QUESTION
OF THE DAY

Conrad Brunner

Q. I've noticed that despite the injuries and lineup changes, one thing has been consistent for the Pacers: the reserves have not only outscored their opponent's bench in most games, but also their own starters. I understand the need to have energy players such as Fred Jones and Sarunas Jasikevicius among the reserves but, if they are able to be more effective offensively on a more consistent basis than their starting counterparts, why not make the switch in the starting lineup -- especially considering the up-tempo style of offense Coach (Rick) Carlisle is attempting to go to in an effort to provide scoring opportunities for Peja Stojakovic? (From Lee in Huntsville, Ala.)

A. The second unit has been remarkably productive in recent weeks. In the last 17 games, the reserves have averaged 37.9 points outscoring their counterparts by an average of 10.8 points per game. That's significantly up from the 24.0 average of the first 27 games. The starters, on the other hand, have struggled. In the last 22 games, they've been outscored by an average of 9.7 points. Unit production has dropped to 56.0 points per game from 70.9 in the first 22.
Injuries have largely dictated a relatively constant stream of changes to the starting lineup, and therefore to the second unit, but there have been a couple of constants in reserve: Jones and Jasikevicius. Jones has emerged as one of the best sixth men in the league, averaging 14.4 points in the last 21 games, scoring in double figures 16 times. Could he start? Absolutely. Would he be as productive as a starter? That is less certain.
With the second unit, Jones is clearly a primary scoring option and thus has more freedom to create his shot. With the starters, he'd need to tone down some of that aggressiveness. At 6-2, he might also struggle with some defensive matchups at shooting guard, although that seems less likely. He's demonstrated time and again this season he's up to most challenges in that regard.
Jasikevicius has started 14 games, but 11 of those came at shooting guard where he is much less comfortable. He's a point guard by trade and personality, strongest with the ball and the offense in his hands. For the time being, the coaching staff has opted to go with Anthony Johnson, a stronger defender with far more NBA experience, in the first unit. Jasikevicius has been off and on lately and, though he's 29, might well be running into the rookie wall, the adjustment first-year NBA players invariably have to make to the long and grueling schedule because it is a new experience for him. Though neither is starting at the moment (although that could change, depending on Stephen Jackson's health), both are effectively playing starters' minutes, and both have been on the floor in game-finishing situations. Given a choice, most players would rather finish than start, because that's when games are truly on the line.


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