30 Teams, 30 Days
Indiana Pacers Season Preview.
We continue previewing the Central Division with the Indiana Pacers. You can read past previews here.
What if I had the power to gather all of my favorite emcees
With the illest comic book characters and they became arch enemies?
Inconceivable? Unbelievable? Yet as wild as it seems
The Emperor and Stan Lee would coach the two opposing teams
Keep it clean no bats no gats guns no interference
Comic book characters would go head up with raw lyrics
Now I take, whoever might be on break from doin tours
And have them signed up for the Last Emperor’s Secret Wars
- Jamal Gray aka The Last Emperor
Depending on how you look at it, the biggest (or most interesting) news to come out of Pacers camp this off-season were the updated design plans pertaining to Danny Granger’s “bat cave” which he is in the process of creating for himself out in New Mexico. Due to state laws, the underground tunnel entrance had to be scratched (tragic), but the inclusion of rotating car platforms and a moat still seem to be a part of the what will be the final project (victory dance).
The Pacer’s star small forward has never made his love for superheroes a secret and coupled with the fact that he studied engineering while in college – well this just isn’t your average NBA scoring machine. Still, it’s hard not to look at Granger’s team through his comic-loving eyes and not come away thinking long and hard about where Indiana stacks up as a unit. Much like the Avengers or the X-men, the Pacers feature a collection of individuals who seem to have one power, one skill that they excel at and put forth for the greater good of the group.
Wolverine is one of the all-time favorite comic heroes for so many reasons: his clouded back story that had him arrive on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, the devastatingly powerful Adamantium claws and his depiction as a loner, one who doesn’t need the help of others. Enter Danny Granger, who after a monster fourth year in the League that saw him finish fifth in the NBA in scoring, looks primed for even bigger things in 2010. While his meteoric rise to stardom certainly is well chronicled, his arrival from New Mexico of all places is certainly somewhat out of nowhere. Granted, the Lobos have produced 14 NBA players, but it’s a safe bet that Granger has already eclipsed Luc Longley and Michael Cooper as the programs most famous basketball alum.
The small forwards devastatingly powerful offensive arsenal is paramount to Indiana’s success, and while he doesn’t feature super healing powers or razor sharp claws, his slashing abilities and deadly range more than make up for it. Then there is the loner complex. Certainly Granger is a fun loving individual, so it would hardly seem as though this is an accurate label for him, but on the court, not necessarily due to any fault of his own, the All-Star has hardly been an offensive facilitator. He averaged more than 26 touches per game last season and dealt out a miniscule 2.7 assists, or approximately one assist for every ten touches. Not that Granger’s job is to distribute the basketball (Indiana has several mediocre point guards for that) but with the kind of attention he will receive from defenses again this year, becoming more of an offensive catalyst will make for an even more explosive team than the one that scored more than 105 ppg last year.
Spider-man, long known as a crafty, intelligent and somewhat of a finesse superhero given his propensity for spinning webs was a late addition to the New Avengers when they were formed a little less than five years ago. Long story short, he proved to be a major glue guy for the collection of unique individuals and most importantly played a significant role in helping to return the lead man Captain America to the lineup.
Mike Dunleavy at the very best is going to be a late addition to the Pacers lineup following surgery to remove a bone spur from his knee last season. Early predictions had him expected to be back around January, but if he can appear in even 50 games at full strength and produce in a way he did before going under the knife, we are looking at a completely different team. His versatile and crafty finesse game are a fantastic second option behind Granger, especially considering the preference Dunleavy has for operating on the perimeter as opposed to attacking the rim. With a healthy MDJ on the floor, it is likely that Granger can then become more of an offensive facilitator given the confidence he’ll have with a viable second scoring option on the wing alongside him.
Of course, for the time being the shooting guard responsibilities will fall on Brandon Rush and Dahntay Jones. The addition of the defensive minded Jones will be discussed later on, but the need for Rush to take another step forward this season will be huge. As rookie he got off to a very slow start (remember that non-existent January) but finished the regular season on a tear, scoring 21 or more in his final three games and averaged over 18 ppg in his final 10 games. Add in the solid showing Rush has put together in the preseason thus far and the athletic swingman from Kansas looks primed for a breakout year – at least Indiana fans should be hoping he is.
Henry Pym, The Incredible Hulk and Thor
Indiana say hello to your frontcourt. Henry Pym has played the role of several comic heroes during his time with the Avengers, similar to second year pro Roy Hibbert who has suddenly done a character change during the preseason. Pym’s most well known alter egos were the appropriately named Ant-Man and Giant-Man whose powers consisted of shrinking or growing to the size of their given nicknames. The 7-2 Georgetown product did his best Ant-Man impression during his rookie season, at least during the first half of the year, but started to show flashes of ability during March and April. The big fella has continued right along that same path, raising his production to giant proportions during the preseason where he has averaged a team best 16.7 points and 4.3 blocks to go along with 8.3 rebounds. It might be unrealistic to expect that production to continue during the regular season, but certainly Hibbert looks well on his way to fulfilling the upside that has been attached to his name for some time.
