Just what is the ideal playoff rotation for the slumping Indiana Pacers?
Check that—the collapsing Indiana Pacers.
This is a trickier issue than one may realize. For instance, Roy Hibbert was the Great Wall of Hibbert in last season's postseason.
Hibbert, who enjoyed his second All-Star stint just two months ago, is nowhere near the player he was back then.
Indy just cannot afford to have him show up for the playoffs in the current state he's in—inconsistent, demotivated and accusatory.
He said, "Some selfish dudes in here. Some selfish dudes. I'm tired of talking about it. We've been talking about it for a month."
If Hibbert, a 7'2", 290-pound behemoth, continues to grab just three or four rebounds nightly, he's a disgrace to his team.
As a collective unit, the Pacers must make full use of their depth and set aside whatever differences they have in order to contend for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The 1st Unit
This year, this very same group is imploding right before our very eyes.
By the way, thank you, Chris Copeland.
George, the one-time MVP contender who can sometimes be a head-scratcher, confirmed to The Indianapolis Star's Candice Buckner on April 10 they are a tired group.
He quipped, "It was what we needed. A lot of us were tired, a lot of us got injuries, playing through injuries, a little banged up right now. It was good for us to be able to sit out a game."
Buckner then described how fatigue has affected Indy's offensive and defensive production:
The rest was essential, especially considering that the fatigue through March showed in their jump shooting (42.3 percent from the field) and that the most dependable facet of the game—their defensive rating—plummeted to 101.5 (the points allowed an opponent per 100 possessions).
Both statistics ranked as their worst in any month and the team floundered to an 8-10 March record.
With this, a breakdown of the starters' average minutes in the postseason would be as follows:
- Hill: 32 minutes
- Stephenson: 36 minutes
- George: 38 minutes
- West: 32 minutes
- Hibbert: 30 minutes
Hill's production has declined this season, and Indiana needs more from him to ease the scoring load off of George, who needs to be at least a shade of what he was in last year's postseason for the Pacers to go all the way.
Stephenson is an exciting talent who must keep his emotions in check (here's hoping he and Dwyane Wade don't get into it again in the postseason). West is still clutch and is an underrated defender who will deliver.
Hibbert, just like George, has to regain his postseason form. He's not the Great Wall of Hibbert right now. He's playing like David Harrison, Indy's first-round pick a decade ago who was a bust.
With Hibbert's lousy play lately, 30 minutes a night (maybe even fewer) would be reasonable enough. Ian Mahinmi and even Luis Scola, who can play the 5 spot, are the backups.
Here's another telling stat: The Pacers' starting unit is just 4-19 (.174) in matchups it lost to opposing starters through April 11. In startling contrast, if Indiana's starters prevail, the team has a 50-5 (.909) record, per HoopsStats.com.
Clearly, Indy's starters have to be at the top of their game come playoff time.
The Shock Troopers
Pacers president Larry Bird told USA Today's Phil Richards in Nov. 2013 his first priority when he returned to the franchise prior to the 2013-14 NBA season was to overhaul an inept bench:
I watched them all year and every time, I'd say, 'Where's the bench?' I talked to (Pacers owner) Herbie (Simon) and (Pacers consultant) Donnie (Walsh) throughout the year.
I knew if I got back in, the first thing I was going to do is try to completely redo the second unit.
Bird did what he said he would. It was a massive overhaul that did little to boost the team's bench ranking—it is 28th overall with a 25.9 points-per-game average, per HoopsStats.com.
But then again, one can only imagine if the likes of Luis Scola, Evan Turner and Chris Copeland would consistently produce the way they did against the Bucks on April 9.
This bench has been plagued by inconsistency all season long. Scola got off to a decent start but started to show his age (33) as the season wore on. He's like a second David West off the bench, a weapon which Indy needs in the postseason.
As young as Turner is, his numbers since he has donned Pacers blue and gold (7.3 points on .404 shooting) are nothing much to crow about. With the exception of George and Stephenson, no other Pacer can create shots as good as Evan Turner can.
As a player who can spell both Stephenson and George at shooting guard and small forward, respectively, Turner should average around 20 minutes per game.
As for Ian Mahinmi, he is not the intimidator Hibbert is, but he figures to provide a spark at center. C.J. Watson's return could not have come at a better time, as Indy went 7-11 without him, per IndyCornrows.com's Tom Lewis.
Here's how the average playoff minutes should stack up:
- Scola: 20 minutes
- Turner: 20 minutes
- Watson: 16 minutes
- Mahinmi: 12 minutes
A nine-man rotation may not prove to be enough, especially if the Pacers want to throw off opposing defenses. Copeland and Rasual Butler, who both have played reasonably well whenever they take the floor, should be given an opportunity here and there to shine.
If only Andrew Bynum's knees could be healthy.
The Parting Shot
As we have seen recently, this Pacers squad has been hit with adversity. Never mind if Wednesday night's opponent was just the Bucks.
This team still has some fight left in it, per NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott in an April 10 interview with Pacers.com's Scott Agness:
We've seen sometimes something that simple change the morale, get the chemistry going because to me, the good teams that I have been on, the chemistry the only thing oh so important for guys trusting one another and really believing they can go deep (in the playoffs).
To see those guys embrace Copeland and guys running half-court high-fiving, maybe that can something that gets their spirits back because they're too good of a team to be playing so poorly like they've played the last month of the season.
The best-case scenario would be for these Pacers to evoke memories of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts.
Those Colts were routinely gashed by opposing teams because of their poor run defense yet managed to get their act together in the postseason and win Super Bowl XLI.
Nobody thought they would make a strong title run.
But through sheer determination, they somehow got the job done.
Could the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers be the NBA's version of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts and shock the world by winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy?
If they fall short, it may be time for Larry Legend to pull the trigger once again.