Around this time a year ago, I wrote a piece on how the Pacers' 2012-13 bench stacked up to the underachieving bench of the 2011-12 season. I was generally undecided how it would go, but I was far from bullish on the D.J. Augustin signing and didn't love the Ian Mahinmi trade.
In retrospect, the Augustin signing was a disaster. The Mahinmi trade wasn't a terrible move, as Dahntay Jones had a quiet year and Darren Collison struggled to fit into coach Rick Carlisle's system in Dallas, while Mahinmi played crucial minutes both early in the season for a struggling Roy Hibbert and later for shorter stretches to spell Hibbert.
The bench from the 2012 playoffs wasn't great by any means. They were the unit consisting of Collison, Jones, Leandro Barbosa, Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson. A.J. Price played a role on that bench, as did Lance Stephenson, but very sparingly.
The goal a year ago was to bolster the bench with Augustin, Mahinmi and Gerald Green. Stephenson was also expected to step into a backup role.
Of course, as we know, Danny Granger missed all but a few games, Stephenson was forced into a starting role in which he thrived, and the bench was, to be honest, awful.
Scola completes almost a complete overhaul of the Pacers bench.
While four of the five starters will remain intact—George Hill, Paul George, David West and Hibbert—the fifth spot will be filled by either Stephenson or Granger. I am going to assume that as of right now, Granger will be the guy starting at small forward.
The starting unit was fantastic last year, putting up a plus-minus rating of +288, according to 82games.com. The bench was the problem. The so-called "second unit" of Hansbrough, Augustin, Sam Young, Mahinmi and Green had a season-long plus-minus of -12. They were only worse in the playoffs, but a true reading on how much worse is hard to determine, since Frank Vogel opted to leave a starter or two in at all times.
That brings us to this coming season. The bench looks so much better on paper that it is hard to not get excited.
The second unit is shaping up to look like this: Stephenson, Scola, Mahinmi, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. That lineup provides all things a good bench unit needs.
They have the explosiveness in Watson and Stephenson. Copeland, with Scola in the mix, can now play the 3 and take smaller guys outside where he can be very good from three-point range.
Scola and Mahinmi can now work inside with an honest defense that must be mindful of Copeland, Watson and Stephenson from the outside.
Defensively, they will struggle. Copeland will struggle guarding quicker forwards, and Scola is a pedestrian defender. However, Stephenson vastly improved his defensive intensity last year, and Mahinmi seemed to feed off Hibbert's defense to become a solid interior presence himself.
This still leaves some intriguing options past the top two units on the Pacers. Orlando Johnson has shown an ability to fill it up. Donald Sloan is a physical point guard who can run a team, and first-round draft choice Solomon Hill looked fantastic in the Orlando Summer League.
I know the summer league should always be taken with a very large grain of salt, but Hill made very heady plays and looked every bit of the intelligent four-year player turned NBA contributor that Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard touted him as.
It is always nearly impossible to determine how guys who have never played together will mesh on the floor. For that reason, I didn't feel it necessary to quote a bunch of stats for the new players.
How will Mahinmi benefit from having Scola next to him? How will Stephenson handle moving to the bench? Can Copeland build on his surprising season last year? These are questions we don't have answers to.
But from an old-school, eye-test way of looking at things, this new and (hopefully) improved bench gives the Pacers a real shot at coming out of the East next season. If they can learn to play together, and guys like Stephenson and Scola can learn to contribute coming off the bench, they will be dangerous.
They are talented, they are hungry and, finally, they are deep.
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