#5 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
Mar 24, 1983
How did T.J. Ford impress?
T.J. Ford arrived in Indy last summers as the key component in the trade that sent Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto and cleared the air for a new beginning for the Indiana Pacers. The belongings Ford brought with him from Toronto included a hefty salary, a scary injury history and oodles of speed and quickness to add to the Pacers backcourt.
Fortunately, the speed and quickness were the only overt signs of baggage Ford revealed while wearing a Pacers uniform for the first time. The past neck injury which made him a risky acquisition appeared to be a non-factor as Ford played 74 games. He did have to deal with a back injury which was the main culprit in the games he did miss and lingered for much of the last half of the season. But that injury was characterized as a muscular, lower back strain, as opposed to anything close to the spinal chord or neck, which obviously would've shelved him much longer.
So, Ford played plenty of minutes which was good, but how did he play?
Well, Ford's production was inconsistent from game to game and sometimes half to half. When he had if going, though, he raised the excitement level on the floor. Ford's speed with the ball was exhilirating at times and a sharp contrast to the pace of play we witnessed over the past few years. That quickness allowed Ford to get the ball in the lane where he often times found trouble without a reliable interior presence to bail him out. But there were also games when he changed the game in the lane and scored big with an arsenal of floaters and flips that found the bottom of the net.
Ford is not the great 3-point shooter Jim O'Brien might prefer on the court, but at 33.7% he shot a little better than expected. I also appreciate the fact that he turned down plenty of open looks from behind the arc to find a better shot for himself or a teammate. Ford's signature shot is to break down a defender with a quick move to the hoop and then pull up for a 17-foot jumper. It was a shot that won a game in Philly in December and seemed automatic whenever Ford brough any kind of offensive rhythm to the arena.
The inconsistent play combined with a string of losses forced Ford to come off the bench for the final 12 games of the season. To his credit, he buried his displeasure and performed wonderfully in a sixth man role as the Pacers finished the season 8-4.
How did Ford disappoint?
The inconsistent play was a known factor upon Ford's arrival, but the varied inconsistencies were tough to watch some nights. Turnovers off the dribble, turnovers off the pass, too many shots and not enough makes and the ultimate blood pressure pumper...getting stuck in the lane, sometimes in the air, with no safe haven for the ball left to try and draw a bailout foul. Unfortunately, only GM gets a bailout in this economy and Ford was usually left on the floor pleading his case while the ball went the other way.
When he arrived in Indy, Ford's style of play just wasn't a good fit with Jim O'Brien's desired style. While he could keep the pace up, it was usually with the ball in his hands as opposed to the ball movement JOB prefers. The growing pains Ford went through trying to adapt his game are understandable, at least they will be if the struggles are a thing of the past. More familiarity with teammates and with what JOB expects should help Ford improve his results next year. It's not so much about putting up big numbers as it is consistently taking care of the little things and offering the team reliable production to strengthen the foundation of the playing rotation.
Ford also struggled with his on the ball defense from the point. The whole team struggled to come together and play as a unified defensive unit, so without slowing down the ball at the point of attack or pushing it to right spots on the floor, the cracks in the system were often exposed.
T.J. Ford has two more years left on his contract at $8.5 mil per (player option for last year) so he is among a group of players whose contracts expire in 2011. At this time, I wouldn't expect the Pacers to re-sign Ford even at his current rate of pay so anything is possible when considering his future with the team including a trade before the start of next season. The market for Ford's salary in the current NBA economic climate probably wouldn't fetch much, so he'll most likely be with the team when camp opens in October.
So when considering Ford's role on the team, he'll have to earn back the starting spot he gave up at the end of the year. I'd be surprised if Ford didn't start next year. For one, Jarrett Jack may not be around and even if Jack does re-sign, I find him more valuable in a utility role covering up both guard spots. Ford is more of a true point guard and after some tough love to finish the season, he should be prepared to meet the expectations of his coach and teammates.
|2008 - T.J. Ford||74||30.5||5.6||12.3||45.2||0.5||1.4||33.7||3.3||3.8||87.2||0.8||2.7||3.5||5.3||2.4||1.2||0.2||2.4||14.9|