Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rooks and Sophs
Assert the 'Bert
Earlier this year, I wrote about concerns over Roy Hibbert's consistency in the midst of an early season losing streak, but as that streak and the season have progressed, I think we've found the source of Roy's inconsistencies: inconsistent playing time and inconsistent ability to play with Troy Murphy. The Troy and Roy Show would not get past the second episode, much like The Jay Leno Show (zing!), because the two don't compliment each other's style.
But I think I'm being kind of soft on Murph, since he doesn't fit well with Hibbert, leaving Hibbert by himself and often hawking out rebounds or shots instead of flowing through Hibbert. Not an optimal position for a still moderately foul prone (good job working that down, big fella) young big who's still got to fight with his coach for playing time. I don't see any Free Roy websites yet, but I may have to helm that front.
Hibbert's advantages are both shockingly obvious and deliciously sublime. Not needing to really address the advantage being 7'2" brings, Roy has a potentially dominating hook shot that could really make him a forceful offensive center, but in the offense, has shown solid awareness in his passing game, another potent part of his attack.
The Pacers offense has been all things dreadful, fun to watch, and about every notch in between, but mostly, it's been frustrating. Roy works to stabilize that. His ability to show the advantage inside, and recognize an advantage outside is a matchup the team can exploit for ages.
Finding negatives in Roy's performance this year is hard, because it's difficult to tell exactly how much is on him and how much we want to blame Troy Murphy and Jim O'Brien. We know he lacks athleticism, but in attending the Danny Granger School for the Not So Naturally Gifted, has shown the drive to overcome that.
Hibbert has been the most improved player for the Pacers, a wonderful surprise for a decent rookie year. It's hard to get down on him too much when he's not only on a leash, but often has to go lengths of time without seeing any touches thanks to the premise of Obie's "I Dream of Threes" Tour. Let's hope when Roy is finally unleashed and treated like a basketball player instead of a matchup advantage, we see the positives we've been seeing brought into consistency.
Brandon Rush, you flirtatious enigma! Erratic and subjective, you have caused us much in the way of sleep loss! After a nearly vomit inducing start to this season, the Brandon Rush Terror Alert has recently been downgraded from Severe to merely Elevated. But that is only talking to the overall wealth of his offensive game for most of the season, let's not forget that Rush has had a nod worthy year on the defensive end.
And you know, at some point, that may be what this team needs of Brandon and him settling into somewhat of a Dahntay Jones Post Apocalypse role would benefit them, but this year is not the year. With one player who can create his own shot (when the team remembers to involve Granger anyway) to couple with a few guys who try and Mike Dunleavy's ghost haunting the blue and gold on a semi-nightly basis, the Pacers need Brandon Rush to carry some offensive load.
Since his impressive 0-4-2 (PTS-REB-AST) performance across two games and on five shots around the midway point of the month, which by the way completely capped off the most frustrating few months of entertainment this side of Jay Leno (zingx2!), Rush has played far more suited basketball to what the team needs, ignoring that the Pacers are actually 3-5 in the last eight games.
Not counting the limited action against Orlando, Rush is currently is pulling a 14.4 - 5.4 - 1.9 since he blanked against Phoenix. But what impresses me most is his willingness on the offensive end to take his weight of it on his shoulders, averaging almost ten shots a game. Keep pulling them up, Brandon. There aren't many excuses for 5-15 shooting nights, but the willingness to become involved in the offense is more than enough right now.
How about A.J. Price? You hear things like "steal of the draft" and "didn't he play for UConn?" Both of which may be facts. Price has become the #2 PG in the Pacers rotation giving the team #2 production (sometimes even #1 production) in that role. But you have to imagine that if we actually got real #2 production from #22 when we drafted him at #52 we'd be fortunate, so it's too soon to be upset at Price's shortcomings so far.
Since getting a regular spot in the rotation, Price has begun to find his shot, getting above .400 in the recent stretch of games. He brings some swagger to the Pacers lineup, something it has lacked since Stephen Jackson was getting run over by cars at night clubs.
I guess if I have an issue with Price it's that I think it's becoming more and more valid to ask the question: what's he doing for his teammates? Like all point guards, assists are determined not only by the guard, but by his teammates actually succeeding with the ball, but like nitpicking Kobe Bryant's 61 point performance at MSG for blanking in rebounds and assists is a bit silly, I think it's valid to bring up Price's 17 point 0 assist performance against Philly earlier this week as a question mark.
But can we write these performances off as a rookie getting adjusted? I sure hope so. I would love to see Price build himself into a competent PG, whether he taps out as a Travis Best or maybe something better (dare we be so bold?), we would benefit greatly from Price building a well rounded PG’s game.
An Apropos on Hansbrough
Contrary to recent reports, Tyler Hansbrough is still a member of the Pacers. Devastating ear infections aside, Hansbrough has had a generally productive rookie season going, despite missing stretches of it with injuries of various degrees. His shooting percentage is abysmal, but with his abilities to get to the line and his energy, hey, it's not a bad pick, even if we could've done better. Think we wouldn't mind having Ty Lawson right now?
Oh, let's not be bitter about it. In fact, Hansbrough could be a nice compliment to Roy inside, given his ability to ninja clone himself to be everywhere on the floor at once. A bit undersized as a 4, but still better suited for Hibbert than the bigger Murphy. It's not about the size; it's about the motion of the ocean.
All in all, we've got a nice group of young guys here. They're not great, but they'd fit in well if we had the top talent we needed. About that, however...there's no need to take a depressing turn for the worse when finding valid positives on this young Pacers squad. Many of us may have problems with how Bird is running the team, but his safety net strategy these past two years has given us rookies we can produce with and expect production from. In that sense, we’re fortunate, even if we can’t realistically expect too much. We sacrificed the boom to cancel out the bust (though I think we’re kind of waiting on a verdict from Brandon as to whether or not he’s here yet). Now it’s time to put these four guys together with Danny Granger, and find ourselves an athletic big time player. If only it would come this summer.