Travis Diener running the show. (Photo by David Liam Kyle)
How did Diener impress?
Travis Diener played in 55 games last year. It just didn't seem like it.
The timing of nagging injuries and illness seemed to always stunt Diener's playing time. In fact, it became impossible to tell if Diener ever played at close to 100% healthy at any point in the season. Was his playing time limited because of his health status or just his status on the depth chart?
It would be easy to simply pin his limited action on the depth chart since he played behind T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack. But there were several opportunities throughout the year, with Jack being forced to play both guard spots and Ford missing a few games, when Diener was left to watch on the bench.
From the first of January through March, though, Diener played regularly, logging somewhere around 15-20 minutes most nights. During this stretch Diener had a handful of big games, including a hot shooting stretch in the Pacers win over Cleveland. He was also on fire for a road win at Sacramento where he knocked down five 3-balls and scored 18 points.
But big games and big numbers weren't the most impressive part of Diener's season. In fact, his ability to make the team run smoothly without putting up any quantifiable measures of success was quite impressive. In particular, Diener displayed the most fundamental asset for any team. He took care of the ball.
For the season, Diener had 122 assists to 21 turnovers, consistently taking care of the ball and thus the team when he was on the floor. Travis didn't once turn the ball over more than twice in a game and he only turned it over twice in three games.
When he did play, Diener appeared far more comfortable playing in the flow of the offense than he was last year. Working in his second year in Jim O'Brien's offense certainly helped, but remaining consistent while playing inconsistent minutes with a constantly varied playing rotation, was indeed impressive.
How did Diener disappoint?
Diener's inability to stay healthy and ready to play was the biggest disappointment this year. There were times during the year when Jarrett Jack or T.J. Ford were struggling at point guard in their first year with the Pacers. While Diener showed the ability to provide a steady option off the bench, his availability or lack thereof, forced JOB to play Ford and Jack without the safety net of Diener.
It was especially disheartening when Diener show a flash of great play and then be knocked out of the rotation by injury or illness. He was never able to gain any traction to rev up his game during the year.
A prime example of this is how he followed up the big game in Sacramento mentioned earlier. The next night in Portland, Diener came out smoking again, appearing to pick up where he left off against the Kings. But after knocking down a couple of shots he was knocked out for the game after five minutes of PT by chest pain associated with a viral infection he battled for a few weeks.
Then it's back to ground zero. Get healthy. Get back into game shape. Work back into a rhythm with your teammates. As frustrating as it was for us fans, it must've driven Diener nuts.
Diener has a $1.74 million player option, which he is expected to exercise to bring him back to the Pacers for the 2009-10 season. At this point his role on the team is unsettled, with Jarrett Jack heading into the summer as a restricted free agent and the Pacers considering point guards in the NBA draft. So, depending upon what happens in the draft and with Jack, Diener could be looking at a huge opportunity or a muddled PG picture from the bench.
Late in the season, Diener was quoted as saying he's not a lock to return and will explore all of his options with other teams before exercising his contract option to stay with the Pacers. There may very well be a better situation on another team to offer Diener more playing time, but considering the current economic climate around the league, I have a hard time believing Diener would seriously consider taking a big pay cut for more playing time at this point in his career.
Regardless of whether he opts out or stays put, this offseason is important for Diener to continue to improve his game and more importantly, get healthy so when his number is called he's ready to play his best.
|2008 - Travis Diener||55||13.1||1.3||3.3||41.3||0.8||2.1||39.0||0.2||0.3||80.0||0.1||1.5||1.6||2.2||0.4||0.5||0.1||0.8||3.7|