For the last two playoff runs, the knock against the Indiana Pacers has been their lack of depth on the roster. In the the 2012 NBA playoffs, their loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Miami Heat was largely due to a poor second unit.
Though they attempted to fix the problem over the 2012 offseason, the same seemed to be true during the 2013 playoffs. With enough improvement to make a seven-game push in the Eastern Conference Finals, but not quite enough to take that final step of winning the East, Indiana's front office looked to remedy the second-unit problems once again.
This year, however, is a different story.
Indiana has finally made the additions necessary to make that final push and win the Eastern Conference. A solid bench, the emergence of Paul George and the (eventual) return of Danny Granger all contribute to that push.
Acquiring Luis Scola from Phoenix in a trade over the summer was the biggest move the front office made this offseason.
Scola, a proven veteran with plenty of starting experience, was acquired by the Indiana Pacers for next to nothing this past offseason. The Pacers sent bench players Gerald Green, who had disappointed both the coaching staff and fans after a promising preseason, and Miles Plumlee, who never saw the court in more than 14 games with minimal minutes.
The only value Indiana gave up in the trade was a protected 2014 first-round draft pick, which, when you've got all the pieces in place, is of very little value in the NBA.
Essentially, Luis Scola was acquired for a first-round draft pick, proving the front office and coaching staff is operating with a "win now" mentality. Scola brings something to this unit that was previously lacking in the past—a veteran. Someone who's been around the game and is comfortable accepting a second-unit role, despite starting experience.
Scola also brings a level of versatility not often seen in most forwards, let alone backup forwards. He is shooting 53.7 percent from the field, including 53.2 percent from outside of the paint on 47 attempts, according to Vorped.com's shot chart.
Luis Scola's contributions, however, haven't just been on the scoring end, as Bleacher Report's NBA analyst Jared Zwerling pointed out. Scola is providing efficiency in his minutes and proving he was well worth the first-round pick Indiana spent on him.
Additionally, Scola provides the spark that Indiana had been missing last year off the bench.
When needed, Scola answers the call. For example, against the Chicago Bulls on November 6, up three points with right around six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Scola stole the ball from Bulls forward Luol Deng and drove all the way down the court to score, sparking a 27-12 game-ending run for the Pacers en route to an 97-80 victory.
In helping the Pacers achieve their fifth straight victory on the year, Scola finished the night with 12 points, three rebounds and two steals in 15 minutes of action.
Alongside new point guard C.J. Watson and the eventual return of Danny Granger, Scola and this bench have the ability to put this Pacers team over the hump and get them to the NBA Finals. Following a season which saw Indiana at the bottom of the league in bench scoring, the Pacers have moved up to ninth in the league in bench shooting percentage at 45.5 percent, up from 39.3 last year.
If this bench can hold on and continue to produce, they have what it takes. For the first time in years, Indiana Pacer fans can relax and not have to worry about losing the lead while the second unit is on the floor. Instead, they can take heart in knowing that the Paul George no longer has to play 45 minutes to get the boys in blue and gold a win.
If this translates into late April and May, you can bet we're not done hearing about the Pacers.
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