#12 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
Following a productive rookie season where A.J. Price boosted the offensive game of a maligned Pacers second unit, Price was set back following a left knee injury that required surgery just before June that threw his availability for training camp into doubt. However, despite a questionable time table, Price worked hard was able to get back by the time training camp began.
While recovery issues were a minor part of it, T.J. Ford earned the backup spot heading into the regular season. Even though Ford played well early, issues began to arise as the season progressed and the second unit became a place where offense went to die, the Pacers would’ve benefited heavily from Price, who in his rookie year had provided an instant offensive punch off of the bench.
Despite going 6-10 with 14 points in a blowout win against the Clippers, Price remained buried on the bench, only brought in January either by ruling from Jim O’Brien’s head or to make an example of Darren Collison or Ford. Price played in just 6 games prior to January, and 7 more in January leading up to O’Brien’s firing before the coaching change pushed him into the backup role ahead of Ford.
With more time on the floor, Price was an important member of the Goon Squad’s short lived hype train, but his play showed to be far more inconsistent than the previous year. Most of that came in his shooting, which proved to be boom or bust. Price orchestrated most of his own offense from beyond the three point line, where he ended the year shooting a fairly worrisome 27.5% (especially considering he took 149 attempts in 50 games) to go alongside his equally concerning 35.6% shooting as a whole.
His erratic shooting, especially later in the year, made him an easy target for fan discontent, but for one of the few players on the team that has the ability to score at will, it was obvious Price was going to have to take a lot of the scoring load in the second unit, with former Goon Squaders Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George getting promotions into the starting lineup, and Mike Dunleavy missing time due to injury.
This helped to drastically drop his shooting numbers being essentially the #1 option in the second unit, but Price as a whole had trouble getting on track consistently. When he was on, he would easily reach double figures and give the second unit a tremendous boost, but when he wasn’t, he struggled to hit anything.
His play in the postseason was fine for his role and time, but he’ll be remembered for his play following the injury to Darren Collison in Game 2, where Price re-entered towards the end of the first half, and committed four turnovers where he appeared over his head. His struggles in Game 2 were monumental in giving Chicago momentum, but within his own role, he served the microwave portion of his game well, shooting 44% from three point range in the playoffs.
So how did A.J. impress?
Some of the biggest knocks on Price coming into the season was his play as a scoring guard, not a distributor. Price showed far more versatility to adapt to offensive situations this season to play either role. While he often used his scoring side more than his playmaking side, he did focus more on passing late in the season, averaging 4 assists in the final ten games of the season.
Furthermore, when shooting well, Price was a huge boost to an offensively challenged second unit. His microwave offense was often just the thing Indiana needed to stay tight in a game while they rested their starters. His positive additions in the postseason; most everything not involved with Game 2, were among the key shots that kept Indiana either ahead or within striking distance of Chicago.
And how did Price disappoint?
Erratic play would be the largest disappointment, which is easy to cloud over for a guy who was drafted 52nd overall in 2009. As a whole, it’s hard to take away from his positives and focus too heavily on his negatives when you put heavy reliance on a late second round pick in your rotation.
Unfortunately, some of Price’s play simply didn’t provide much to the team’s success, such as shooting too often. The team was 2-7 in games where he shot ten or more times. Despite being a necessary offensive piece to help the team out when they needed it, his inconsistency shooting often made it challenging finding the fine line between too little and too much.
So what’s next for Price?
A.J. Price has a non-guaranteed deal for 2011-12 with the Pacers, but it’s hard to say for sure what will happen. Indiana should certainly look to improve the depth of the point guard position through one of their many means this summer, but Price would still be a useful third string point guard. It’s difficult to find natural scorers, as the Pacers found in the postseason, and Price can at times provide instant offense, regardless of its inconsistent quality.
However, should the team wisely look to upgrade, in addition to the continued planned growth of Lance Stephenson, perhaps in the point guard role, it would easily make Price expendable. Price has enough positives to be a cherry topper, but it’s hard to tell if the negatives would outweigh that to most teams.
Ultimately, with the future of Stephenson as cloudy as the impending lockout, it seems reckless to move forward without him, as he’s nearly everything you would benefit in having from a third string point guard. But as the primary backup, the team can (and should aim to) do better, and it may not be in the team’s best interest to keep four point guards on the roster, especially when the team would likely better utilize a deeper frontcourt.