Coach: Jim O’Brien
2008-09 Record: 36-46
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 38-44
Offensive Rating: 108.1 (17th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 109.2 (19th)
Possessions per 48: 96.5 (3rd)
|Offensive||50.1 (13th)||.131 (14th)||.254 (21st)||.215 (25th)|
|Defensive||49.9 (15th)||.127 (22nd)||.745 (10th)||.271 (28th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie)
Jeff Foster has been underrated for a long time, and even though he’s showing the effects of age, he’s still a solid backup post player. He’s been one of the league’s best rebounders (albeit in limited minutes) for his entire career, and though he saw a sharp decline last year, he’s still above-average in that area of the game. He’s also an excellent defensive player, with the tenacity to defend the post and the quickness to switch on picks and defend face-up forwards. He knows his limits offensively and doesn’t play beyond them, focusing on what he does best, which makes him an excellent role player.
Roy Hibbert is a really odd player. For a 7-2 guy, he’s a terrible defensive rebounder, and doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well, even when he’s right around the rim. Since those are things you’d typically want from your super-tall center, you’d think that Hibbert isn’t a very good center, and you’d be wrong. What Hibbert does do well (block shots, offensive rebound, and draw fouls), he does well enough to be a serviceable player. He did have a high foul rate last year, but that’s something you typically see in young big men as they adjust to the speed of the NBA game. I wasn’t real high on Hibbert when they drafted him, and he’s never going to be a star, but he should, at worst, be a decent starting center.
Danny Granger is the rare, rare young star who has significantly improved every season of his career. Last year was the biggest jump yet, as he accomplished the rare feat of both taking on a much bigger offensive load and becoming more efficient as he did so. There’s no possible way he can continue that rapid growth this season, but there’s no reason to think that last year was an anomaly. Granger’s biggest strength is that he has great size for his position, which allows him to get his shot off easily, and also makes him one of the best shot-blocking small forwards in the league. He’s an excellent shooter, either facing up from deep, or using his size to bury turnaround jumpers over smaller players. His game isn’t very diverse, and that keeps him from being a top-tier star, but he’s an excellent scorer who is very difficult to match up with.
It’s time to start talking about T.J. Ford in terms of who he is instead of who he could be. He’s very talented, and shows those moments of brilliance that make you think he could be great, but in the end his size and inconsistency limit him. He’s capable of scoring outbursts, and his speed makes it almost impossible to stay in front of him, but he also makes a lot of poor decisions, so he can be a negative if his shots aren’t falling. That was especially true last year, when his assist rate dropped like a rock, despite being surrounded by some excellent shooters. If Ford wants to help the Pacers get to the playoffs this year, he’s going to have to pick his spots better, and look to kick out more.
I talked about Troy Murphy in my Eastern Conference Overview, but it bears repeating. Last season, he became the first player in the history of the NBA to be top 10 in the league in both three-point percentage and rebounding percentage, and he was top 5 in both. That’s an incredibly unique skillset. Murphy isn’t an elite power forward by any stretch, but as a supporting player, he’s fantastic. His shooting ability fits in perfectly with the Pacers’ offense, and his rebounding almost single-handedly made this team above-average in defensive rebounding. He’s a solid defender who works hard, though his limited athleticism hurts him against quicker matchups. He doesn’t make many mistakes, he understands his limitations, and the things he’s good at, he’s very good at.
X-Factor: Mike Dunleavy – There are really two questions about Dunleavy going into this season. The first is, of course, how will he recover from injury? After missing almost all of last season, it remains to be seen whether he can come back at 100% and remain healthy. The other thing we need to find out though, is if Dunleavy’s breakout 07-08 season was a sign of things to come, or just a fluke season. If he does com back strong and repeat that performance, Dunleavy is a real weapon. He’s a very good shooter who, like Granger, has a significant size advantage over most of the guys he plays against. He’s a very smart player, with above-average court vision, and he knows how to get himself open. Those smarts also make him a serviceable team defender, even though his lack of quickness makes him a poor individual defender. If Dunleavy can repeat his performance from a couple years ago, he gives Indiana another sharpshooting wing with size, which would make them a team that’s very tough to match up with. If he can help them improve offensively, they’ve got a solid shot at the playoffs.
I really thought this team would be better than they were last year, and they might have been if Dunleavy hadn’t been injured all year. This season they will, again, sport a very solid, but not great roster that should contend for one of the last couple playoff spots. That’s really the problem with the way this team is being built. They keep adding decent support players, but they aren’t good enough to be a real contender. They’re mired in mediocrity, and I don’t see them getting out of it unless they get really, really lucky. As for this season, they’ve got a real shot at being a playoff team, despite the glut of average teams in the 8-12 range in the Eastern Conference. With Dunleavy healthy, they’ve got three long-range bombers with great height to spread the floor, which makes them really tricky to cover. They’re not going to be a good defensive team, but they shouldn’t be awful either, and they should be in the top half of the league offensively, which may be enough to push them into a playoff spot.