October 16, 2009
Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Right now, the Indiana Pacers.
2008-09 Record: 36-46, fourth place in Central Division
Head Coach/Hair: Jim O'Brien/Cooked halibut
Key Additions: Tyler Hansbrough(notes), Dahntay Jones(notes), Earl Watson(notes), Solomon Jones(notes), Luther Head(notes)
Key Losses: Jarrett Jack(notes), Marquis Daniels(notes), Rasho Nesterovic(notes)
Last season, the Indiana Pacers were incredibly entertaining to watch, they (incredibly) entertained about 11,000 people a night at home, they lost Mike Dunleavy Jr. for all but 18 games, and they won just 36 games overall.
This year, they should have MDJr (come on, why hasn't that caught on?) for most of the season until further notice, Danny Granger(notes) will get better, T.J. Ford(notes) should improve, and more youth has been added to a pretty solid core.
So why am I giving the team less than the 36 wins they managed last year?
Rasho Nesterovic, Marquis Daniels, Jarrett Jack ... out.
Solomon Jones, Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson ... in.
Those three names, the names that left? Laugh all you want. Show your ignorance.
They can play. They can play solid ball on both ends, help teams, and most of all? They sop up minutes. And what most teams and fans fail to understand when a squad supposedly underachieves is that minutes don't actually end with the two best players. They trickle all the way down.
And when you replace the combined 5627 above-average minutes that the triptych we don't question played last year with (nearly as many, as other, better players will help to pick up the load) minutes from far, far below-average players in the two Jones' and Watson this season? You're going to have a fall-off.
In this case, the fall-off won't push the Pacers' win total into the 20s. But it will stop them from making that next step. Dunleavy Jr.'s presence, the possible sound play of Tyler Hansbrough, and Luther Head's backcourt help can contribute and keep things solid. Granger's emerging game should sustain, if that makes sense. They'll still be entertaining.
But second quarters count. The first three minutes of the fourth quarter counts. A Wednesday in February, with Granger hurt and Dahntay Jones having to do way too much where Daniels was once quite comfortable ... counts.
This isn't to say that I disagree with the Pacers letting someone like Jack go. He's a middling player, and there's no point in continuing this pathetic charade toward hoping for 42 wins by keeping him. But to sign Dahntay Jones? To not match reasonable and cheap offers for Rasho and Daniels? To put yourself into this place to begin with by overrating things and just shooting for .500, from Reggie Miller's retirement onward?
I don't blame them, but I can't feel sorry for them.
There is fun to be had. If Roy Hibbert(notes) can improve on his ridiculous 7.7 fouls per-36 minutes rate, he'll be a damn good center for the next decade. A borderline All-Star if he cuts the fouls and learns to finish better in the paint, where he has great touch a series of sound moves that somehow never seemed to end in a made basket. Granger is an All-Star, Dunleavy Jr. is a very good player, and T.J. Ford could always get it together. You never know.
Until then, I have no idea what this team is trying to accomplish. And it's been that way for half a decade. Somehow, I can't take comfort in that.
After merely tinkering during the offseason, does Indiana have enough to make its way out of the lottery?
Sure, but a lot has to go right. T.J. Ford has to stay healthy. Troy Murphy(notes) has to duplicate his career season. Roy Hibbert has to stay on the court. Brandon Rush(notes) has to build on April's promising run. And the Pacers might have to win just as many close games as last season, just to keep up.
Hard-luck losses and injuries put Indiana in the lottery in 2008-09. The half-empty approach tells us the team won just 36 games with Danny Granger and Murphy enjoying career years, alongside good players who won't be back this season.
• Indy Cornrows: "After back-to-back 36 win seasons, the Pacers are looking to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. That's the goal this team talks about at every opportunity and when you look at all of the close games the team dropped last year it doesn't take long to find a few more wins which would've put them in the playoffs. Only problem is that there are several more teams in the mix in the Eastern Conference this year. Once you skim the cream off the top you could make the case that every team in the EC could make the playoffs if they stay healthy and play well. That alone exposes a mediocre middle of the conference, but the opportunity is there. Some teams don't necessarily have to stay healthy nor play exceedingly well, but the Pacers are one of the teams that will indeed need good health and must come together to play better than the sum of their parts in order to make the playoffs." [more]
• The Baseline: "This is kind of a cheap shot to take, but really, it's an Angel of Mercy thing. Tyler Hansbrough won't do much of anything this season, and the likes of Jeff Foster(notes), Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts(notes) will serve to only keep him down, limit his minutes, and make him look worse than he is. So let's just go ahead and declare a mortatrium on cracking on Hansbrough, or calling him a bust throughout the season. It's a waste of time, and it'll make us all look bad. Let's find someone more clever to prey on. Or at least someone who has a chance to thrive." [more]
• Always Miller Time: "The biggest weakness with Indy has to be bench scoring, no doubt. I am going to have to agree with John Hollinger on this one. The Pacers are really going to have to count on their second unit of Watson, Jones, Dunleavy, Hansbrough, and Foster. It's not as good as the second unit of last season, but hopefully, this bunch can be able to pull something through when Ford, Rush, Granger, Murphy and Hibbert come off the court." [more]
The Clash, "White Riot"
— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch
The Pacers are a good combination of talented players in a friendly system. Danny Granger has blossomed into one of the league's premier stat-stuffers, and only concerns about his knee have him from creeping into the top four in drafts. He's still someone to be happy about if he's your choice in the middle of the first round. Troy Murphy had his best overall season in 2008-09 at age 28, combining fantastic percentages (48/45/83) with a career-high11.8 boards in 34 minutes per game (another career best). He may not repeat his top-10 impact, but virtually nothing has changed about his team situation and I'll happily take him where he falling (37 ADP).
T.J. Ford has been given the reigns at point after an up-and-down season spent learning the Pacers' system. Despite what figures to be a solid fantasy season, he's lasting until the ninth round (103 ADP) - target him a round earlier and you'll still get a nice return on investment. Roy Hibbert has the opportunity, he just needs to take advantage of it. If he can somehow avoid foul trouble (10.2 fouls per-48 as a rookie), then that last-round pick will be seriously well-spent. Brandon Rush merits fantasy consideration for as long as Mike Dunleavy is sidelined, and that currently looks like at least a while. Target Rush as a late three-point specialist. Rookie Tyler Hansbrough figures to be among the league's per-minute studs and would merit a pickup if there is a major injury in the team's frontcourt.
Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.
LateNightMan: The Indiana Pacers ... just trying to make a smudge on the collective unconscious. #NBA
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