Other teams have more talent, but the Pacers will have a better record than they should because of Jim O'Brien, depending on how long he stays with them. I don't know how anybody can say he's not a good a coach. Maybe he doesn't have the best relationships with his players, but he gets players to play hard. They've won games they had no business winning over the last two years.
Don't count on Darren Collison as the answer at point guard. He had a decent run in New Orleans, but that was short-lived. He's talented, but he's not going to change this team overnight with consistency. He's a perfect backup when your starting point guard gets hurt because he's better than most second-string point guards. But it's not like he took New Orleans to the playoffs last year.
Collison was wild with the turnovers last year. He has the speed to push the ball and outrun defenders in transition with the ability to break down the defense and get into the paint. He can make a living off his speed alone. Of course, you hope the other stuff -- the decision-making and cutting down on errors -- improves with experience.
Maybe Collison will be good in two years. But by then, that fast-tempo system is probably not going to be in place. O'Brien coaches it as well as you can, but ultimately it won't work. If you want to play that way, you've got to have some smart players or Steve Nash running your team in the last four or five minutes of the close games. It's not so different from what Mike D'Antoni wants to do: Rush the ball up the floor before the defense sets. But then you need someone who is going to make the smart decision eight out of 10 times, and they're not going to get that from Collison. The winning teams are able to control the final minutes of the close games and get the shots they want for the guys they want. But with the Pacers, all too often they wind up getting the ball into the hands of the wrong guy with two minutes left, because that's how their offense works.
T.J. Ford used to be seen as the Pacers' answer at point. I think they believed he'd be great for that system. He's so fast and he can move the ball up the floor quickly, but they probably lost faith in his decision-making, which is the same issue they'll face with his replacement.
Is Danny Granger one of those great stars for a bad team? In my mind, he's just as good as Chris Bosh. Granger is a great player who can do everything. If he's your second-best player, maybe you've got a championship-level team. He's a competitive guy who'll even block a shot for you. It would help if he settled into one position because he's turned into a guy who plays almost four positions. I think O'Brien wants him to be a 2-guard, because when Mike Dunleavy was out, Granger played in the backcourt a lot. The way the league is going, maybe he is more of a 4. He's listed at 6-foot-8, but I think he's bigger than that because he's so long and he can rebound.
I don't have the same faith in Dunleavy. Even when he's been healthy, he hasn't been consistent. Most coaches and GMs would live with his defensive liabilities if they thought he could bring it offensively all of the time, like he did during one extended stretch he had with Indiana a couple of years ago. But he misses wide-open shots, and he doesn't play with a lot of emotion.
Roy Hibbert could be pretty good. He looks so gangly and slow, but he surprises you by finding a way to get to where he wants to go. He's always working to get up the floor and he's got some ability to score around the basket.
The one chance Tyler Hansbrough has is in the role of Leon Powe with Boston, coming in against the second unit and scoring inside. In college, he overpowered guys inside, but I don't see him doing that against NBA starters. I've seen him get blocked by Grant Hill. It's going to be hard for him to find his niche on a bad team because it's hard to develop a role when the team is always looking for answers. One of the complaints you hear about bad teams is that they don't have a rotation, but the reason is they're always having to try new things.
I can see James Posey being a headache while they're losing. If O'Brien gets on his case, that could be trouble. Posey's one of those guys who will snowball your team. If things are going well, he'll make it better, but if they're going bad, he'll only make it worse.
I can't tell you what Brandon Rush does well. He's supposed to be a shooter, but I haven't seen that consistently. I've seen him go by a guy and dunk it and I've been shocked every time because he's not usually going to create his own shot.
Dahntay Jones is a very good, all-effort defender. I wonder if he thinks he's better than he really is offensively -- is that why he got in O'Brien's doghouse for a while last year? The truth is, he can't shoot.
I love Jeff Foster, but I think he's near the end. Maybe it would help him to be with a better team where he could make a difference with limited minutes.
Rookie Paul George can play with Granger. The fact that they're listed at the same position doesn't matter so much. You move Granger to the 4 or the 2 and you get your best players on the floor.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.