Coach: Jim O’Brien
2007-08 Record: 36-46
Pythagorean Record for 07-08: 37-45
Offensive Rating: 106 (19th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 107.5 (15th)
Possessions per 48: 97.7 (3rd)
Min%: 80 (16th)
|Offensive||49.8 (14th)||.135 (17th)||.244 (23rd)||.224 (18th)|
|Defensive||49.8 (13th)||.141 (7th)||.739 (10th)||.271 (28th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie)
If you had to pick a word to describe the Indiana roster, it would be “average.” There’s a lot of average players on this team. They’re not going to bring a ton to the table, but they’re also not going to subtract much. Guys like Rasho Nesterovic, Jarrett Jack, Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy and even their two rookies (Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush) ooze “average.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing though.
One guy who doesn’t fit that mold is Danny Granger, who is clearly the team’s best player heading into this season. He’s overlooked because he plays for a bad team and isn’t a big name, but he’s evolving into a very potent pure scorer. He has a deadly shooting stroke from the perimeter, can shoot off the catch or off the bounce, and his size makes it difficult for defenders to contest his shot. He still has a ways to go before he’s a true go-to guy, but he has that potential. He needs to work on finishing around the rim, and could stand to develop a post game, but right now he’s an efficient scorer because he hits a bunch of 3s and gets to the line pretty well. Defensively, he can guard either forward position, and he’s a very effective defender. He struggles with quicker players, but his size allows him to be very effective against the typical small forward.
Dunleavy really made a jump in production last season under Jim O’Brien. Was it a one-year fluke, or something that he’s going to continue to build on? I’m rather inclined towards the latter, since Dunleavy is a fantastic fit in O’Brien’s pass-centric, shot-happy offense. He’s a very unique player, a shooting guard with the height of a power forward. He’s an excellent shooter from basically anywhere on the court including (somewhat surprisingly) the immediate basket area. He’s an excellent ball-handler for his size, and a very good (if slightly overrated) passer. He also draws fouls at a pretty good rate, a testament to how smart a player he is. The problem with Dunleavy is on the defensive end. He’s a smart player and he uses his size to his advantage, but he’s just not a good enough athlete to be a good defender. Playing the 2, he regularly faces shooting guards who are far too quick for him to handle. The hope is that Rush can come in and be a stopper on the perimeter to help cover Dunleavy’s deficiencies.
Jeff Foster is tremendously underrated. He doesn’t play a ton of minutes, so not a lot of people realize how good a rebounder he is. He’s led the league in ORB% for the last two years, and he’s the career leader in that category among active players. He’s equally good on the defensive glass, posting the 6th highest overall rebound percentage. Sure, he’s not going to scare anyone offensively, but he makes an impact without the ball through his ability to get second shots. His main value comes as a defender, where his quickness allows him to effectively defend the pick-and-roll, and his toughness and intelligence make him a solid post defender. He’s getting up there in years, but he should be good for 20-25 minutes a game of great defense and rebounding.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Pacers’ frontcourt rotation turns out. Along with Foster, they’ve got Murphy, Nesterovic and first-round pick Hibbert looking to contribute. You know what you’re getting out of Murphy and Nesterovic. Murphy is a great shooter who is efficient offensively, but he’s pretty much a sieve on defense. Nesterovic is average offensively and average defensively, a decent shotblocker but a terrible rebounder. Hibbert is the unknown. He had a successful college career, but how quickly will he be able to contribute in the NBA? He’s got great size and a solid offensive repertoire, but the question will be whether or not he’s athletic enough to be a presence. The Pacers ran up and down the floor a lot last year, and we’ll have to see if Hibbert can get up and down the court fast enough.
X-Factor: T.J. Ford – Ford looks to be the perfect fit in O’Brien’s up-tempo system, a guy who can push the pace and create transition opportunities on his own. He also gives them the dynamic slasher that they were lacking. He may not be much of a shooter, but he’s no worse than Jamaal Tinsley, and at least he knows it and rarely shoots from deep. Offensively, he’s an infinitely better option than Tinsley and should make an immediate impact. Of course, that’s all dependent on his health. When Ford is healthy, he’s an explosive playmaker who can take over stretches of games. The trade was a great gamble for Indiana, since I’m not sure Ford is actually that much of an injury risk. He had a horrible spinal cord injury, but by all accounts seemed to have recovered fully from that, and played 72 and 75 games before last season, when he got clocked by Al Horford and unsurprisingly missed a bunch of games. It seems like it’s more a case of being terribly unlucky rather than being injury-prone.
Taking into consideration that their starting point guard and starting center missed a combined 83 games, the fact that Indiana won 36 games and finished just outside the playoffs was nothing less than a minor miracle. I certainly didn’t see it coming, I predicted them to be the worst team in the East. How were they able to overachieve? Jim O’Brien’s fast-paced, three-point gunning offense saw career years from Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, and the Pacers went from being the worst offensive team in the league to being slightly below average. The offensive improvement was enough to offset the defensive backslide from the year before.
The Pacers should continue to improve as an offensive team, especially with the addition of Ford, but I think they’ll also slide some defensively with the absence of O’Neal. They don’t have any surefire All-Star level players, but like I said above, they do have a bunch of really solid players. They have good depth, and they’re at least average at every position. That’s good enough to take the 7th or 8th playoff spot in the East.
xphoenix87 is a BallerBlogger Contributing Writer. He’s writing season previews for all 30 NBA teams, so keep checking back in. No, really, if you haven’t done so, go up to that little ‘bookmarks’ tag and bookmark this page. Do it…now. What are you still doing here? Anyway, Milwaukee is tomorrow.