Mark Montieth headshot

Ripe With Possibility

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

March 19, 2013, 11:53 AM AM

Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark on twitter at @MarkMontieth or by email at askmontieth@gmail.com.

Gerald Green ran the play as called, darting off a screen to the top of free throw circle and firing a three-pointer. The ball bounced off the rim and slipped through the net, an unlikely bit of good fortune for such a long shot.

It was a meaningless play in that it gave the Pacers a 25-point lead with 4:41 left in Tuesday's 95-73 victory over Orlando. But it was a meaningful play in that it came within the cozy confines of the offense. Apparently, the basketball gods smile upon good shots.

“We keep talking to Gerald about making the right system plays,” coach Frank Vogel said. “(The shot) went in and out and back in. That's just a sign that when you play within the rhythm of the offense, good things are going to happen for you.”

Two good games in a row isn't enough to qualify for an official comeback, but it is enough to bring renewed optimism for Green. And if he has finally become the bench contributor the Pacers thought they had signed in the off-season, that could have major ramifications for their playoff destiny.

Consider the possibilities: Danny Granger returns at something resembling 100 percent, as Vogel believes he will do (but not this week). Tyler Hansbrough, recharged by his opportunities in the starting lineup, regains his mojo. A more confident and controlled Green provides consistent scoring punch. It all would add up to a reupholstered bench, which remains the Pacers' greatest need with the light of the playoffs growing larger in the regular season tunnel.

It could happen. It most likely needs to happen.

“I have a lot of confidence in our bench,” Vogel said. “The bench doesn't need to come in and be do-it-yourselfers. They need to play within the system. When they play within the system, they're pretty good. No matter who you're talking about.”

The Pacers' bench averaged 29.8 points per game before Tuesday's game, which ranked 20th in the NBA. There's much more to judging a reserve unit than scoring. The Clippers rank 26th, but have what many regard as the league's best bench. Still, the Pacers need more than what they've been getting most of the season, given their lack of major scoring threats in the starting lineup.

They need what they've gotten the past two games, actually. The reserves scored 52 points in Monday's 21-point win at Cleveland, and 35 on Tuesday. Yes, those opponents are among the dregs of the league, but still, the performance was vastly improved – thanks mostly to Green.

Green had been removed from the playing rotation following the Pacers' game at Orlando on Jan. 16. In the 23 games that followed, he played in just nine, and played double-figure minutes in just one. Vogel revived him for Monday's game at Cleveland and he responded with 20 points in 23 minutes. He had 15 points in 20 minutes against the Magic.

He's hit 13-of-26 shots in the past two games, including 7-of-13 three-pointers. That's only two games, yes, but Green is confident it's an indication of what's to come rather than an aberration from what's gone on for the simple fact he learned something about playing within the offense while not playing.

"I feel like I've learned a lot,” he said. “Now I know how to score within the offense. I know which shots to take and which not to take.”

Green gave credit to rookie Orlando Johnson – “probably the best system player we have” according to Vogel – and others for demonstrating how to do it.

"I was being overly aggressive," Green said. "There's kind of a thin line between not being aggressive and being overly aggressive.”

Hansbrough is walking a similar line. With David West nursing a back injury, he started his third game of the season Tuesday and produced his third double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Granted, the opponents for those three games were Charlotte, Cleveland and Orlando, who happen to be the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference. The point is that Hansbrough obviously and admittedly is more comfortable as a starter than a reserve.

"It's been a big issue for me, coming in and not worrying about mistakes," he said. "Just getting into the rhythm of the game. (It helps) when you have a steady flow of minutes to kind of get a feel for yourself and let the game come to you, versus coming off the bench. Sometimes (as a reserve) I feel kind of forced to do things and feel a little pressure. It's something I have to work on and get better at.”

That's because he and the rest of the world that follows the Pacers knows that West will start whenever West is healthy.

"I know my position on this team," Hansbrough said.

Finally, there's legitimate hope for the Pacers' bench. If. If Granger returns, the reserve unit becomes stronger whether Granger is part of it or Lance Stephenson joins it. If Green finishes what he's started, it gets stronger yet. If Hansbrough can figure a way to play like a starter when he returns to being a non-starter after West returns, it's stronger yet again.

That's three question marks that could add up to a bold exclamation mark. The Pacers' season might ultimately hinge on it.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.