The Pacers will close up shop on preseason play Thursday night in Fort Wayne, which means several players have one last chance to impress Frank Vogel and earn a spot in the early-season playing rotation.
Vogel expects to utilize a 10-man rotation in the regular season since the team is incorporating a spread lineup while also trying to speed up the pace regardless of the lineup on the floor.
The backcourt rotation is pretty well settled with George Hill and Monta Ellis starting. Both will handle some portion of the point guard duties when play is slowed down to require half-court offensive action. Rodney Stuckey will be the first man off the bench to play a similar role in reserve. Rookie Joe Young will see minutes at point guard which will likely be around 10 minutes to begin the year as they try to give the young fella some experience.
Next in line for potential shooting guard minutes would be Glenn Robinson III, but aside from odd matchups or filling in due to injury or rest, four guards will take up all of the meaningful minutes in the backcourt.
On the front line, Paul George spending time at power forward eats into the available minutes for the bigs. Ian Mahinmi isn't necessarily a starter who has to play heavy minutes, although his productive play in the preseason may change that line of thinking. Still, foul trouble and/or foul shooting trouble for Mahinmi will likely create minutes for the trio of Jordan Hill, Lavoy Allen and rookie Myles Turner to grab.
Jordan Hill appears to have played himself to the top of the reserve big list, however a recent back strain gave Allen the opportunity to start on Tuesday and the big lineup didn't slow down with Chef involved. The Pacers have been cautious with Myles Turner's minutes, which I applaud, but they will want to get him in the mix early in the season even if it is just 10 minutes per game. If that plays out, Allen or Hill will be left with spot duty and fewer minutes than either probably expect at this time. Again, I still give the edge to Jordan Hill to play a bigger role in the rotation.
That leaves us with the remaining, unsettled wing minutes where the options aren't nearly as solid. C.J. Miles will start or be the first wing off the bench depending on the type of lineup, but after that, confidence in the current options wanes. Chase Budinger was lauded on media day by players and coaches alike for his impressive play and shooting ability during pick-up games at the Fieldhouse prior to the season. But after missing early games with a hamstring injury, Budinger hasn't done much to impress in three preseason games.
Budinger has made just 3 of 13 shots and 1 of 8 three-pointers which doesn't match the high hopes expressed on media day. It reminds me of a similar situation three years ago with D.J. Augustin when every player raved about the way Augustin played behind closed doors, yet throughout the season there were rare glimpses of greatness for the backup point guard. To be fair, we are way to early in the process to put Budinger in that category considering he has been working through a hamstring injury while adjusting to a new team and style of play. But at some point, he will have to knock down shots to keep the Pacers reserve unit humming.
With Bud struggling, the opportunity remains for Solomon Hill and Glenn Robinson III to seize some minutes since Paul George will also slide down to take his share. It would be really fun if Solo could put it together and earn solid spot in the rotation. After being forced into a role he wasn't ready for last season, Hill was a true pro dealing with all of the ups and downs. He will always give a supreme effort on the floor but at some point he too has to knock down some shots and be a threat.
Robinson may have to earn his coach's confidence to wedge his way in the rotation but he has looked comfortable in a variety of lineups during the preseason. He's even shot the ball from behind the arc better than expected making 7 of 12 treys in the five games he's seen action.
The reserve wing spot remains the weakest link in the rotation which boils down to finding a reliable option to knock down open shots as the Pacers spread the floor. Effort won't be a problem regardless of which player ultimately gets the nod, but the clanks will cause considerable consternation which could keep those minutes in the rotation unsettled heading into the regular season.