The Indiana Pacers had to revamp their bench after fading in the playoffs last season, so they spent $11 million in cap space to alter the second unit. The key players brought in to bolster the playing rotation included backup center Ian Mahinmi, reserve wing Gerald Green and backup point guard D.J. Augustin.
All of the changes made in the offseason were done with the primary purpose of chasing the Miami Heat. Well, for one night at least, the plan worked perfectly. But one night does not make a season and the impact of those free agent signings remains a work in progress.
Integrating the three new players into the playing rotation has been a struggle so far this season. As Ian Levy pointed out, the Pacers depth slides the team into the negative when the starting unit takes their turn on the bench. Sam Young was also a free agent signed to a veteran non-guaranteed contract, but was recently released after an injury along with an overall ‘meh' contribution to the team left the Pacers not wanting to guarantee the remainder of his contract for the rest of the season.
Negative play wasn't a problem against the Heat on Tuesday as D.J. Augustin played extended minute for sick starter George Hill, ending with at +17 for the game. Mahinmi also logged a +17 while Green was +7.
Unfortunately, such positive contributions haven't been the norm for the new Pacers, but there are signs of hope that by the time the playoffs roll around, the bench will be able to help the Pacers win.
How would you rank the positive impact of the three players and their reliability filling the prescribed role in the rotation? For me, Mahinmi would top the list. Considering the season to date as a whole, I'd rank Green second and Augustin third but Augustin's play over the past couple of weeks has moved him ahead of Green.
Mahinmi arrived via trade from Dallas and was then signed to a four-year $16 million contract. He's a legit backup center with the size to defend the rim while also showing the ability to knock down shots in small doses. After Jeff Foster was forced into retirement last year, the Pacers were left with forward Lou Amundson to play reserve center minutes having a true center available off the bench has helped. Plus, Mahinmi is a great teammate and locker room presence to help maintain the strong team chemistry.
Augustin muddled through the first 21 games of the season before Frank Vogel kept him tied to the bench to give Ben Hansbrough a chance to play backup point guard. Augustin impressed with how he handled the demotion and went to work to earn his minutes back. Once back in the playing rotation, Augustin had to start a few game for an injured George Hill and has been trending upward ever since. He struggles keeping opponents in front of him and is prone to dribbling away chunks of the shot clock, but he has come through down the stretch by making key free throws in four of the Pacers recent wins.
Green has so much athletic ability that he will always struggle to play up to expectations. He's provided many a highlight throughout the year, including a lob and block against the Heat that were sweet and the types of play he makes to bring life to the Fieldhouse. When not flying around the rim, though, Green doesn't always seem to know what is going on.
In Boston, Green's court awareness issues were on full display while on the court with rookie Orlando Johnson in fourth quarter garbage time. During a half court set, rookie Orlando Johnson playing his first significant NBA minutes received the ball on the right wing. With his initial options cut off, he immediately look to pass the ball over the top to Green who was getting a back screen to free him for an open shot off the pass.
You could tell Johnson was going through his progressions on a play he'd run a ton in practice. Green caught the ball in the perfect spot but wasn't ready to shoot, as if he wan't expecting the pass...from a rookie...who knew exactly what was happening on the floor.
So the frustrating inconsistency from the free agent reserves remains a concern, but after seeing how they reacted when it mattered against Miami, there is at least some hope that this team can really come together to compete in the East.
If not, there's still more than a month before the trade deadline. So what do you think of the Pacers free agents so far this season?