Moving to fortify a second-unit slated to face the East's top bench in the first-round of the playoffs wasn't an idea without merit. But choosing to do so without better staggering the minutes of George Hill, Monta Ellis, and Paul George has now clearly proven to be ill-conceived.
Indiana's bench has a negative aggregate Net Rating of 5.9 during the post-season. Worse still, when Ty Lawson, Rodney Stuckey, and C.J. Miles are joined on the floor by Solomon Hill and Myles Turner, Indiana's all-bench unit has been outscored by a gargantuan 30.2 points per 100 possessions.
The intent behind head coach Frank Vogel's rotation makeover was to surround Ty Lawson with players who wouldn't neutralize his high-motor game by lagging behind the break. But this vision has yet to materialize in the playoffs for two reasons: 1) Toronto's bench, when All-Star Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph are joined by Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, and Bismack Biyomba, has been a well-oiled machine, scoring 118.1 points per 100 possessions, and 2) Indiana's bench is giving up as many points off turnovers as they as are scoring off Toronto's giveaways. As such, the hope of this group playing with speed and force is never going to come to fruition if they can't take care of the basketball and get stops.
For instance, Lawson's trail-from-behind approach to defending the screen-and-roll has basically invited Cory Joseph to penetrate the lane.
And here, Rodney Stuckey denies DeMar DeRozan the dribble hand-off, but because Lawson doesn't take away Joseph's dominant left hand the result is another easy score.
In essence, Toronto's second-unit has been exactly as advertised, and Indiana's has been exposed after thriving during the final month of the season against a slew of sub-.500 opponents.
To remedy this problem, the Pacers must simultaneously boost the productivity of the starting lineup in order to give the bench more breathing room while also avoiding stranding the second-unit without an anchor on offense. This, of course, is a delicate balance.
As long as Patrick Patterson's stretch shooting is coming off the bench for the Raptors, Solomon Hill's minutes need to match his. Which means, even though it has been the team's most productive lineup in the post-season, it would be unwise for the Pacers to start Game 4 with George Hill, Monta Ellis, and Paul George joined by the youngest Hill and Myles Turner. Instead, replacing Lavoy Allen with Turner is the next best option. That lineup, which earned wins against the Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and San Antonio Spurs, has outscored Toronto by 8.4 points per 100 possessions in limited minutes.
Of course, if Indiana's rookie returns to being the team's starting power forward with Solomon Hill acting as his backup when Patterson is in the game, then Jordan Hill is going to need to re-emerge in spurts at the center position.
Deciding how to stagger the minutes of Indiana's three top scoring options is a trickier business. If George Hill subs out at the 6-minute mark and then re-enters at the 2-minute mark for Monta Ellis, this would better match Hill's length with Cory Joseph's minutes.
"He's just played really well," Vogel said of Joseph to the Indy Star's Nate Taylor. "You have to credit him. He's made perimeter shots and he's gotten in the lane on penetration and pick-and-rolls and he's beaten us on cuts."
If C.J. Miles comes in at the start of the second quarter for Paul George, Ellis could then re-enter around the 7-minute mark of the second frame for Rodney Stuckey. When DeRozan subs back in for Joseph around the 5-minute mark, Indiana's franchise player could replace Hill. This substitution pattern would result in Hill, Ellis, and George playing fewer minutes all together, but it would also eliminate those rocky portions at the start of the second and fourth frames when the all-bench unit has been floundering.
In order for all three players to start and finish the second half, Hill would need to take a break halfway through each frame while George and Ellis would get an extended rest over the quarter break.
In this scenario, all three starters would play under 35 minutes with the opportunity to up those totals if need be. An added benefit of this rotation is that Hill would have greater opportunity for involvement at the helm of the second unit's offense. As it stands now, the combo guard is only using 13.6 percent of the team's possessions while he is on the floor.
No matter what exact rotation choices are made, it is obvious that no lineup void of at least one of George Hill, Monta Ellis, or Paul George should be given any consideration. Overall, Indiana is only scoring 0.98 points per possession versus Toronto's top-five offense. Without those three on the floor? That number plummets to 0.88, per NBA Wowy.
Dwane Casey's answer for Paul George's scoring outburst in Game 1 was to start DeMarre Carroll. Now, it is time for Vogel to respond in kind to his opponent's depth. Because, in this series, strengthening the bench at the expense of the starters has only made both units suffer.