Pacers Tweak Bench to Add More Three-Point Threats
The past two summers brought overhauls to the Pacers bench. This one so far has brought more of a tweak, one intended to address the Pacers' greatest vulnerabilities: three-point shooting.
Not just three-point shooting, actually. More like having enough three-point threats to spread the floor and create more room for post scoring and penetration.
C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez signed contracts Friday, along with a holdover from last season, Lavoy Allen. Miles, a 27-year-old, 6-6 shooting guard who has played nine NBA seasons, hit 39 percent of his attempts for Cleveland last season, and 38 percent the previous season. Rudez, a 6-10, 28-year-old Croatian who has played in Europe for nine seasons, hit 52 percent of his three-point shots in 16 Eurocup games for Zaragoza last season, and 44 percent in 36 ACB league games.
“Being a better ball movement team is a priority,” said coach Frank Vogel, who joined the players at an informal media gathering at the Embassy Suites hotel. “I think the better shooting you have, the better you're able to space the floor and the better your chances are of becoming a ball movement team.”
The Pacers ranked 17th in three-point percentage (.357) last season, but 22nd in three-pointers made (6.7 per game) and 25th in three-point attempts (18.8).
Miles was a member of the last class eligible to enter the NBA draft out of high school, in 2005. He was a second-round pick of Utah, where he played seven seasons, before signing with Cleveland. He's had a knack for leaving an impression on the Pacers. He scored 28 points in 28 minutes against them in the 2012-13 season, hitting 6-of-9 three-pointers, one night after scoring 28 against the Lakers. He scored 21 against the Pacers later that season, and then scored another 21 this past season.
“Maybe that's the reason I'm standing here,” he said Friday.
Miles made his biggest splash this past season when he hit a Cleveland franchise record 10 three-pointers (eight in the first half) and scored 34 points at Philadelphia on Jan. 7. The Pacers would settle for steady offensive production, such as he's displayed in each of the past six seasons of his career, when he's averaged between 9.1 and 12.8 points.
Miles started 34 of the 51 games he played for the Cavs last season, and has started 206 of the 505 games of his NBA career. He was brought in as a likely backup, a role that could change if the Pacers are unable to sign free agent Lance Stephenson.
“He's proven he can be a starter on a very successful team,” Vogel said.
Miles said he also heard from the Cavs, Memphis, and the Clippers and Lakers when free agency shopping opened, but saw the best fit with the Pacers.
“(Team president Larry Bird) told me he wants me to be me,” Miles said. “We didn't talk about starting or coming off the bench. I don't really think like that. Roles unfold as we go. I'm not coming here thinking I'm coming to replace somebody, I'm here to do what benefits the team.”
Rudez (his first name is pronounced Dam-yan, but he more commonly goes by Damo) entered the NBA draft six years ago, but was passed over. He found suitors in the Cavs and Pacers this year and worked out for both teams, impressing the Pacers' staff with his ability to shoot off screens and handle the ball in pick-and-rolls.
“The workout was really versatile,” he said. “They asked me to do a lot of things. I think I did all of them pretty well.”
Rudez grew up in the era of Michael Jordan as well as the 1992 Dream Team featuring Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bird's role with the Pacers didn't hurt in his recruitment all these years later.
“Having Larry Bird come to me and tell me he wants me on the team had a huge impact on my decision,” he said. “That's something that doesn't happen every day. It had a big effect on me.”
Allen is a three-year veteran who was an add-on to the trade that sent Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Evan Turner in February. He averaged 2.9 points in 14 appearances with the Pacers, but showed enough to impress Bird, who brought up Allen's name twice as a desirable free agent target when he met with the media on draft night. Allen's best moments so far have come as a rookie in Philadelphia, when injuries allowed more playing time in the playoffs and he averaged 6.3 points on 56 percent shooting. He also drew attention for an effective defensive performance on Boston's Kevin Garnett.
Allen came into the league as a power forward, but has played center more often. At either position, he'll have two players ahead of him on the depth chart heading into Pacers' training camp. He hopes familiarity with the system will help.
“I'll be here from the beginning,” he said. “Last season (at the time of the trade) they were the best team in the NBA – had the best record – and I already know my situation going into it.”
Allen will be married in Philadelphia on Aug. 3, honeymoon in Hawaii and then move to Indianapolis to get settled.
“We made it clear we want him to be in town as much as possible, working with our coaches every day, learning the scheme a little more and hit the ground running when training camp starts,” Vogel said.
The Pacers' bench was not used extensively last season, as the starters stayed healthy and the quest for the top seed in the Eastern Conference remained a priority. Vogel indicated that will change next season.
“We're going to have a similar bench (but) we'll try to have a different approach with them and give more opportunities.,” he said. “Have more confidence with them and get them into a rhythm more. Continuity is something we haven't had and hopefully something we can have this year.”
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