Last season, the Indiana Pacers were in trouble at any point with Victor Oladipo on the bench. This year, that problem’s been solved by the addition of one player: Tyreke Evans.
The Indiana Pacers had a net rating of 6.0 last year with their All Star on the court. Without him, they had a net rating of -8.2.
In the season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, Oladipo was +9 in his 25 minutes. In the 23 minutes he was on the bench, the Pacers were even better at +19.
“If there’s no drop-off when they get in the game,” Oladipo said of the second unit, “we could be really special.”
Yes, it’s just one game, but that would have been almost unheard of last season. The reason why the second unit was so successful is the Pacers finally have a legit secondary playmaker in Evans, who can run an offense and make plays for himself and others with efficiency.
“He can certainly score the ball,” Pacers Head Coach Nate McMillan said of Evans after the blowout win. “… but not only was he scoring but he was setting up teammates and getting guys really clean looks. My challenge to Tyreke is to defend and rebound. If he does that, we’re going to have to find him minutes.”
Evans, who signed a 1-year, $12 million deal in free agency, did all that and more in the opener scoring 14 points and adding six assists and four rebounds. He showed off his effortless ability to get to the rim at will, always at his own pace and set up easy buckets for the rest of the second unit all game long.
“He does a little bit of everything,” said Oladipo. “He can shoot it. He can pass. He defends. He can get a shot for himself or get a shot for someone else. When you have a guy like that, it’s special.”
When Oladipo left the first quarter with two minutes left and the Pacers up 19-11, Evans led the second unit on a run that allowed the team to never be threatened for the rest of the game. When Oladipo came back in with five minutes left in the first half, the Indiana Pacers were up 45-22.
“We strengthened our bench with the addition of Tyreke and Doug McDermott,” said McMillan.
It’s hard to imagine Oladipo not having a field goal until four minutes left in the second quarter and the Pacers have that large of a lead last season against any team. They went 0-5 in games he missed with an injury and it seems like the Pacers are much more capable of keeping their heads above water if their superstar has to miss a few games this time around.
It’s not just Evans that will be making a difference off the bench for Indiana this season. Of the seven players that scored in double figures, four of them came from the second unit: Evans, Domantas Sabonis, Doug McDermott and Cory Joseph.
“We’ve been trying to click in training camp,” said McDermott after the game. “We’re starting to learn each other’s game. We feel like we have a great second unit and we can build off what the first unit does. We’re going to try and do that all year.”
Domas Sabonis, who had 14 points and led the Pacers rebounding effort with 15 in game one, looks like a challenger for the sixth man of the year award with Evans, but both players feed off of each other, especially in the pick and roll.
“Me and Tyreke have a great connection,” said Sabonis. “We’re both pick-and-roll players. We’re both hungry and just excited to come out and play.”
It’s a well-rounded group that just needed someone to run the show. It’s only one game but if Evans can stay healthy, the Pacers depth should make a difference all season long.
“We’re deep this year,” said Bojan Bogdanovic. “We have eight or nine starters on our team. That will really help us this season.”