#22 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
#22 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
Would you call A.J. Price’s rookie season productive? After all, Price was in the top twenty for rookies in scoring average, assists, and steals (for at least 50 games). Generally speaking, would you say he was one of the twenty best rookies this past season? I’d say it’s not too far a stretch. It’s kind of worth noting, if only for the series of events that took place in his rookie year that still set him up as a better than average rookie.
Price was taken with the 52nd overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. "This is the worst draft ever!" exclaimed the peanut gallery, who were still a bit sour over Tyler Hansbrough and were thinking kind of maybe possibly Patty Mills could’ve been a useful addition. And it was kind of hard to blame anyone for questioning the pick. That isn’t to say that Price wasn’t going to be useful in anyway, he was the 2009 West Regional Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament. Tyreke Evans who??
But Price had an injury history and a history with police officers and to be honest, we were all just a little burnt out on that. Price claimed he was clean and healthy, and the potential project was set to move forward with the Pacers. Price was finally signed to the Pacers in September, and with a stacked backcourt, many wondered if he’d hone his skills up I-69 in Ft. Wayne, but given the Pacers "history" with the D-League, I guess it’s no surprise the franchise wanted him riding pine instead of playing.
Early in the season, Price saw enough garbage time and front row action to really get us excited about him, but in those first two months, I think we noticed something: this kid’s got some real swagger. After The Relegation of T.J. Ford, Price was suddenly thrust into extended minutes, and did a great job in creating shots and getting baskets, as he averaged 9.9 PPG in January, despite Jim O’Brien’s best efforts to sabotage the rookie’s positives, pulling in a team high 23 points in a loss to the Thunder.
Price even got his first two NBA starts in the beginning of February, which made his immediate pull from the rotation following The Resurrection of T.J. Ford all the more perplexing. Price would only play two games the rest of February in garbage time, but as Ford went down, Price again was called to step up. And again, he did, averaging 8.1 PPG to help close out the season on a high note for the 09-10 rook.
So how did Price impress?
If we consider he was the 52nd pick in what was seen as an extremely weak class, the fact he even made the floor in a Pacers uniform should be impressive (or maybe not, given the talent level of this team). But that he may have been one of the twenty best rookies? Hey, that’s almost worth noting. Price showed a lot this past season in regards to his scoring ability. Is it unfair to say Price has some good instincts as a volume scorer? He even came through at crucial moments. Price was a rookie in name only, an old soul so to speak, with an air of swagger that reminded us that, "Hey, swagger. Remember when the Pacers had swagger?" Larry Bird got quality payoff for such a late pick, which could help focus on the second round talent in the future.
And how did Price disappoint?
Again, as the 52nd pick in what was seen as an extremely weak class, I think piling negatives on the guy seems a bit harsh, but…I worry about him as a pass first PG. His assist numbers weren’t all that great in college, and well, they aren’t all that great in the pros as of right now either. Of course, the dreaded Pacers offense struggled mightily cleaning up passes, but there were times when the ball stopped at Price instead of ran through Price. In addition, his defense proved to be fairly inconsistent. Where he’d make a big defensive player on a steal or a stop, he’d get beaten by his man the very next trip down the floor. Price also had the dubious honor of shooting the second worst percentage on the Pacers, making only 41% of his shots.
So what’s next for Price?
It’s a little hard to know what the immediate future holds for A.J., very little having to do with the abilities he’s shown on the floor. Coach Jim O’Brien has shown little faith in Price in the short term saying, "I don’t think he’s the solution. There’s a reason he was drafted in the 50’s" and "I don’t think we would be real happy to say that he’s necessarily going to be the point guard of the future." Right or wrong, you can expect to see Price fight for his playing time again next season, at least until he can show Obie he’s capable of running the point position at a high enough level, but whether or not Obie recognizes it is another thing. Larry Bird was slightly more optimistic about Price’s season, showing tremendous faith in his abilities as a backup point guard.
Certainly, there are positives in A.J. Price, regardless of how he pans out from here, but curbing expectations for him is equally as important. It’s easy to watch Price actually play well at points and forget that the point guard position for the Pacers was one of (if not) the worst in the NBA this past season. But maybe it’s not too far to expect a player of Travis Best’s quality (hopefully with less dribbling). Maybe it’s not too far to expect a player who can come off the bench at a high level, can start and hold down the fort for a minor injury, or can give the team a much needed boost of swagger at a crucial point in the game. Let’s take A.J. Price’s rookie season as a positive and hope he improves to give the Pacers some stability at a position in desperate need of some, knowing that his role next season is heavily dependent on how the Pacers’ point guard prospects go this summer, in addition to fighting for minutes with T.J. Ford and a coach who doesn’t really want to play him.