The offseason was all about the bench (again).
In many ways, so will the season.
As the Pacers prepare for the regular-season opener Tuesday night against Orlando in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, are the new guys living up to the hype? Will Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland be difference-makers for the Pacers? Or, like last year’s additions (D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Gerald Green and Sam Young), will they fizzle?
As you might expect, the results have been mixed. While Scola and Watson have looked extremely solid, Copeland has been up and down. Rookie Solomon Hill may forge a role with his General Store game – a little bit of everything. Mahinmi has been inconsistent.
And of course there is the ultimate wild card: what to do with Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson.
Granger, who has missed a week with a left calf strain, could well miss opening night, as well. That means when he does return, he will do so as a reserve and Stephenson will retain his spot in the starting lineup.
“It’s a work in progress,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “But, look, if Danny was healthy and playing great and Lance was healthy and playing great I’d probably see stretches throughout the season where Lance was starting and I’d probably see stretches throughout the season where Danny was starting, just to see how the different combinations throughout the game pair up.”After a slow start, Scola has caught fire of late. In the final three preseason games, all victories, he racked up 41 points in 59 minutes, hitting 19 of 27 shots. Watson also was impressive in those games with 35 points, 10 assists and 12 of 24 shooting.
It’s an adjustment for Scola, who has been a starter throughout his career, but the veteran can expect something close to a starter’s dose of minutes.
“Coming into a team, I think there’s a big role there for me but the only thing is it will depend on what I do,” Scola said. “If I’m out there and I don’t do the right thing, then the role will be reduced and if I do the right thing, I’m hoping I can expand the role and make it bigger. It will all depend on what I can do for the team.”
Copeland also has a huge learning curve. Coming from New York’s spread offense and pressure defense, he is dealing with a philosophical sea change and is gradually assimilating the new schemes.
Though he added strength and worked on his low-post game over the summer, Copeland’s value has been linked almost exclusively to his 3-point shot and it has yet to fall regularly. He’s 9 for 41 (.220) from the arc and has averaged just 5.9 points and 14.5 minutes.
“They’ve done a lot of good things,” Granger said. “Luis Scola is shooting like 78 percent. I don’t think I’ve seen him miss a shot yet. We knew he was special, we knew what C.J. Watson could do, obviously Chris can shoot it. …
“Honestly, your bench is what really makes or breaks a team. You could have a great starting group, you can have one or two guys that are great, but it depends on what happens when those guys go off the court. A lot of teams that have been successful over the past few years have had a really strong bench.”
They still believe they will get what they need from this new second unit. But with so many moving parts, most new to the machine, it’s going to take a little more time for things to run smoothly.