How Should Indiana Pacers Manage Minutes in the Season's Final Weeks?
Rather than throwing their hobbled star into the mix, Indiana will now trot out a team who has shown good cohesiveness on both ends of the court throughout the year. Granger's scoring ability will surely be missed, but more importantly, the Pacers won't be rolling the dice on whether Granger would have been able to mesh well with this team.
The final weeks of the regular season are about gaining momentum headed into the playoffs. As we near this point in the season, rotations dwindle as the end of the bench shrinks. There are only 240 minutes to go around, and teams want the best players on the court during those precious seconds.
The rotation we will lay out today will be the optimal amount of minutes distributed to the players who figure to be part of Indiana's playoff rotation. The following minute "suggestions" are based on recent trends in players' minutes and their minutes in tightly played games. Left out are the players who figure to minimally contribute and those who will be playing in the garbage-time minutes that are rather hard to predict.
Here is the Pacer's "ideal" minute distribution for the final weeks of the regular season and beyond.
Suggested Minutes: 5
Rotations in the playoffs typically run eight or nine players deep, so Gerald Green makes the cut in that aspect.
Whether Frank Vogel will trust Green's spotty defense in the playoffs remains to be seen. There is equally as high of a chance these could be Sam Young's minutes because of his defensive ability.
Green gets the nod here, though, for the simple fact he can provide a little more on the offensive end. With Danny Granger out, the Pacers will be in need of extra scoring, which is Green's strong suit. He won't be asked to log significant minutes, so his subpar defense won't be a huge negative.
Over the first half of the season, Green averaged nearly 20 minutes per game, but since the All-Star break, he's only averaged 12. Injuries and inconsistency are the main culprits for his decline in minutes, although he has shot the ball well from three-point range since the break—48 percent.
He isn't a player who can be trusted to play 20 minutes a night in the playoffs because of his questionable shot selection and poor defense. Green is better suited to spell either Paul George or Lance Stephenson in short spurts, which is why he should only see about five minutes per game.
Suggested Minutes: 10
D.J. Augustin has averaged 16 minutes per game up to this point in the season, but as the playoffs begin, he should see his minutes decline.
He's a good ball-handler, free-throw shooter and passer, but he doesn't do anything exceptionally well. He struggles shooting the ball from the field—36 percent this year, 40 percent over his career—as well as from three-point range—37 percent this year. Augustin is also undersized, which causes him to struggle on the defensive end.
Luckily for him, the best point guards reside in the West, so he won't have to face them until the finals. He will have to face the likes of Raymond Felton, Jeff Teague and possibly a compromised Derrick Rose, further devaluing his importance to the team.
Augustin doesn't provide much of a scoring spark off the bench, but he doesn't turn the ball over (less than once per game) and can therefore be counted on as a reliable backup.
Suggested Minutes: 10
Orlando Johnson has been a significant part of the Pacers rotation this year and should continue to be moving forward.
The rookie from UC Santa Barbara has averaged 14 minutes per game since the All-Star break, slowly gaining the trust of Frank Vogel.
Johnson has good length for a 2-guard and has done a decent job on the defensive end. He is also a more reliable shooter than either Gerald Green or Sam Young, which is why he has taken minutes away from both.
He's not a sharpshooter, but Johnson has shot 44 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range this season. Both of those are respectable numbers for a rookie coming off the bench.
Johnson has shown some promise of late, and giving him more minutes than Green and Young should be the trend continuing forward. The Pacers will need extra scoring options against the Knicks and Heat, so if Johnson can continue to shoot well, he will be very valuable.
Suggested Minutes: 14
Ian Mahinmi struggles at time on the offensive end of the court, but there is no doubt he is a presence on the defensive end.
He averages less than a block per game, but he affects so many other shots with his size. His problem is that he has a propensity to get in foul trouble early and often. Coming off the bench isn't a huge deal, although giving up freebees isn't something the Pacers will look forward to.
With teams going small, Mahinmi loses some value due to his lack of mobility. He isn't quick enough to guard small power forwards doubling as a center, so matching up with either a Jeff Green or Carmelo Anthony could be problematic in the playoffs. He can also struggle on the perimeter against Kevin Garnett or Joakim Noah when he catches the ball in space.
Mahinmi, though, does provide a reliable backup to Roy Hibbert, who similarly has trouble staying out of foul trouble. On the bright side, there are 12 fouls to give between the two of them, so both of them fouling out isn't likely.
Suggested Minutes: 16
Tyler Hansbrough provides more energy than, perhaps, any other player in the NBA. The problem with him is he is too small to cover typical power forwards and too slow to cover smaller power forwards.
Hansbrough has played well of late with David West missing some time, so it is a good sign he is confident headed into the playoffs. His grittiness and heart are what is most important during the playoffs, though.
The fact that he is willing to lay it all on the line will be something the Pacers need off their bench, and Hansbrough can provide that. He isn't a great offensive asset, and his shot selection can be puzzling. Despite this, Hansbrough will provide the Pacers a couple extra possessions of game because of his effort, so he is valuable in that sense.
