They play an exciting style, but I don't see how they're ultimately going to succeed that way. It seems like they're really concerned with pace and how many shots they can get up per game. I understand you'd like to get the ball up the floor and get the shots up quickly because there's an advantage in scoring before the defense is set. On a given night, that can be enough to win a game. But over the long haul, if you control tempo a little bit against them, and you know a good shot from a bad shot, you can beat them. Plus, it's harder for the Pacers to control that pace when they're on the road.
Jim O'Brien is a well-prepared coach who is ready for every game. He doesn't care who he's got available; they're going to run what he wants them to run. When he took over as head coach in Boston, he toned things down and made them more structured than they'd been under Rick Pitino. Then O'Brien went to Philadelphia and threw the book out in order to run and get shots up, which surprised me. He has the same system going here, but I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid on it.
Danny Granger has become a good shooter and more of a ball-handler than I ever thought he'd be, though his stats are probably inflated by their style of play. Could he put up those numbers on a more traditional team? I don't know if he could stay on the floor with a team that stresses defense. He's not as good laterally as a lot of the top small forwards. He gets beat off the dribble. I think it's because it isn't a point of emphasis for him, though it's hard to say to what degree. I'm sure he could be OK on defense. I liked him in college and the way he shot the ball, and since then he has stretched out his shooting range. He makes big shots, but I don't see posting up as part of his game. His ball-handling has improved so that he can catch and show the shot fake, then go one or two dribbles into a jump shot. I don't see him being somebody who can initiate an offense as a point forward or handle the ball under pressure and bring it up the floor. He's been forced into a leadership role because of injuries and because he's the focal-point guy they need to do the scoring. They do some funky things with lineups where he could be the shooting guard or the power forward sometimes. O'Brien is good at taking of matchup advantages like that.
Mike Dunleavy has had an extended run of knee trouble, and who knows if he'll ever be an effective player again. I thought he was a can't-miss guy coming out of college, and when he was disappointing people at Golden State, I blamed it on the situation. Now I wonder if he was ever completely healthy. His one good year with Indiana a couple of years ago showed he can make jump shots, handle the ball, pass the ball and fit into a system where he could use all his skills. He finally had a coach give him the ball to run a team that actually moves it around. Dunleavy thrives on making the pass and moving and getting it back, and this is what O'Brien's offense does. Sometimes they'll make three passes and still get the shot up in seven seconds, with some of the passes looking forced, like they just want to get ball movement.
T.J. Ford is in a fast style of play that obviously suits him. But he can get selfish. He's quick enough to get out in front of everybody and he'll take it one-on-one too often and force shots in transition. He'll have teammates stopping at the three-point line waiting for the kick-out, but he'll leave his feet and throw up the shot. But when the objective is to get up close to 100 shots every game, you wind up taking some of those. That pace also allows them to live with him defensively, because if they've got the game going at a fast pace, teams are less likely to exploit him on post-ups. The thing about Ford is that he hasn't shown a lot of improvement as a playmaker since he came into the league. He can make the obvious pass but that's about it.
For a shooting big man, Troy Murphy doesn't make enough open shots. He's not a knockdown shotmaker on the perimeter for as many attempts as he takes out there. He's not a post-up player at all, and he doesn't defend well. His rebounding numbers are good, but a lot of that has to do with the system and the number of shot attempts that go up and the fact that the court is spread and he doesn't have to rebound in traffic as much. He does stretch the floor to make threes, but I don't think of him as someone who will punish you from out there. It's not like he'll get on a streak where he's going to make five in a row over seven possessions. He's streaky in the sense that he might be on tonight, but the next game he might not.
Jeff Foster is one of those guys who can adapt to play in any system, whether the team is running or plodding. He'll find his niche anywhere -- even though he can't shoot a lick -- because he's so tough. It's not that he's the kind of defender who will shut people down; it's that he will knock them down. If you've got people driving the lane and you don't have any fear that somebody like Foster is going to put you into the stands, you're going to keep coming. But when he's in there giving the hard fouls, it makes you think about coming back in. That's the way basketball is supposed to be.
I don't know if Roy Hibbert fits with their up-tempo style. By the time he gets up the floor, the shot has already gone up, and then he's got to get back defensively. He's not very mobile, but in another system he could be OK.
I'm interested to see how things work out for rookie Tyler Hansbrough, to see if his energy transitions to the pro game. My gut feeling is that it doesn't. I'd like to see it work out for him, but I don't know if he's long enough. It seems to me he's got short arms and that if a defender has a hand up, he's going to have trouble shooting over the top whether he's in the post or shooting face-up jump shots. He was the kind of guy who overpowered people in college, but that won't work so well now either. He's got leaping ability and he's bulked up, but he shoots it right in front of his forehead, so that somebody with length will challenge that shot. Still, he's tough and strong and he'll go get the ball. Maybe he can make it as a slightly bigger version of Jason Maxiell.
Dahntay Jones is a tough, quick and athletic defender, and he's had some of the best dunks I've ever seen. He's not a shooter, and he's a little dirty on the defensive end. He grabs and holds and tugs and trips. That's what they needed on this team, and obviously O'Brien is trying to improve their defense by getting somebody like Jones who can get stops on the perimeter. At the same time, he can run the floor and he does finish. I mean, I've seen his shoulder on the rim -- OK, I'm exaggerating. But on some of his dunks, it looks like he's reaching down through the iron.
Brandon Rush is OK as a catch-and-shoot guy. Earl Watson isn't the defender he used to be, but all they're asking of him is a few minutes as Ford's backup. Travis Diener as a third point guard is good in that system, pushing it up the floor and shooting it a little bit.
This is one of those teams that needs somebody to be the alpha dog. Right now, I see a lot of people who think they're going to get their numbers. Can Granger become the leader they need? I don't know yet if he has that kind of personality. But they need somebody to lead them to a win and be a tough leader and then back it up with his play.
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, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.