Even though he already goes by Psycho-T, is there a better superhero persona for Tyler Hansbrough than the Incredible Hulk? This is a kid who is about as mild mannered as they come, polite and occasionally will even help track down lost puppies – yet when he steps on the floor he is as tenacious of a work as there is. Now don’t expect the former All-American to blossom into a star in the League, that is asking too much, as was asking the Hulk to star in a successful film (he bombed both times) but anyone who thinks he won’t be a solid contributor at the professional level is crazy. No one works that hard, is that tough and produces at that high of a rate in the ACC and doesn’t turn into a strong role player in the NBA (the use of the word tough eliminates J.J. Redick so don’t use him as an argument against this theory). The Hulk was a misunderstood individual who couldn’t succeed as a stand alone character, there’s nothing to fault there. Hansbrough has always been misunderstood or underrated by so many NBA personalities – as a contributor off the bench though, what a great addition he will be (once healthy).
Then there is Thor – the hardnosed Norseman who is capable of entering states of madness that increase his strength and power by leaps and bounds, but also possesses the skill and finesse to handle the classic weapons of hand-to-hand combat. Doesn’t that sound strikingly similar to a double-double machine with enough finesse to develop into a deadly perimeter shooting option? Like Thor, Troy Murphy is a tremendous power who for whatever reason, consistently seems to get overlooked because he is tucked away in obscurity (Asgard for Thor, Indiana for Murphy). Despite his tendency to get passed over, the Notre Dame alum has fashioned himself into one of the League’s best rebounders and three-point shooters and his consistency on the offensive end will be vital to the Pacers remaining an offensive juggernaut. Let’s not forget that Murphy too is capable of entering states of explosiveness, such as last January when he posted averages of 18.5 points and 12.8 rebounds all while shooting 51 percent from the floor over the course of the month.
Changes in Personnel
Sometimes change can be a good thing and sometimes it leaves you scratching your head. When the Avengers were reassembled to form the New Avengers (I know I’m just as confused as you) the additions of Spider-Man and Wolverine were good moves, they are well liked individuals with valuable strengths to bring to the table. With that said, allowing the Incredible Hulk, Thor and the Wasp to walk were mistakes – why let classic, solid contributors like that escape from your grasp?
The Pacers off-season resulted in some similar moves. Clearly, Indiana is trying to put more of a priority on defense by adding Solomon Jones, Earl Watson and Dahntay Jones to their roster. The Jones’ in particular will help out defensively, Solomon is a good athlete with upside and shot blocking ability, while Dahntay is a flat out lockdown defender on the perimeter who will take some of the pressure off of Granger from having to step it up at that end of the floor. Watson will serve as a backup point guard to T.J. Ford and provide stability to the position much as Jarret Jack did. He is a far more steady had running the offense than Ford and it isn’t out of the question for both players to be on the floor at the same time occasionally when coach Jim O’Brien opts to go small.
The move that just seems to lack much sensibility is allowing Jarrett Jack to bolt for Toronto. Even though Marquis Daniels was allowed to leave for another team as well, at least the Pacers can justify that move because of the young talent they have on the wings – Jack was their best floor general. He’s coming off a career season, had the versatility to play either guard spot if necessary and was much less mistake prone than Ford has proven to be. T.J., though not a terrible player (he had some very nice stretches with the team last season) has a tendency for chucking away from beyond the arc despite not being a great shooter, is a defensive liability given his diminutive stature and certainly can get erratic with his passes. Moral of the story, if it ain’t broke, match Toronto’s offer.
In all likelihood, there won’t be one. The Pacers are definitely improving for the future, but that may still leave them a year or two away from being considered a real threat to make the playoffs. For the time being, the success of this team will hinge on a few factors. When will Dunleavy be healthy and how effective will he be upon his return? Can Hibbert and Rush take the necessary leaps in their second seasons to become impact players after showing signs of promise as rookies and during the preseason? And perhaps most importantly (seriously here) can Indiana make significant improvements defensively from the team that allowed more than 106 ppg last season?
It’s very probable that two out of those three questions will be answered in a positive manner for the Pacers, but even if all of them come out smelling of roses, too many other teams in the East made better off-season moves to be overtaken by Indiana or to prevent a team with a sub-.500 record from getting an eight seed. Expect a win total somewhere between 38 and 40 games.