This past offseason severely hurt some teams, while significantly helping others. Many considered the Indiana Pacers to fall within the latter category, gaining Luis Scola via trade, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland through free agency, and rookie Solomon Hill in the 2013 NBA Draft.
15 games into the regular season, General Manager Kevin Pritchard has to love what he sees from the second unit he threw together. The Pacers are now 14-1 after a lopsided affair against the Charlotte Bobcats (99-74) on Wednesday evening. In the midst of taking down a Bobcats team that has looked thoroughly improved from last season, we were reminded just how dangerous of a point guard Indiana has behind starter George Hill:
On Wednesday, Head Coach Frank Vogel played Watson 30 minutes, marking only the third time this season he has done so. How could Vogel go away from what was working? Watson scored a season-high 18 points and set a career high from 3-point territory, shooting 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. People tend to look at his 39 percent field goal efficiency this season and immediately claim that he isn’t being productive. That is simply not the case. With it always being unsure as to which George Hill is going to show up (consistent knock down shooter or a point guard that takes too many tough shots), it’s only going to help the Pacers by knowing they have a veteran in the second unit that will surely give them more of an advantage than they had in the 2013 playoffs. If you remember, it was D.J. Augustin in the game during crucial moments of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. With all due respect to Augustin (now with Toronto), Watson’s style of play and experience give Indiana a better shot at reaching the NBA Finals. Watson has recently played behind the All-star talents of Derrick Rose in Chicago and Deron Williams in Brooklyn, also meaning he has been very well coached throughout his career. In the totality of having him aboard, Indiana can live with his unproductive nights in the regular season. What fans are going to love is the insurance this team has in their guard play when April and May roll around.
In my eyes, there were three monumental pickups this offseason around the league. Andre Iguodala joining the young Golden State Warriors obviously puts them in the Western Conference mix in the long-run. Monta Ellis signing with the Dallas Mavericks has proved to be huge for Dirk Nowitzki to make one last serious playoff run. Next on the list would be the Pacers pulling the trigger on the deal that brought forward Luis Scola to Indiana. Scola began the season under the radar to most fans and looked to only be just a small contribution, averaging six points per game in Indiana’s first four games (all wins). Stepping back and looking at what he means for this team is essential for fans and analysts, as it is important to know that Scola isn’t going to give the Pacers eye-popping stats that he needed to give the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns. For the first time in his career, Scola has been asked to play a role off the bench with under 20 minutes per game. Even in his rookie year in Houston, Scola was tallying 24.7 minutes per night, but will not see that many in the Pacers’ rotation.
The reason this is being pointed out is to show that Scola is actually doing what he was brought in to do. In fact, he’s playing exactly how the Pacers need him to for them to snatch the No. 1 seed in the conference. Take into consideration that in his 2012-13 season with Phoenix, Scola was attempting 11.2 shots per game and shooting 47.2 percent from the field as the starting power forward for majority of the year. This season with Indiana, he hasn’t been asked to score as much due to the shared wealth this team preaches on the offensive end. Scola is currently shooting 6.7 shots per game and grabbing 4.3 rebounds, while shooting 53 percent from the field. Nearly cutting his shot attempts in half, Scola is being more efficient in the paint and has utilized his mid-range jump shot to his advantage when Indiana needs it the most. In reality, Coach Vogel knows that he isn’t going to be the aggressive post force that David West provides Indiana with, but a player that will wait for the right moments to make teams suffer in big games. Case in point would be the Nov. 6th meeting with the Bulls, where Scola pick-pocketed Chicago at mid-court and executed on a fastbreak that truly swung the momentum Indiana needed to pull away in the fourth quarter.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with dissecting today’s NBA is putting the focal point specifically on statistics. Teams that have dynamic superstars that have a knack for putting up numbers, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers, don’t always fare well when the playoffs roll around. Teams that exemplify a bench that can score 60 to 70 points a night, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, may not even have what it takes to reach the playoffs. A well-rounded bunch, such as the group Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard have assembled in Indiana, have guys that aren’t going to be the most attractive for those stats junkies. However, those same guys are the ones that feed off of one another and have the ability to make the right plays at the right moments.