Much of this offseason has been made about the changes made to the presumptive Pacers starting lineup, but not enough has been made of this revamped bench lineup. With the recent addition of Aaron Brooks on a one-year deal to be the back up point guard, the bench will have plenty of new faces.
The key guys coming off the bench for the Pacers in no particular order are Al Jefferson, Rodney Stuckey, C.J Miles, Lavoy Allen, and now Aaron Brooks. Some guys who will be looking to break into the lineup will be Georges Niang, Joe Young, and Glenn Robinson III.
Bench lineups tend to struggle because they lack a creator, someone to orchestrate the offense and create shots for himself and teammates. The Pacers will be rolling out two creators in Brooks and Stuckey. Both are combo guards who are at their best when attacking the defense. Stuckey loves barreling into the teeth of the defense, bouncing off defenders and Brooks uses his quickness to blow by the opposition.
What Brooks brings that Stuckey doesn’t is a level of competent three point shooting. He shot 35.6% from behind the arc last season with the Bulls. How many minutes those two play together is a question for the Pacers coaching staff. I don’t believe the bench will be bad enough that Nate McMillan is going to need to stagger the rotations in order to always leave Monta Ellis or Jeff Teague constantly out there, but you never know.
Stuckey struggled with injuries that cost him 24 games and was a no show in the playoffs. I wouldn’t worry too much about his poor performance in the playoffs, Toronto was a good team and despite the injuries Stuckey still averaged nine points per game during the regular season on 41% shooting. I've written about how I think his skill set is redundant with Ellis, but as your first or second guy off the bench, Stuckey can be a very effective player and his driving ability will be necessary to keep the offense afloat when Paul George, Teague, and Ellis are sitting.
The biggest free agent signing for the Pacers to bolster their bench was Big Al Jefferson. Jefferson is a dinosaur in this modern NBA but he still has a nifty post game. He uses a variety of pump fakes and hesitations to get his defender off balance which he then leverages into easy baskets. Jefferson averaged .88 points-per-possession on post ups last season and shot 44.6% which is pretty good considering he did it 51.8% of the time, second most in the league.
Where Jefferson is going to frustrate fans and McMillan is with his defense which is bad, so bad it is often referred to as a black hole. Hopefully his poor defense will be mitigated by the fact that he won’t be playing as many minutes this season. Over the past two seasons he’s missed a total of 52 games with a variety of ailments including a torn meniscus. He also has been suspended for violating the NBA’s substance abuse policy, so that’s one more thing to watch out for.
Another key member off the bench is C.J Miles who started last season incredibly hot before fading down the stretch. He is the shooter of the group, attempting six threes per game at a percentage of 36.7%. Miles has played incredibly well at times for the Pacers but has always seemed to disappear for stretches of the season. His biggest challenge for next season is to play consistently throughout all 82 games.
The young guns on this team: Young, Robinson III, and Niang will all be looking to break into the lineup this season. The signing of Brooks means Young is on the outside looking in, and says something about the lack of faith that Bird and McMillan have in him. Robinson III played well in summer league and if Miles struggles should get a real opportunity to show how much his game has grown. Niang also played well during the summer league but Lavoy Allen and Jefferson will be the first big guys off the bench, and then one has to wonder how the recently acquired Jeremy Evans fits into the rotation if at all. Niang brings a lot more versatility than Allen who fell out of the rotation in the playoffs, but with Frank Vogel gone it’s unclear how McMillan will juggle the rotations. The early part of the season will be his laboratory to discover the best lineups, and it will be interesting to see who is in the rotation by season’s end.