Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell was +21 in 18 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday–an impressive stat for any backup point guard.
But McConnell isn’t the backup point guard.
In fact, head coach Rick Carlisle told McConnell to expect a minimized role for the Pacers this season. Up-and-comer Andrew Nembhard will take over the backup lead-guard responsibilities for the blue and gold.
Jarace Walker–the team’s number eight overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft–finds himself logging more minutes on the bench than on the hardwood–even after showing promise in the preseason.
Some fans see this as a problem. Why aren’t these players finding playing time if they’re capable of making meaningful contributions to the team? It is a problem, but it’s the best problem an NBA franchise can have.
The Indiana Pacers simply have too many good players.
In just two regular season games, Rick Carlisle’s rotation is nine players deep with occasional showings from a 10th player (dependent upon game situations–foul trouble, off nights, etc.). The starting five of Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Bruce Brown, Obi Toppin, and Myles Turner, in addition to the bench staples of Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith, Buddy Hield, and Jalen Smith, make up the established nine.
At least 14 players on the roster are capable NBA players, with the additional five being McConnell, Isaiah Jackson, Walker, Daniel Theis, and Jordan Nwora.
For perspective, the 2023 NBA Champion Denver Nuggets had only eight players log over 1,000 minutes last season. The Pacers had 10 players reach this mark, and Chris Duarte was just 103 minutes off of being number 11.
Of the remaining three conference finalists–the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers–the Lakers were the only team to have more than eight players exceed 1,000 minutes. Nine Lakers reached the threshold. The Heat and Celtics had eight each.
The takeaway is obvious: Good teams consolidate talent.
Though the Pacers have 14 rotation-ready players and currently own the NBA’s best offensive rating (through just two games, albeit), they might explore consolidating a handful of them into one more talented player. This makes their distribution of talent most potent at the top of their rotation rather than evenly spread throughout a very deep bench.
Fans will need to have patience, however, as it’s very unlikely the team will make any roster moves before the new year arrives. As Carlisle adjusts his rotations, take note of which NBA-capable players find themselves on the outside of them. These could be potential trade pieces later in the season. Until the team has a better idea of what its roster needs, enjoy one of the league’s most talented benches.
The Indiana Pacers take on the Chicago Bulls tonight (Monday, October 30) at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.