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The Pacers need to improve their bench before the playoffs

Darren Collison could be the key to the Pacers playoff success.

The key to success in the NBA playoffs is to have an established hierarchy. Teams should know who their first option is at the end of games, the leader off the bench, the best five-man lineup to finish games and how deep the playoff rotation should go.

The Pacers are lucky they have an established superstar and number one option to end games in Victor Oladipo, but they aren’t lucky enough to have an established number two to lead the bench.

Indiana’s net rating flips by 14.4 points when Oladipo goes from on the court to off it. Every single Pacer starter sees their on/off court net rating drop by double digits when they play without Oladipo.

This creates a conundrum for head coach Nate McMillan because the Pacers are significantly better with Oladipo on the floor, but he can’t play him all 48 minutes. The only historical reference for what McMillan might do with Oladipo is to look back to what he did with Paul George from last season.

George averaged 35.9 minutes per game in the regular season and then a whopping 43 throughout the four games Indiana lost to Cleveland. But by game four you could see the workload weighing on George and he shot a measly 5-21 for 15 points to end the Pacers season.

McMillan will increase Oladipo’s minutes so that he’s playing between 38 and 40 per game. But what the Pacers do with the other 8-10 minutes could decide their playoff fate.

The best option could be to stagger one of Indiana’s starters who can boost the bench, whether it be by scoring or playmaking on either the offensive or defensive end.

The obvious answer would be Darren Collison because when he’s on the floor the Pacers have an offensive rating of 110.6. When he’s not that rating drops to 104. It’s a slightly larger drop offensively than the six-point drop when Oladipo is off the floor.

Watch this play by Collison that features basically the entire bench unit on the floor. He’s able to create space and an open three-point look for Trevor Booker despite Domantas Sabonis on the floor in the double-plodder lineup.

Collison won’t surprise teams because he doesn’t take a ton of risk but he might be the best decision-maker in the NBA right now. He leads the league in the assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.17 but also leads it in three-point percentage at 46.2 percent. He’s an effective three-point shooter because he knows when to pick his spots -- he’s only attempting three of them per game.

The Pacers only have two consistent playmakers in Oladipo and Collison. Together they can be great, but they can be even more effective when playing separately.

A really interesting bench lineup could be Collison, Sabonis, Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson and either Booker or Glenn Robinson. If Indiana draws the 76ers in the first round they are likely to see a bench unit based around Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, JJ Reddick and Richuan Holmes.

This lineup would allow the Pacers to defend competently at the guard spots with Collison on Fultz and Joseph on Reddick. Indiana should be able to create mismatches with really good floor spacing on the other end.

The real problem here is that Collison has to be staggered with Oladipo for this to work. Oladipo usually plays the entirety of the first and third quarters. Collison would have to play the entire second and fourth, meaning his minutes would be similar to Oladipo’s.

Collison has never played more than 35 minutes per game in the regular season and his highest playoff average is 30 per game back in 2011. Minutes and energy would be a concern for Collison but it is the playoffs, after all. Collison hasn’t been there in four years and this would be his first visit as one of the leaders of a team.