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Pacers plan to begin season with nine-man rotation

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Nate McMillan expects to use Damien Wilkins as the 10th man seeing spot minutes with Glenn Robinson III out.

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After practice on Monday, Nate McMillan discussed how Damien Wilkins went from a being curious summer signing to making the regular-season roster in a valuable role as the prognosis for Glenn Robinson III’s return to a turn for the worse.

According to McMillan, he and the Pacers front office felt Wilkins could be a quality veteran insurance policy willing to stay ready and fill in gaps in the playing rotation as the need arises.

Well, it didn’t take long for that need to become a reality with Robinson now out months instead of weeks. But that doesn’t mean Wilkins will play the minutes left behind by Robinson. Instead of the 10-man rotation McMillan considered before preseason started, he is now leaning toward a nine-man rotation, knowing Wilkins will be ready if needed, but won’t be playing regular minutes.

“My focus will be a nine-man rotation,” McMillan said. “Damien will see some minutes but with Glenn being out, I’ll go to more of a nine and a half man rotation.”

The Pacers coach chuckled as he added the “and a half” to his expected rotation, but certainly indicated earlier in his comments that Wilkins offered value because he didn’t need to play every night to remain a reliable option off the bench when needed.

“With Glenn going down, this is the scenario that we were thinking about,” McMillan said. “It is very difficult to have a young player in that role who may not play. There’s a good chance he wouldn’t play, if Glenn was healthy and we had Bojan coming in. There are no minutes at that position and to have a young guy sitting there, trying to develop him when he’s not getting reps — that’s difficult to put someone in that position.”

McMillan compared Wilkins’ situation to the role Rasual Butler had with the Pacers three years ago as a low maintenance veteran who played spot minutes throughout the year but was able to contribute when called on.

The unstated news in the comments about Wilkins is that rookie T.J. Leaf will be part of that reserve rotation along with Lance Stephenson, Cory Joseph and Domantas Sabonis.

The rookie worked through some preseason lumps but looked comfortable on the offensive side by the end of camp. He appeared more overwhelmed on the defensive end which will remain a challenge and likely keep his minutes below 15 initially. But there is no time like the present, as the Pacers move forward with their rebuild, to let the 20-year-old rookie develop and figure things out on the fly. Hopefully, they maintain some patience with the long-term view in mind.