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Opinion

SMITH: The Pacers depth — Problem, or Luxury?

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The Indiana Pacers have used 11 different players in the starting lineup already this season. They’ve had solid contributions from at least 13 players, and 14 if you count a solid game on Monday night from Naz Mitrou-Long. And of course, Victor Oladipo hasn’t even played a game yet.

The injury report each night can barely fit into one tweet from the official Pacers account. I’ve been tempted to tell Pacers coach Nate McMillan that I played college ball at a D3 school, and I’m ready to suit up if needed!

All joking aside, the depth of this team has led the Pacers to an 8-6 record.  Soft schedule or not, that’s an impressive start with all of these injuries.  Most teams couldn’t survive without their star, let alone half their team.  The Pacers nearly won in Houston – proving they can compete at far less than full strength.

As I said in my column after the 0-3 start, the Pacers weakness at that time (the second unit) could turn into a strength.

But the question on everybody’s mind is this — If this team ever gets fully healthy, who plays, and who sits?  You can’t keep 13 guys in your rotation.  Most of the time, you can’t even play 11.  As a coach myself, I can assure you- There’s no such thing as having too much depth. 

Pacers point guard Malcolm Brogdon agrees. I asked him last week if Indiana’s depth could become a problem. “Absolutely not,” Brogdon said. “We’re going to have a lot of talent. I think more talent than the Pacers have had in the past few years. It’s going to be huge getting all of these guys back.”

I asked fans on twitter (@TylerSmith_ISL) who they would have in their rotation assuming the full squad was healthy.  As you might have guessed, I received a number of different opinions.  Several fans left Edmond Sumner out of their rotation, but he started the first few games of the season and he brings a different strength to this Pacers team.  Some fans left Doug McDermott out, but you can’t lose that 3-point shooting.  What about the backup point-guard situation?  Both T.J. McConnell and Aaron Holiday deserve serious minutes.  McConnell averaged 11.8 points and 6.8 assists in his last four games before being sidelined with a groin injury. Aaron Holiday just put together a monster night in Brooklyn with 24 points and 13 assists. 

My guess?  T.J. Leaf will eventually lose his spot, and the Pacers will need to get creative with minutes at the backup four position.  Leaf and JaKarr Sampson could be used in certain matchups where more size is needed.  If McConnell and Aaron Holiday both remain in the rotation, that probably means one of Justin Holiday or Edmond Sumner don’t fit.  Nate McMillan is going to have some tough decisions to make.  And if he really wants to do this right, he could have a different 10-man rotation each night based on match-ups and rest.

For now, the Pacers will continue using their depth as a way to survive the injuries.  In the near future, the depth could be used for the now-famous “load management” strategy.  And later this season, the depth could be used to finally make the Pacers active at the trade deadline.  No matter how things shake out, the depth of this team means it’s going to be a fun year.

Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girl’s basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.

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