#25 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
It was all hands on deck regarding the future of many members of the Indiana Pacers when the team selected Paul George in the 2010 Draft. George was drafted on his tremendous upside; a three with the abilities to play the two? Who exactly was he brought in to replace? The easiest scapegoat fell on Brandon Rush.
Rush, due to injuries and lack of better options, had essentially held down the starting two spot in his first two seasons with the Pacers, but had been disappointing to fans for a lack of consistency, especially on the offensive end, often cited as floating through games and looking disinterested. Towards the end of the summer, Rush did nothing to help his own case perception by being issued a five-game suspension from the NBA for failing a marijuana test as part of the league’s Anti-Drug Program.
The suspension sparked considerable backlash for an already underachieving player, with many local writers calling for him to be immediately moved for any offer on the table despite market value and on the court value. The team took note of Rush’s apathetic play and responded in kind; essentially sweeping the incident under the rug and opting to stick with Rush in a deep wing rotation to ride out his five game suspension with no real guarantee for playing time.
However, Brandon, for all of his inconsistencies, has responded well when his job has been on the line. With his criticism at all time highs in his first two seasons, he exploded in the spring on both ends to give expectations to Pacers fans, so when he stormed out of the gate playing some of his best basketball, including 16 points on 6-11 shooting in his first game of the season in Indiana’s blowout win against Denver, it should have been no real surprise.
Rush was attentive and successful at inserting himself and taking charge within the team’s offense. Through his first 20 games, Rush was averaging 13 points while shooting 46% from the field and 42% from three point range. He scored in double figures in 14 of those 20 games, in 13 of 16 and appeared to really find himself successful in an offense that really benefited from Rush’s offense, even reaching the starting lineup in games as a defensive switch over Mike Dunleavy against some of the league’s more lethal offensive threats.
His play well into December was a catalyst to the team; one that despite struggling since the calendar turned had them at 10-10 when he played. But then the Brandon of old returned, passive offensively, a spot up shooter, making very little effort on the offensive end to create shots for himself. Indiana struggled in December and January, and went 4-13 until Brandon was pulled late in January for an ankle sprain.
The sprain was being gingerly nursed, rather confusing for an injury Danny Granger had recovered from quickly and seemingly effectively at the beginning of the season, leading much speculation as to Brandon’s future with the organization as they had appeared to be done with his on and off play, even though the benching and seemingly unnecessary coddling of Rush’s ankle was one of many decisions late in Jim O’Brien’s tenure that seemed to lack any real logic.
Rush returned just before the All-Star break, and his name was brought up in a trade deadline deal that fell through for the third consecutive year. He had a mini renaissance in March, but aside from good defense and spot up shooting, he continued to bring very little. Rush’s minutes in the postseason were limited, but he played well, managing to go 3-4 from three point range. When the year wrapped up, Brandon Rush had another Brandon Rush year. No significant improvements, no considerable steps back, just another Brandon Rush season. He did bring positives offensively more consistently this year, but he remains far from being consistent.
So how did Brandon impress?
Before the season, it was about curbing expectations on Rush’s game; an effortless mesh of many great qualities that he just hadn’t seemed to piece together. At his peak, it seems he could be a poor man’s Ron Artest, but instead, he’s far more content with camping in the corner for a spot up three and going to work defensively.
His defense wasn’t as noticeable as it was in the 2009-10 season, but he still worked well on that end of the floor. In fact, he was remembered more this year for his defensive shortcomings in games against Portland and Denver, even though coaching seemed to have much to do with Rush leaving shooters open more than Rush’s play. When he asserted himself offensively, it was a huge boost to the Pacers, even delivering a game winning dunk against Detroit, one that if video evidence didn’t exist, it would be the Loch Ness Monster of Pacers lore.
He improved his three point average from .411 to .417. A minor jump, but if there’s one constant on his offense, it’s his threat from range. And that’s what Brandon will be bringing from now on: a few nights of explosive play, but mostly a dead eye shooter who goes to work on defense. There are worse fates for a player willing to play a very specific role, even if we always know in the back of our minds he could do a lot more.
And how did Rush disappoint?
Aside from the subtle head shaking of disappointment from his suspension, very little about Rush disappointed because it’s become such a well worn road over the past three seasons. It’s hard to erase the apathy of everything Rush could be and yet doesn’t become. While he may very well carve himself out a nice niche in his assuredly lengthy NBA career, it’s very much likely he’ll never be seen in a positive light amongst Pacers fans.
But that disappointment will always stem from initial expectations and a very well rounded skill set. Had Rush been drafted to be what he is, it’d be nothing but positives, but coupling his shortcomings with the team’s necessity for more consistent offense, especially from a player who has shown stretches of consistent offensive play, it’s a fair jump to make.
Defensively, Rush wasn’t quite the eye catching force he was the year before. Even though advanced numbers never suggested Rush was a good defender, the eye test has always suggested otherwise, and Rush defensively brings one of the best on the team.
Well, what’s next for Brandon?
Even though the organization intended to make Rush sweat a little by delaying to pick up the option on the final year of his rookie contract while rushing to complete Roy Hibbert’s, it was no real concern that the Pacers wouldn’t at least take advantage of the final year of Rush’s rookie scale. As the team continues to grow, Rush’s role should become more and more defined to serve its strengths to the team’s strengths, but it will always be hindered by the negative connections with Rush for fans.
In each of his three seasons, Rush has nearly been traded at the deadline, in each of his three seasons, Rush has been benched just to be brought back as a starter due to an injury. It almost seems like fate that Rush remains tied with Indiana through better or worse. Even still, he will likely be one of the first players traded in any deal that brings superior talent back to the Pacers. Until that day, Rush will remain with the Pacers, hopefully improving his spot up/defender role that every team needs, as he helps Indiana improve in the win column for 2011-12.