contributions can be cloudy at times. The Pacers’ bench averages 25.9 points per game, only a slight upgrade from the 24.1 PPG of last season’s bench. With the poor play of the bench from a season ago in mind, and the upgrades that have been made since, 25.9 points isn’t very good.
That number is good for 25th in the NBA, about 20 points worse than NBA-leading San Antonio (45.4 PPG).
I bring up the inconsistency because Indiana can’t afford to play its starters 35-40 minutes every game and expect to content for a championship.
To compare, despite a very small sample size, Indiana’s bench had only 19 points Monday night at Golden State. Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, the same bench had 34 points. We have seen this far too often over two-plus seasons.
Consistency is key, and the starters have done their part. It’s up to the reserves to step up.