In their first two games, the Indiana Pacers have shown, regardless of whether they are turning the ball over and not playing their best (Detroit) or tightening up the defense and making plays (Boston), they will play hard and grind for an advantage for 48 minutes.
The results from the effort and execution of the Blue and Gold has expectations on the rise. But let's not forget, among the nine players in the current playing rotation, two are rookies absorbing a deluge of big and small lessons with each minute on the court.
The good thing is, both appear to mop up the information so they'll continually improve throughout the year. The bad thing is, the learning process creates fertile soil for growing pains and inconsistency. Two games in and I'm already used to seeing Brandon Rush on the court and expecting good things. Yes, the rooks look and play like they belong in the NBA but there will be those nights when we just need to let them breathe.
Roy Hibbert has only played a short first-half rotation in both games which I think is perfect for him at this time. The minutes give him a chance to learn and grow while showing what he can do and developing his game at the same time. At times, Roy appears a bit lost on defense but you know he's reviewing the film like Peyton Manning so I expect him to get a better feel for how to play within the team defensive system.
With Rasho Nesterovic out at least one game, Roy's minutes should jump, so it's sink or swim time against Shaquille O'Neal. Fortunately he can touch the bottom, so Jim O'Brien won't let him drown, but it also gives Roy a chance to step up to the challenge.
As for Rush, he's shown me far more than my tempered expectations allowed me to consider. Oh, and he's not even hitting his jumper, yet. My buddy Ice referred to Rush as electric on the court because of his quickness and his ability to take the ball to the hoop.
Against Boston, Rush was active on both ends of the floor, flashing defensive intensity and hitting the glass with vigor. The follow-up dunk was simply spectacular. The jumper will come once he hits a couple and calms down. You could sense he was dying to splash that first long ball in front of the home fans. The good news is Rush is valuable for more than making jumpers.
If I have any quibble it's with Rush's ability to finish at the hoop. On Saturday he missed a few tough layups on drives to the bucket. At times during his drive it appeared he may dunk but then turned it into a flip layup as the defense closed in (think Danny Granger circa 2006). Soft finishes rarely draw a foul, so the missed layup goes the other way. Throw it down youngin' and you'll quickly become a legend. There's also a better chance to draw a foul if you miss.
So consider this a warning. No matter how well the Pacers play and try to increase your current expectations, they're still working with a couple of rookies who by the nature of their being are unreliable. Fortunately, these kids will learn from their bad outings and put the knowledge to work which makes the Pacers long-term expectations glaringly bright.