Darren Collison should come off the bench for the Indiana Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 15: Darren Collison
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 15: Darren Collison /

Darren Collison helps the Indiana Pacers offense, but there are reasons why Nate McMillan should consider bringing him off the bench.

The Indiana Pacers are a better team with Darren Collison coming off the bench, and Nate McMillan should seriously consider making this move a permanent one. DC may be back to being a starter now that Myles Turner is back too, but there is evidence that Indiana is better off with him as a reserve. 

Collison certainly does not deserve a “demotion.” Nobody likes to see a good player lose their starting job due to an injury. In a perfect world, Collison wouldn’t be taking on any less of a role by coming off the bench. If anything, Collison has been more impactful by leading the teams second unit, and he has proved as much in recent games.

As good as the Pacers have been this year with Collison in the starting lineup, the team appears to benefit more by having someone like DC, who can consistently be aggressive on offense, for the second unit while Cojo’s hustle helps the starting unit avoid digging themselves into early game deficits. In the first quarter of the last ten games (which is a mixed bag of DC and Cojo splitting starting duties), Cory Joseph has a defensive rating of 101.5 compared to Collison’s 112.5.

That is a huge gap, and can perhaps explain why the Pacers are able to avoid early game deficits when Joseph is in the starting lineup. In addition to their defensive ratings, Cory Josephs first-quarter rebound percentage is 3.1 percent higher than Collison’s, and his effective field goal percentage is 57.1 compared to Collison’s 52.3 percent.

Keep in mind these are only 1st quarter stats and that water finds its level as the game goes on, but it’s hard to argue that Cory Joseph shouldn’t be starting when he outplays Collison as a starter in three major statistical categories.

Albeit a small sample size, when Darren Collison was playing with the second unit, the bench displayed their ability to keep the pressure on the opposing teams’ defense while the starters get their rest.

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I used to cringe when guys like Joe Young would come off the bench to “relieve” the starters. I still do on occasion. Lately, it has been more calming to see guys like Domantas Sabonis, Glenn Robinson III, Lance Stephenson, and now Darren Collison come in and play backup minutes.

Collison is impacting the bench unit in a way that Cory Joseph couldn’t. Sure, Cojo has some ability to score, but his consistency doing so leaves something to be desired.

Collison is capable of going off for twenty points on any given night and has proved it seven times this season. But when he is in the starting lineup, players like Oladipo and Turner have fewer opportunities to get into an offensive rhythm.

While I can’t say the same for Oladipo at the moment, Turner finally seems to have found his rhythm and is taking advantage of every opportunity.

In addition to Collison’s ability to get buckets, it is sometimes easy to forget that before his injury, Collison was among the team leaders in assists at 5.3 per game. In fact, the only major statistical category that Collison leads over Joseph in the last ten games was his assist percentage at 36.7 percent compared to Joseph’s at 32.4. While that alone might be a reason to keep Collison in the starting lineup, I believe it benefits the team more to have someone who can create shots for others on the second. That unit can sometimes struggle to create for themselves, so Collison’s passing is more valuable to them than Victor Oladipo and the starters. 

Collison’s ability to score and create for others have brought the best out of players like Sabonis and Jefferson. Even more importantly, he has limited the decision-making duties of Lance Stephenson. Collison brings normalcy to a somewhat chaotic world that is the Pacers second unit.

He can get buckets when the rest of the second unit can’t, and he can continue the momentum carried over from the starting unit rather than bring it to a halt like we have seen too many times this season.

On the flip side, Cory Joseph seems to fit in nicely with the first unit.  Midway through the season, the Pacers had grown accustomed to digging themselves out of early game deficits. It seemed as if the Pacers were over this until recently.

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Four out of the last five games the Pacers have found themselves down by eight or more points at some point in the first quarter. It’s worth noting that Darren Collison now has started the last five games for the Pacers so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

What the Pacers would sacrifice in scoring, they could gain in defensive intensity and hustle with Cory Joseph leading the starting unit, and that may be the difference. Cojo’s intensity is relentless and contagious to everyone he plays with.

He generates defensive intensity and hustles from the tip-off. The Pacers of the past were lacking this, and Joseph bringing it would allow Oladipo, Bogdonavic, and Turner to handle more of the scoring duties.

This “changing of the guard” has allowed for players with a larger offensive repertoire to stagger their minutes. Turner, Oladipo, and Bogdonavic are creating offense with the first unit while Collison, Sabonis, and company are able to maintain momentum with the second.

Think of a bench consisting of Collison, GRIII, Sabonis, Booker, and Stephenson. That lineup itself would be good enough to beat some of the bottom feeder teams in the NBA. It certainly eliminates some of the more cringe-worthy substitutions we have had earlier this season. (I’m looking at you Joe Young, even though you have been better this year.) 

Whichever way you choose to slice it, it’s becoming more evident to me that the Pacers are a much deeper and well-rounded team with Collison coming off the bench. Time will tell if this is more than just my opinion, but time isn’t something the Pacer’s have an abundance of with the playoffs just around the corner.

Next: Pacers win another close one, sweep series against Kings

McMillan and company will hope to have a solid rotation cemented by the start of the playoffs. In the meantime, they have some tough decisions to make and not a lot of time to make them. Darren Collison’s starting status is one of those decisions.