#25 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
Jul 07, 1985
Having made it through the draft, summer league, free agency, summer vacations and the start of school, I figured I'd close out August with the remaining player reviews from last season starting with Brandon Rush. Left on the review list of players who played a significant role last year are: Jeff Foster, Troy Murphy and Danny Granger. If you missed the earlier reviews, here is the group of players I reviewed prior to the start of any offseason maneuvering: T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack, Roy Hibbert, Travis Diener, Marquis Daniels, Rasho Nesterovic.
How did Brandon Rush impress?
Brandon Rush wasn't physically shaking in his high tops at last season's media day, but he was obviously nervous. I found it strange that a guy who just a few months earlier had cut down the nets after an epic NCAA championship game played with millions watching around the globe would describe facing a couple dozen media members in Indianapolis as the most nervous he'd ever been.
On one hand it was refreshing to have a young player so nervous about making a good impression. He didn't want to let down himself nor the organization. Rush joined the Pacers willing to work for his role on the roster, instead of expecting a nice allotment of minutes just for showing up. When the rookie ups and downs saw his minutes fluctuate from plenty to nothing to a bunch, his demeanor and work ethic remained the same.
He didn't complain. He didn't blame anyone else for his struggles. He just kept working.
Along the way, Rush learned valuable lessons in competing at the NBA level and showed he can apply his athleticism at both ends of the floor. Throughout the bulk of his rookie season, the success Rush had on the floor was dependent on his offensive production. If he was making shots, he was all in and making an impact. If the shots weren't falling, the dauber was and before long so was his butt was on the bench.
Fortunately, Rush finished the season with a flourish after realizing defense was his ticket to consistent playing time, regardless of which variation of his moody jumper showed up at the gym. He was playing without looking over his shoulder or thinking back to past possessions. If the shots weren't falling early, but the effort at the other end stayed strong, the offense would eventually come along for the ride.
Rush started the final 11 games for the Pacers, averaging 17.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per as the team went 7-4 to close out the season. After a frustrating rookie year, the strong finish was a perfect confidence boost to send Rush into the offseason determined to hold onto that starting spot for the upcoming season.
How did Rush disappoint?
The negative side to Rush's media day nerves was apparent at various times throughout first half of the season. It revealed a guy who wasn't real confident. Maybe he was so nervous because he wasn't sure he belonged. Personally, I think it had more to do with an introverted personality facing so many microphones, but still, worrying about what others think isn't an ingredient for greatness.
Michael Jordan worried about what others thought of him but only so he could use it for fuel to destroy them on the court or embarrass any naysayers in the media. Arrogance applied to one's game is a good thing. The Pacers have seen plenty of players blow through town who didn't know how to leave that arrogance at the Fieldhouse, so I realize arrogance is extremely difficult to manage but it does help on the court. Rush could use more arrogance in his game, playing with a mindset that forces opponents to deal with him instead of him trying to deal with an opponent.
Rush's athletic ability was often stunning which made the struggles he had with confidence throughout the season frustrating. Some nights you just wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say, "Finish that drive with a dunk!" Rush had a tendency to blow by a defender on an apparently strong drive to the hoop only to brace for contact when the second line of defense rotated to meet him at the hoop. That contact is a foul in college, but in the NBA if you don't follow through on a drive and instead let up when contact is imminent, the ball is going the other way in a hurry. This was an area of Rush's game that improved toward the end of the year and hopefully those passive finishes are a thing of the past.
Another area of slight disappointment was Rush's streaky jump shot. Again, this seemed to vary depending on the confidence level Rush was carrying. You could just look at the body language from night-to-night and tell whether or not he'd be shooting it well. That body language would get blue after a couple of misses early in the season. Then, once Rush realized he could stay on the court with a strong defensive effort, he would simply stop looking for his shot. Better, but still counter-productive in the long run. It wasn't until late in the season, when due to injuries he had to play that Rush allowed himself to start slowly but then let the offensive game come to him while continuing to play hard at both ends.
Rush is poised to begin the 2009-10 season as the starting shooting guard for the Pacers. Expecting the 17.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game Rush averaged over the final 11 may be asking a lot from the second-year guard.
Or is it?
If Rush is starting at shooting guard and playing 28-33 minutes then he needs to average around 15 points if the Pacers are going to be players in the Eastern Conference playoff race. That would give the team a strong boost since Rush could be considered a fourth option among a starting lineup with Danny Granger, Troy Murphy and T.J. Ford. Rush can clean up a few garbage buckets here and there but more importantly, knock down open shots when Ford and Granger draw help on their way to the lane or the defense rotates to cover up Murph. If Rush can produce in that role then the Pacers' offense will be tough to slow down.
The opportunities for Rush to make a big impact on the Pacers will be plentiful next season and as an older second-year player, the Pacers have to find out just what type of player they have in Rush as they keep an eye on the future.