Instead, let’s look at the Pacers. Clearly, this has been about as disappointing of a start as could be imagined for the blue and gold. After acquitting themselves very well against the Heat in last year’s playoffs, the team was universally picked to win the central division and, depending on their draw, get to the conference finals.
What we’ve seen in practice has fallen a bit short. We’re about a third into this NBA season, and the Pacers are sitting in third in their division at 13-11. Why? Well, there is no shortage of reasons. First and foremost, you have to look at the absence of Danny Granger. I’ve been up and down with him, as I think most Pacer fans* have been as well. But, I think we’re seeing now just how valuable Granger really is. It’s a bit sad to say, but I think all of Indiana has badly underestimated him. Related to that, Paul George isn’t quite ready to take the spotlight. Can he get there? Sure. He’s shown flashes of being able to take over a game. But they are still just flashes. Without having somebody like Granger on the court to take some of the defensive pressure off of him, he just can’t put up the numbers he needs to. Also putting up extremely subpar numbers is Roy Hibbert.
*You may very well be able to extend that to NBA fans.
You could almost feel this coming, unfortunately. I am a huge Roy fan. If I lived in Indy, I would probably be in Area 55. But, facts are facts. As good as Roy is, he probably isn’t actually a max guy. But, his position and size demand bigger numbers on the open market, so the Pacers did what they had to do to keep him. Good on the Pacers, I don’t think anybody is grumbling about the team making that deal. But we’ve seen it time and time again. In every sport, but it seems even more pronounced in the NBA. A guy gets paid, and suddenly his production is in the toilet. And now we’re seeing it with Roy. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched as many games as I would like to with all the moving, but it seems that it’s not just his scoring that’s suffered. He doesn’t seem to be getting position like he used to, and although the assist numbers aren’t badly down from last year, I just don’t feel I’m seeing the same production out of the self-proclaimed* “Best Passing Big Man in the League.” Maybe it’s not so much the production as the creativity.
*But with good evidence to back him up.
As bad as all that has been, and that’s reason enough for a disappointing showing, has been the bench. Now, there was going to be some drop off. Darren Collison was not going to just settle for leading the second unit, even though he fit that role like Michael Jackson’s diamond-studded glove. Or Ryne Sandberg’s glove, if you want to keep it sports related. Point is, one of the “secrets” to the Pacers’ success the past couple years is how it’s second unit pretty well dominated every other team’s second unit. The spark and quickness Darren Collison provided off the bench and with those second unit guys was phenomenal. Now that he’s gone to the Mavericks for what was initially going to be a starting gig, the backup spot has been an unmitigated disaster. DJ Augustin has been nothing but a bust. Ben Hansbrough has been a marked improvement, but that probably says more about Augustin than it does about Little Hansbrough. Speaking of Hansbroughs, though, Tyler I’m afraid has maxed out. I was more excited than most about picking up in the draft a couple years ago, and at first, it seemed like he was going to prove me right. After a very promising rookie campaign, though, he seems to be in slow decline if nothing else. He’s certainly big, strong, and athletic enough to be in the NBA. But he just isn’t a good enough shooter. He apparently just was on a very extended hot streak his rookie year when his bread and butter was that elbow jumper. It was like beautiful clockwork. He would drift to his spot, many times off a screen. The ball would get dumped to him for an open look roughly fifteen to seventeen feet away, and he would drain it. That same play still happens. Now the ball just doesn’t go through the hoop, which is devastating for the second unit’s efficiency numbers.
Also, losing Leandro Barbosa off the bench was more of a blow than people realize. Sure, he pretty well disappeared in the playoffs, but that seems more the aberration given his career. He’s a player that can create his own shot and is a threat to get hot at any time. It also seems like he would have been pretty cheap to keep around. And dear God do the Pacers need somebody, particularly off the bench, who can create his own shot. The Pacers might just have the slowest bench, if not team, in the NBA. They still have a lot of strengths, but speed is very clearly not one of them. And you can point that almost entirely to losing Collison and Barbosa.
There is reason for hope, though. They’ve played better as of late, and Ben Hansbrough has been more than serviceable. Not exactly what this team was used to getting, but that is one hole patched. We’ll see if Granger can get back. That would be a monumental boost to this team. No guarantees on that one, though. And surely Roy can’t be bad all year, right? He’s got more pride than that. And he has been a little better as of late. Coinciding with a few wins a row, which should be noted. And there’s still David West, who is probably the best free agent pick up the Pacers have made in my lifetime. Or at least in my memory. There has been a little bit of chatter about maybe trading him away to get a few pieces. That had better not happen. There would be no quicker way to lose this city that you’ve just regained than to trade away David West. There had better be a nice contract extension for him at the end of the year.
Pacers will take a swing at the Bucks tomorrow in Milwaukee. Winning that one would put the Pacers in second place in the Division, and maybe tied for first, since the Bulls have played less games. Do it to it, boys.