#5 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
Following a career year for the deceptively young T.J. Ford, things looked to be on the up for the Pacers point guard. Jarrett Jack, the threat to his reigns as a starter, fled to Toronto and Earl Watson, A.J. Price, and Travis Diener backed him up. A high-spirited Ford with no discernable threat to his starting role? It seemed like a tremendous concept as the Pacers entered the 2009-10 season.
Unfortunately for the team and for Ford, the idea proved to be invalidated, as T.J. struggled mightily in the season. It was difficult to pin down the T.J. Ford you would get: one who would rocket to the basket and finish with 18 points and numerous big shots in the fourth quarter, or the guy who would passively shoot 0-4 with more turnovers than assists.
To start the season, Ford’s ups and downs were well documented, but through the end of November, Ford had only three games where he recorded more assists than rebounds. Obviously, assists are contingent on the receiving player’s abilities to finish the shot, something that was absolutely no small task for any Pacer this past season, but through the end of November, Ford averaged 3.1 assists in 26.4 minutes of action, by a large margin the lowest output of his career.
Things did little to pick up through December, but Ford remained the team’s primary starter through the middle part of the month, where he was sent to the bench in favor of Earl Watson. By the end of December, Ford averaged 9.9 PPG, 3.6 APG, and had shot a disturbing 1-29 from the three point arc as the season boiled down to him floating through games to almost self-sabotaging the team with his effort. After a short performance against the Grizzlies at the end of December, T.J. Ford disappeared.
It wasn’t that he was even injured. What happened was, the Pacers enacted an indefinite benching on Ford, as they worked out the team with Watson and second round pick Price. Ford remained positive in the ordeal, and with Earl Watson missing in action against Detroit, Ford was thrust back in the lineup and was able to lead the blue and gold to a much needed victory against the struggling Pistons.
Following the performance against Detroit, Ford found himself involved in a PG triangle with Watson and Price, looking to claim his minutes and help the team move forward in a positive manner. T.J.’s play was a complete 180 from the beginning of the year, as his shot was falling, he was racking up more assists, hitting three pointers, and cutting back on turnovers.
Not even a month removed from his benching, Ford reclaimed his spot at the Pacers starting PG in late February, as Jim O’Brien eternally searched for a lineup that just plain worked. Ford’s play began to take a step back to the early season form as he reclaimed that spot. Against Boston, Ford suffered a groin injury, one that would go on to end his season, and Ford shut himself down for the year, ending an up and down, and largely disappointing campaign for the Texas native.
So how did Ford impress?
Finding inspiring T.J. Ford performances were few and far between, but his skills were put on full display through the month of February, as Ford exacted a sort of Revenge and Redemption Tour, coming up with good shots, good passes, and impressive teamwork. His professional handling of the benching, generally overblown given a documented history of displeasure regarding a PG battle with him and Jose Calderon in Toronto, also deserves credit, even if it is rather unnecessary. Lastly, Ford appeared to recognize when it was time for him to step aside for the season and allow A.J. Price to continue to find his feet.
And how did Ford disappoint?
Did you happen to notice how two of the only positives I could find for T.J. involved him not playing? That’s never a good sign, and certainly is not the case regarding Ford as a starting PG in the NBA. Ford really had a bad year. Whether it’s an anomaly or just an accumulation of his abilities as a starter in the NBA, Ford had a bad year. He suffered career lows in numerous categories, from 3P% to assists, to even games played. Ford’s nonchalant style this season was disappointing. Whether it was his intention or not, it seemed to me that Ford played the back half of the season maintaining his scoring average to above 10.0 PPG. He generally responded poor showings with big number games, and shut himself down following a series of sub ten point games. I won’t accuse him of anything, but it was something that caught my attention watching his scoring average as the season progressed.
Well…what’s next for Ford?
Ford recently picked up his $8.5 million player option, so welcome back, T.J.! The Pacers backcourt is far more open for remodeling than the frontcourt looks. Season ending starter Earl Watson will likely flee in free agency to a team willing to offer the quality backup a quality deal. Jim O’Brien showed very little to suggest he has any faith in A.J. Price being anything more than a lifelong D-Leaguer (founded or unfounded…it’s irrelevant), and while the Pacers will surely attempt to improve in the PG position in the summer, T.J. Ford likely heads into next season with a good outlook regarding playing time.
For the Pacers, they take on his salary, but with a sizeable expiring deal on a potentially valuable asset, the Pacers could flip Ford around for future pieces at some point in the year. T.J. Ford had a very rough year following a career effort in 2008-09, but he’s still a young player by NBA standards, and still has more contracts to play for. I may be crazy, but I don’t feel like counting T.J. Ford short in a contract year. It’s up to him to make it happen.