The Indiana Pacers' offseason has been defined more by departures than additions. First, Lance Stephenson fled for the Charlotte Hornets and then Paul George suffered his horrific injury while gearing up for the FIBA World Cup. In the midst of all the turmoil, Larry Legend and company signed C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey to help reinforce the depleted perimeter depth. Chris Singelton was signed as well, but who knows if he will be a consistent member the rotation.
They also added an intriguing piece in Croatian forward Damjan Rudez. When originally signed, some speculated that Rudez would serve as a replacement for Luis Scola, so the team could buyout Scola freeing up money to re-sign Lance. We now know that will not be the case.
I'm always fascinated by international players and how they adjust to the NBA. Even though there is some fantastic talent internationally, the players are generally more talented and more athletic in America, so many players from overseas come over to find they can't cut it up in the Association. Hopefully that won't be the case with Rudez.
Rudez comes to the Pacers after spending his last few seasons with CAI Zaragoza in the Spanish Liga ACB, which is usually considered the second best league in the world. Last season he averaged 10.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game on 46.6 percent shooting.
He was the perfect embodiment of a "stretch four" through most of this European career. His greatest offensive weapon is his three point shot, which he made at a 44.1 percent clip last season. Three point shooting is something the Pacers have lacked in the last few years, they only shot 35.7 percent from three point range last season, so this part of his game is a welcome addition. Of course, the European three point line is a bit closer than the one the NBA uses, so Rudez will have to extend his range. The downside is his defense is considered lackluster and, as you can tell from his Spanish league statistics, he is not strong on the boards.
At 28 he is certainly not a young prospect. He is entering the prime years of his career and is what he is to a certain extent. This is likely his only chance to crack an NBA rotation so he will be eager to prove himself. That being said, he is also a veteran professional basketball player who has found moderate success for several years. He knows who he is as a player and could overcome initial struggles more easily than a younger and more inexperienced player.
With all the uncertainty surrounding the rotation in general, it is unclear how Rudez will fit in. If his game successfully translates to the NBA, his shooting ability from the power forward spot will be a nice weapon off the bench and provide floor spacing that seemed to be in short supply last season. Rudez got limited minutes coming off the bench for Croatia in the FIBA World Cup so he is familiar playing a reserve role and has proven he can produce in short stints.
A second unit featuring C.J. Watson, Rodney Stuckey, Chris Copeland, Rudez, and Luis Scola could be fun to watch offensively, but is a potential disaster on defense. Of course, at this point we do not even know what the starting five will be. At media day coach Vogel said he had a starting lineup in mind, but was not ready to share it publicly.
Rudez will have to compete for playing time with Lavoy Allen, Ian Mahinmi, Solomon Hill, and even Copeland. If the season begins to look lottery bound, I would be in favor of a second unit offense built on Rudez or Copeland heat checks and Scola fancy post moves because, why not? Maybe some point-Scola scattered in there? Let's get weird. Okay, maybe not.
Where exactly Rudez fits in remains to be seen. Frank Vogel can be weird with playing time as he proved last season with the scattered minutes Chris Copeland received. As a basketball fan who irrationally loves players from the former Yugoslavia (RIP Drazen) I hope Rudez adjusts quickly and becomes a deadly three point threat off the bench. For now all we have is speculation and anticipation. October 29th cannot come fast enough.