Condolences go out to Earl Watson and his family for the passing of his grandmother. Watson has left the team to be with his family this weekend, so he will miss both Friday's game against the Detroit Pistons and Saturdays road game at the Milwaukee Bucks.
As a result of Watson's absence, rookie point guard, A.J. Price will jump into the starting lineup this weekend for the Pacers. Price, a second round pick last summer, has been a pleasant story to follow all season amidst some not so pleasant games for the team.
Early in the season, Price saw spot duty at best along with plenty of DNP-CDs. As the unpleasant games mounted for the Pacers, Jim O'Brien decided to insert Earl Watson in the starting lineup and put T.J. Ford on ice in order to free up the backup minutes for Price.
Once he started getting some consistent minutes, Price proved he was a gamer and the bigger the situation the better. His calm demeanor and steady style of play seemed to step up a notch late in games. He single-handedly altered a game at Oklahoma City with 19 fourth quarter points, bringing the Pacers back from the dead after the team trailed by 13 points heading into the final quarter. After erasing the lead, the Pacers couldn't hang on to win, but Price revealed just what his game has to offer.
Price also came up big in another comeback against Toronto. This time the Pacers won and Price teamed up with Watson to fuel the late game heroics. While Price continues learning the NBA game and working through the normal rookie struggles, he remains well on his way to establishing himself as a bona fide NBA point guard.
Prior to the Toronto game on Tuesday, I checked in with Price to see where he felt his game was after 20 games of consistent minutes off the bench."I'm playing alright, playing decent," the soft-spoken rookie said. "Still learning and every game is a learning experience. I just trying to bring energy, try to keep the tempo going when I'm in there so there's no letdown."
Price plays such a steady, confident game, at times he seems like a veteran player on the court just by the way he carries himself and handles certain situations. But anything he makes look easy is merely an illusion, as Price continues to grind to keep up with the varying challenges he faces from game to game.
"The league is difficult and hard and that's what I expected coming in," Price admitted. "Like I said, I'm still learning on the fly basically. Every team, every game a different assignment with teams doing different things, so it's always a learning experience."
So Price just plays and absorbs the lessons from those learning experiences. He knows he's just scratching the surface and has a long way to go to make the type of impact he expects.
"Defensively I want to try to utilize my quickness and strength to be more aggressive on the defensive end, so figuring out what to do against certain players will help over time."
Until that time comes, Price will just take advantage of every opportunity to keep developing his game. On Friday night, his opportunity will expand with the starting nod. From what we've seen from Price so far this season, there's no reason to think he won't step up to the challenge and make the most of yet another rookie learning experience.