The Pacers have an improved roster compared to the team that finished out last season playing pretty well. For the Pacers to have special season and solidify a playoff berth this year, several pieces to the playoff puzzle have to fall into place. In my view, one of those pieces has Brandon Rush sliding into a starting role allowing Mike Dunleavy and his versatile game to produce from a sixth man role.
Jim O'Brien commented earlier this week that Danny Granger and Dunleavy are the two confirmed starters on the roster. Not surprising since both delivered solid production over the last half of the 2007-08 season as options 1 and 1A. While it was nice to see Granger step up his game and provide a glimpse of future greatness, Dunleavy should be considered the MVP for last year's team.
Dun thrived in Jim O'Brien's system with his ability to knock down shots, pass and move without the ball. The key is his ability to contribute on and off the ball, from the 2, 3 or 4 spot and with the starting unit or a group off the bench. Dun's versatility and ability to play, and play well, with different groups of players makes him a valuable player either as a starter or off the bench.
I don't consider this idea a demotion by any means. Dunleavy deserves to start for this team, but I think a role off the bench would maximize the talent on the roster this season. Dun playing a utility role as sixth man solidifies a second unit with experience and scoring punch. Also, combining Rush and Granger with TJ Ford as starters and then say, Dunleavy, Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack off the bench balances out the perimeter defensive ability of both units.
After checking the Lenovo Stats for the plus/minus success of various player combinations last year, Dunleavy's name is found at the top regardless of the number of players. In fact, he teams up with Marquis Daniels for the best plus/minus rating of any two player combination last year for the Pacers. Since Quisy should still play a key role off the bench, he's set up to succeed playing along side Dunleavy.
Now I don't expect Jim O'Brien to alter his plan from the start and I realize bringing your most productive player off the bench doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface. (By the way, do you know which player had the worst plus/minus rating for the Pacers last year? Danny Granger). But any success the Pacers have this year will rely on a full team effort going nine or even ten players deep.
Brandon Rush will first have to spend the first 10-15 games proving his game is ready to play from a starting role. If Rush can do that (big if, and a whole different puzzle piece), then balancing out the rotation with Dun coming off the bench could make a big impact. He will still be available to finish out games down the stretch; the balance of his minutes getting to that point will just be different.
Dun's role off the bench would just be one of several key elements, or puzzle pieces, that have to fit together to deliver a special season. Worth thinking about, isn't it?