Watson, Sloan Deliver When Given Chance

Manny Randhawa | Pacers.com

November 7, 2013

When George Hill was forced to sit out of last Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with a sore left hip, C.J. Watson was “the next man up.”

“‘Next man up’ is kind of part of our culture here,” said head coach Frank Vogel following Wednesday night’s 97-80 Pacers victory over the Chicago Bulls. “If a guy goes down, everybody moves up in their spots. C.J. becomes a starter and Donald [Sloan] becomes a backup.”

In three games as Hill’s replacement, Watson has filled in admirably, averaging 11 points and 5.5 assists per game. On Wednesday night, he posted 11 points, four assists and two steals in 27 minutes on the floor. Sloan was also solid, contributing nine points and four assists of his own, while also grabbing six rebounds in 21 minutes.

Perhaps most impressively, neither committed a turnover.

“Our point guards really just stepped up in George’s absence,” Vogel said. “Those guys come out and play a great basketball game; 20 points, 7-for-11 [from the field], eight assists, zero turnovers by our backup point guards. I’m just really proud of the effort.”

That effort was a combined performance from two of the newest members of the Pacers, acquired in the offseason as part of the team’s quest for a deeper bench that now also includes Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. And just five games into the season, Watson and Sloan have made their presence – and value – felt.

Watson, a six-year veteran who has played for Golden State, Brooklyn, and Chicago - Wednesday's opponent, isn’t new to the backup point guard role. And he isn’t new to being thrust into the spotlight when a starter is sidelined.

“I backed up Derrick Rose and I actually started a lot of games when he was out one year,” Watson said. “It’s something that I’ve been accustomed to. You’ve just always got to stay ready and just go out there and play hard.”

Even though he found himself starting at the point in just his third game with the Pacers, Watson said that his mindset never changed.

“Nothing really changes; it’s the same mindset,” he said. “I always try to go out there and be aggressive and play my minutes, whatever minutes I play. I try to be aggressive, not turn the ball over, and try to make plays for myself and my teammates, and play solid defense.”

For Sloan – a third year point guard who’s had stints with the Hawks, Cavaliers, and Hornets – there was a slight adjustment, but the extra work he put in during practice has paid dividends.

“The mindset was a little tricky,” Sloan said. “Because going from not seeing any minutes to knowing you may play 20 minutes, it was a little different. But I prepared physically every day at practice, putting in extra work before and after. So, physically, I was ready. I just kind of had to sit back and let it all soak in.”

Sloan added that his teammates have made his transition to a new team – and if only for a few games – his new role as the backup point guard, a smooth one.

“I think just the comfort level we have with each other, bringing it in practice every day, playing with these guys, they make it easy,” he said. “Playing with David West, Paul George, going with G-Hill every day, and C.J., it’s a good group.”

Watson echoed Sloan’s sentiment, noting that the character of his teammates has made his own transition easier.

“It’s pretty easy to mesh with guys like this, who are pretty unselfish guys, loving guys,” Watson said. “They care about each other and care about the team, which is pretty good. So when we all strive for team success, I think that’s what’s going to take us to the next level.”

Watson has a big fan in West, who knows that No. 32 has the background to excel in the very scenario he’s been placed in since Hill was injured, even though he’s had to guard three of the best point guards in the league.

“C.J.’s one of the proven backups,” West said. “He’s got the capability to be a starter. He stepped into the role, with George being out, and he’s dealt with Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings last night, and Derrick Rose tonight. I think he’s fared well.”

After watching Watson and Sloan take up the mantle for Hill over the last three games, Paul George is also impressed, noting that an early-season showing from the new members of the Pacers’ bench gives the team confidence going forward.

“It gives us a lot of confidence [to see Watson and Sloan perform well],” George said. “When their names are called and that time is available for those guys, they step up and they’re ready. It’s just them knowing the task at hand. They understand what we want and where we’re trying to get to, and they stepped up and did a huge job of being professionals in this league.”

George added that the solid performances by Watson and Sloan also demonstrate the difference a few key offseason acquisitions can make.

“I think a lot of our troubles in the playoffs last year were just that guys were fatigued,” George said. “We were really exhausted and really putting a lot of energy out there. So it’s good that Coach can go to the bench and still be productive with whoever’s on the floor.”

Sloan wasn’t the only one giving Vogel quality minutes off the bench Wednesday night. Scola scored 12 points to go along with three rebounds and two steals in 16 minutes, playing a key role in the fourth-quarter run the Pacers used to put the game away.

And while five games a season does not make, the performance from the bench in the win over Chicago bodes well for the 2013-14 edition of the Pacers.

“We’re doing pretty well so far,” Watson said. “It’s still pretty early in the season, so we’ve got a long way to go. But if we keep it up, be consistent and bring defense every night, I think we’ve got a chance to have a great season.”

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