8 Indiana Pacers Last year's East champs sure look different. It will be interesting to see how well they play

October 30, 2000

No one would blame Jermaine O'Neal for feeling a little
apprehensive as he drove to Conseco Fieldhouse for his first
week on the new job. He realized he probably wasn't the most
popular Pacers employee. "I wouldn't be surprised if every guy
was upset that they had traded Dale," says O'Neal, the
22-year-old that Indiana received from Portland in exchange for
All-Star power forward Dale Davis. "Isiah did a really good job
of putting it out in the open. In front of the team he said,
'Jermaine, we're putting a lot on your shoulders. You've got to
show you can play.'"

Considering that they came within two games of winning last
year's title, the Pacers have undergone an inordinate number of
changes. Larry Bird retired and was replaced on the sideline by
his former rival, Isiah Thomas, and elderly point guard Mark
Jackson departed for more money and playing time in Toronto. But
the most unsettling move was the trade of Davis, Indiana's only
intimidating interior presence. Without Jackson, Davis and
retired center Rik Smits, the East's oldest team suddenly became
one of the youngest. Three players--O'Neal and forwards Jonathan
Bender and Al Harrington--are under 23 and made the jump from high
school straight to the NBA. "We'll use them a lot in the
beginning," Thomas says of the trio, none of whom has played more
than 18 minutes a game in a season. "The goal is to get them
ready for the end."

Thomas has installed a passing game in which, ideally, the
players will read and react to the defense rather than running
set plays. During the preseason he conducted a series of unusual
experiments with his youngsters; the 6'11" Bender, for instance,
was stationed at point guard in an effort to strengthen his ball
handling, and he and Harrington were prohibited from posting up
smaller opponents. "I want them to exercise and use the other
parts of their game, to play other positions, to learn to use
their teammates," says Thomas.

Thomas has even done some experimenting with Jalen Rose, whose
move from the three to the point has been delayed by the broken
wrist he suffered during the team's first exhibition game. Rose,
however, continued to practice with a cast on his left hand, his
shooting hand, forcing him to use his right. "Hopefully I can
become ambidextrous," says Rose, who expects to be back within
the season's first two weeks.

Though he was unhappy that management let Jackson leave, Reggie
Miller has bought into the youth movement and appears to be
enjoying his new role of on-the-floor coach. Miller, who is as
dangerous a threat as ever, will get plenty of scoring help from
guard Travis Best and versatile forward Austin Croshere--whose
breakout performance in last year's postseason landed him a
seven-year $51 million contract--and center Sam Perkins, who
changed his mind about retiring this summer. Despite his 39
years, Perkins is a reliable shooter and amazingly durable,
having missed only nine games over the past eight seasons.

The swing player is O'Neal, who languished on Portland's bench
for the last four years but will be expected to quickly fill the
considerable void left by the departed Davis. O'Neal isn't as
muscular or fearsome, but he is gifted with a shot blocker's
timing, and he's very versatile.

"Remember how quick Moses Malone was around the basket?" says
Thomas, who has indicated that he will try O'Neal at every
position. "Jermaine has that same quickness. He can handle the
ball as well as a guard. He's very old-school in his thinking and
in the way he was taught the game. You take Al and Jonathan, they
think the only success they can have is by scoring two points.
Jermaine understands there are other things."


COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN AUSTIN'S POWER The Pacers richly rewarded Croshere for his ability to groove it from the outside and mix it up down low.

In Fact

Trey magnifique: Not only did the Pacers lead the NBA with 583
three-pointers last season, but they also allowed a league-low
329 baskets from beyond the arc.

Projected Lineup


SF Austin Croshere 10.3 ppg 6.4 rpg 1.1 apg 44.1 FG% 36.2 3FG%

PF Jermaine O'Neal[1]3.9 ppg 3.3 rpg 0.79 bpg 48.6 FG% 58.2 FT%

C Sam Perkins 6.6 ppg 3.6 rpg 41.7 FG% 40.8 3FG% 82.5 FT%

SG Reggie Miller 18.1 ppg 1.05 spg 44.8 FG% 40.8 3FG% 91.9 FT%

PG Jalen Rose 18.2 ppg 4.0 apg 4.8 rpg 1.05 spg 47.1 FG%


G Travis Best 8.9 ppg 3.3 apg 1.7 rpg 0.93 spg 48.3 FG%

F Al Harrington 6.6 ppg 3.2 rpg 0.8 apg 45.8 FG% 23.5 3FG%

F Jonathan Bender 2.7 ppg 0.9 rpg 32.9 FG% 16.7 3FG% 66.7 FT%

F Derrick McKey 4.3 ppg 4.2 rpg 1.1 apg 0.91 spg 39.8 FG%

C Zan Tabak 2.1 ppg 1.8 rpg 0.50 bpg 47.1 FG% 62.5 FT%

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Pacers

"If team president Donnie Walsh knew two months ago what he knows
now about Alonzo Mourning, I bet Dale Davis would still be with
Indiana.... The Pacers have three high school kids. The way to do
it with the high school kids is to have more than one. That way
they grow up together, and that really makes a difference. In two
or three years the Pacers will be a leading contender year in and
year out.... Rik Smits had a terrible year last year, but he was
a 7'4" guy who could post up and hit from 20 feet. No way you
don't miss that dimension. Who at the four or five is going to be
able to post up? ... Reggie Miller is a Hall of Famer. That might
be a wild statement, but his ability to play one-on-one, which he
has developed in the last two years, makes him undefendable with
the new rules.... Austin Croshere was good at the four last year,
but I don't know if he's going to be effective playing the three
spot consistently. Defending guys at the three is going to be
difficult for him.... The big key is how Jalen Rose handles being
the point guard."