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Out with the old and in with the new

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By replacing three players Indiana has significantly improved its chances to reach 50 wins.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans (12) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) during the second half at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeats the Denver Nuggets 101-94. Credit: Justin Ford
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

By all metrics, the Pacers exceeded expectations last season, but what’s most surprising is how much the back end of the roster might have actually held the team back from winning 50 plus games.

The Pacers’ rotations fluctuated throughout the season based on injury but in general, 10 Indiana players appeared in more than 35 games while averaging 10 or more minutes. Out of those, there were six positive net ratings, one neutral and three negatives.

Indiana Pacer player net ratings

Player Off rating Def rating Net rating
Player Off rating Def rating Net rating
Victor Oladipo 109.3 102.9 6.4
Thaddeus Young 108.6 104.2 4.4
Darren Collison 109.8 106.6 3.2
Myles Turner 108 104.8 3.2
Bojan Bogdanovic 106.7 104.3 2.4
Domantas Sabonis 106.7 104.9 1.8
Cory Joseph 105.7 105.7 0
Al Jefferson 105 107.8 -2.8
Lance Stephenson 106.2 109 -2.9
Joe Young 101.9 107.4 -5.5
T.J. Leaf 103.5 113.5 -10

Basically, the Pacers relied on seven players to carry their team with little room for error in terms of injury or rotation screw ups.

By comparison, Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded team, had 10 players with positive net ratings and Boston, the second seed, had nine.

The Pacers made the obvious move to upgrade their three worst bench players in Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson and Joe Young with Doug McDermott, Kyle O’Quinn and Tyreke Evans.

Stephenson was not only a drag on the Pacers’ rotations, he was one of worst players to be in the rotation on a playoff team. His -2.9 net rating ranked 70 out of the 71 players who played an averaged of 20 or more minutes for a playoff team.

Stephenson played 62 percent of his 1,850 total minutes at small forward and those minutes will be replaced by McDermott.

McDermott had -1.7 net rating in 81 games but played for two lottery teams while still averaging a 55.7 percent effective field goal percentage. Stephenson’s was 47.5 percent.

Despite McDermott’s defensive flaws, replacing Stephenson with a competent offensive player should help the Pacers. McDermott also fits better with Tyreke Evans, who will replace a combination of the 1,261 minutes both Stephenson and Young played at guard.

During his 558 minutes as a guard Young had a -5.5 net rating, averaging just 3.9 points per game. Young was the Pacers’ third point guard and received big minutes during Darren Collison’s 11 game injury absence.

He averaged 16.5 minutes per game but struggled to score anywhere besides the point line, shooting 45.8 percent from three but just 42.1 from the field.

Evans had a career year last season, posting the only positive rating on the entire Grizzlies roster at 0.3. Adding Evans not only gives Indiana a quality player to replace Stephenson at back up shooting guard but also provides them a better “in case of injury” point guard that can be a positive player on the floor.

The last player to make the Pacers’ rotation for an extended period was Al Jefferson. Myles Turner missed 17 games and Domantas Sabonis missed nine, thrusting Jefferson into the backup center role.

Just three years ago that wouldn’t have been a bad thing but in Jefferson’s two years with Indiana the years and banging in post took their tolls. He no longer has the speed and quickness to compete on defense, especially in the stretch-five era.

By replacing Jefferson with O’Quinn Indiana significantly improves a third-string center. Again, the third-string center is an “in case of injury” position but last year Jefferson played 15 or more minutes in 18 games, including 20 or more minutes three times.

Having competence at third-string spots is critical; with O’Quinn the Pacers got a player who will still produce below the levels of Sabonis or Turner but way above Jefferson.

If the Pacers’ top seven players are able to keep the same injury luck, chemistry and talent level as last season, choosing McDermott, Evans and O’Quinn over Stephenson, Young and Jefferson should propel Indiana past 50 games -- thus giving them nine or more players with positive ratings and putting the team on pace to compete with the Celtics, Raptors and 76ers.