Playing 10-20 minutes of all-out basketball per night is what Pacer fans can expect out of Hansbrough during the playoffs.
Suggested Minutes: 34
Now that we have the bench minutes set, we can get into the meat of the team.
Roy Hibbert is especially valuable to the Pacers, as no other team in the East has a center quite like him. Standing at 7'2", Hibbert has a size advantage against almost anyone he matches up against.
He doesn't take advantage of his size as much as he should on the offensive end, but Hibbert is a force on defense. He is fourth in the league with 2.6 blocks per game and is the centerpiece of the Pacers defense.
During the playoffs, he will be especially vital protecting the rim against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The Knicks and Celtics are two of the only teams in the East that have a big man at center similar to Hibbert, giving the Pacers a significant size advantage against everyone else.
Should the Pacers ever match up with the Heat in the playoffs, Hibbert will likely be the determining factor of who wins the series. Chris Bosh doesn't have the length to guard him, and Chris Anderson fouls opponents like it's his job.
Expect Hibbert to log significant minutes during the playoffs, but also expect him to lose some minutes due to foul trouble.
Suggested Minutes: 36
Lance Stephenson has been a welcome surprise to many Pacer fans this season. He's only averaging 8.6 points per game on 45 percent shooting, but he has played really good defense for much of the season.
Moving forward, Indiana will rely heavily on Stephenson in the playoffs. He is a bit undersized to take on the likes of Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, but Stephenson will play a big role in containing Jason Terry, J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade.
How Stephenson fairs in these matchups will be just as important as Paul George matching up with the other superstars.
Terry, Smith and Wade are liable to catch fire at any time and have the ability to carry a team to victory. That's maybe not true of Terry anymore, but who can forget the finals two years ago. Stephenson will have to continue to play good defense against these guys for the Pacers to advance.
The biggest asset Stephenson brings to the table is his toughness. With Stephenson and David West on the court, Indiana is one of the toughest teams in the playoffs who isn't afraid of anybody.
Suggested Minutes: 36
Speaking of David West, he, too, will be relied on heavily during the playoffs.
West's leadership is one of the reasons the Pacers have been able to handle Danny Granger's injury so well. Continuing to lead the younger members of this team will be necessary for West and the Pacers as the playoffs move on.
With the current roster they have, the Pacers most efficient offensive player is West. Paul George can score from anywhere on the court, but he also takes questionable shots at times and doesn't always shoot for a high percentage.
West can score from inside or out and is a good passer when playing in the post. He is one of the more underrated players in this league and has quietly put together a strong career.
Playing good defense on Jeff Green or Josh Smith in the first round is the key for West. He isn't the best defender, but is above-average and rebounds fairly well. He could struggle in a matchup with Smith, but his effort is what will be the difference against a player who plays aloof at times.
Indiana will rely on West to give them big minutes during the playoffs, and the wily old veteran will be up to the task.
Suggested Minutes: 37
He isn't a pure point guard and is a bit undersized for a 2-guard, but he has done a great job running the show this season in Indiana.
George Hill has averaged 4.6 assists while only turning it over 1.6 times per game. On top of that, Hill has played great defense guarding opposing point guards.
While the Chris Paul's and Russell Westbrook's may reside in the Western Conference, a potential second-round clash between Hill and Raymond Felton is a strong possibility. Rajon Rondo's injury takes away from what would have been juicy first round matchup, but Hill will have his hands full with whomever he goes against.
The fact that Hill contributes in every aspect of the game is a trait many other point guards don't possess. He rebounds well for a point guard and is a good shooter from everywhere on the court. Hill could be the difference-maker in the playoffs for Indiana, when you add in his slashing ability and defensive prowess.
Hill has been one of the most important players for the Pacers all year, and he will continue to be as we head into the playoffs.
Suggested Minutes: 42
Teams want to have their best player on the floor at all times, which is why the Pacers need Paul George to play big minutes in the playoffs.
George is the Pacers' most dynamic scorer, and perhaps, their best defender. It is a lot to ask of him, but Indiana needs Paul George on both ends of the court for the majority of the game.
On defense, he is expected to guard the opposing team's best player, and on offense, he is expected to be the go-to guy. If George wants to become a superstar in this league, he must be able to handle both.
He has broken out in a minor way this year, but he still hasn't shot the ball as well as Pacer fans would have hoped. Shooting 43 percent from the field is not characteristic of an upper-echelon player, and in the playoffs, defenders will only play harder, making easy shots hard to come by.
George will likely go up against three of the best scorers in the league when the playoffs begin. He would welcome, with open arms, a matchup against the Bulls or Hawks, both of which don't have a LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Paul Pierce on their team. As fans of the game, though, we would all love to see those matchups.
George has struggled against good teams at times during the year, but remains one of the best all-around players in the league. He has the ability to affect all facets of the game, disrupting passing lanes, rebounding and altering shots as good as any player not named LeBron.
There is no doubt George will be on the court for 40-plus minutes per night, and if he wants to take his game to the next ,he must be able to carry the Pacers deep into the playoffs.