#3 / Forward / Indiana Pacers
After comparing favorably to Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird at the end of the 2008-09 season by becoming the first player since Bird to finish in the top five in the league in defensive rebounds and three point percentage, Troy Murphy hoped to keep up the torrid pace while helping to improve his team in the win category. The season got off on the wrong foot though when Murph injured his back against Denver, sidelining him for a little over two weeks.
In that time, the Pacers improved to 5-4 on the year following a five game winning streak sans Murphy’s contributions. The Pacers would go on to lose ten of their next eleven, including going 1-9 in games after Murphy returned, leading many to wonder how much Murphy’s presence was hurting the team since they were now 1-12 in games in which he played. Though a bit misguided given the rash of injuries suffered by the Pacers, it certainly didn’t help Murph's case much among a fanbase that had never fully accepted him.
Regardless of the overall team impact, Murph’s play settled into the most consistent on the team over the long haul of the season. Just like in the 08-09 season, Murphy could easily be penciled in for a double-double on most nights. As the New Year approached, he suffered a sprained ankle, which sidelined him. The team would go on to end their season long losing streak with him on the sideline, with Roy Hibbert continuing to emerge in his absence.
Upon his return, Murphy stepped up and began to put together a solid campaign statistically. He had his greatest stretch of the season as the trade deadline approached, as potential trade partners including the Cavaliers, Kings, and other teams opened up, hoping for the services of the floor-spreading big man. But Bird was unable to find a deal he felt worthy of his starting forward, and despite the hot stretch, Murph remained a Pacer as the deadline passed.
Murphy’s play slipped a bit immediately followingthe deadline (coincidence?), but he would end up piecingtogether a solid spring, playing extremely well as the Pacers ended the season strong. Murphy’s season wasn’t as impressive as his previous, but he still finished with respectable shooting numbers for a big man who plays outside, shooting 38% from three and 47% overall. He also topped Clark Kellogg’s Pacers' NBA defensive rebound numbers for the second straight year, now holding the top two spots in that category.
So how did Murphy impress?
The thing you can look at with Murphy is his consistency. Where every other Pacer had a number of ups and downs, Murph was able to remain on an even keel throughout the trying year. He continued to shoot well and rebound at a respectable rate. Murphy grew his game around the rim offensively this season as well, making more plays in the lane than he had in previous years, even compared to the beginning of the season. By being able to make those plays, Murphy has shown an increase in scoring, improving his scoring average to his peak as a Pacer. And despite a reputation as a poor defender, he was serviceable and helpful in improving the overall team defense.
Another topic of discussion is Murphy’s health. He seems to get pegged as an injury-prone player, but he has played over 70 games in seven of his nine seasons, including 72 this past season, despite suffering two separate injuries. It simply seems a little misguided to weigh too heavily on Murphy’s health when he’s far and away one of the most healthy players in a truly injury plagued Pacers lineup.
And how did Murphy disappoint?
The wins and losses may have to be taken into account. How valuable are Murphy’s numbers to a team that wants to win? Cleveland wasn’t willing to take the chance and opted for Antawn Jamison, but the team’s record with and without Murphy, their production with and without him, seemed noticeably different. The Pacers finished 25-47 with Murphy in games, leading them to a 7-3 record without him. Whether this can be entirely attributed to Muprh may be a bit of a stretch, but it may not be a stretch that Roy Hibbert played better without him in the lineup. As an individual player, Murphy performed well, but there is a fine line between a statistical player and a winning player. Can Murphy take the blame for his teams not being too good? Or is he a key reason his teams haven’t been more successful?
Well…what’s next for Murphy?
Murphy is enteringthe final year of his contract, and is one of the Pacers most valuable trade assets. Regardless of how the season plays out, it seems to hold true that this will be Troy’s final year in the Pacers blue and gold, whether he’s gone before the season starts, during the season, or after the season. Curiosities regarding his value to a team’s success aside, Murphy can be a useful member of a good team with his unique ability as a shooter and a rebounder. His value as a player can be debated among fan bases and experts, who seem to believe Pacers fans underrate him, but his assumed value cannot be denied from both a contract and production standpoint.
It’s important that the Pacers get the best value they can for him regardless of when they move him, but it’s important they get value for him instead of opening up the contract books. As the team looks towards the future, it just doesn’t seem like Troy Murphy fits into that puzzle. It’ll be an interesting next 12 months for Murphy and what the Pacers do with his value.