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Starting to Wonder About the Starting Two

As summer waned, the focus of Indiana’s starting lineup was, for the first time in truly forever, finally off the PG position, but it was clear there could be a gaping hole in replacing Troy Murphy at the power forward position. After all, anyone who looks at the names Josh McRoberts, Solomon Jones, and Tyler Hansbrough, set with a dash of Jeff Foster would be insane to think otherwise.

But who would’ve guessed McRoberts would anchor the PF spot without question, and it would be the shooting guard position that would be the most tumultuous? But that question suddenly got raised into consideration when Brandon Rush, who wasn’t even a lock heading into the season, was tacked with a five game suspension for substance abuse.

Talk about headaches. Rush’s suspension could play against the strengths of the team regarding the starting lineup, but including him, I’d like to breakdown Indiana’s four potential suitors for the starting two, because to be honest, some names just plain sound better than others when you’re sitting at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Mike Dunleavy

Dunleavy appears to have rounded himself back into game shape after a year injured and a year floating like a ghost. This seems to include all the great Dunleavy trademarks: fluid offense, vomit inducing defense, and him taking a few pops in the head for no reason I can truly discern.

The good and bad news of it all is that it makes him a starter quality player. The good in that is that he’s obviously the best option at that position for Indiana. The bad news is I don’t like what he brings the starting lineup.

Against Orlando in the second preseason game, Dunleavy didn’t get his first shot until the third quarter. I don’t necessarily think that’s a preseason thing, I think that’s a byproduct of a lineup that will try to work through Roy Hibbert, still has one of the league’s most competent scorers in Danny Granger, and Darren Collison features a flurry of offensive skill himself.

Obviously, this is a benefit for Josh McRoberts, who doesn’t have to score as often as he has to hustle and rebound, but isn’t it a bit of a crutch for Duns? I’ve seen Mike as an optimal sixth man for far longer than one should honestly think about where a player of Dunleavy’s quality fits into an average NBA rotation, but the fluidity and flexibility Dunleavy offers the bench gives him more touches the team will need, and ultimately helps the team compete in games. I’d pencil Mike in for opening night, but Jim O’Brien seemed on the right track against Houston when he tried Brandon out.

Paul George

Obviously, if Dunleavy isn’t the best long term fit, then George would be the logical starter, yes? Eh, not necessarily. If not letting George cut his NBA teeth on the floor is bad, then asking him to ride a bike with no training wheels is just plain bad parenting. George has been a nice addition to the team in preseason, but is still trying to figure out where in Fresno he left his shot at. While Dunleavy lets too much offense go to waste in the starting unit, I’m not comfortable in believing George gives enough flexibility to the starting lineup yet.

Of course, there’s no reason to suspect George isn’t going to eventually find the bottom of the net, but if Brandon Rush is an offensive paper weight, George is an anchor (not the foundation kind, either!). George’s defense is opportunistic, which is a notable upgrade over Dunleavy forgetting where he left his man, but it’s still a step below Brandon’s overall skills on that side of the ball.

If all goes as planned, and I’m not sure there is one, but I’m saying there is, George can find his shot early in the season and push his way into the starting two. Until then, I think he’s a liability on offense, not a compliment. His inexperience in a high level atmosphere should still be a question, and I’m not comfortable expecting him to set the pace of the game in November. But experience only comes from taking the floor, I hope he can be the starter sooner rather than later.

Brandon Rush

So then, is it strange of me to actually still take Brandon Rush as the starting shooting guard? For a guy who’s been a severe disappointment, and doesn’t look any different thus far, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to move forward with him as the starter following his return.

But ultimately, the disappointments in Brandon’s play has always been in what he isn’t doing, not what he’s doing. Rush could be one of the league’s best all around players, but he won’t, so it’s time to specialize him. I’m going to stand by Rush as the team’s best defender until I’m proven otherwise (don’t care about advanced defensive stats; don’t tell them to me, lalalala!), but his three point shot may be the best on the team as well.

And that’s actually an advantage. Over the past two years, it’s been awful trying to expect Brandon to carry the offensive load, but with the starting lineup, he fits right in. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that he’s just standing outside in case someone passes him the ball; it’s what the starting lineup needs. The consistency Brandon can show from beyond the arc is, at least optimistically, just the thing the starting lineup needs from him.

Off the bench, he’s going to be asked too much of. A.J. Price still isn’t going to pass the ball to him (though to be fair, it doesn’t seem like Price is going to pass the ball period), but outside of Price, the most consistent scorer if Dunleavy starts is Hansbrough, which isn’t exactly the best thing I’ve heard today. Rush’s strengths can certainly help set the tone on both ends of the floor. It’s always nice when a coach has to adjust to what you are doing.

Dahntay Jones

Somewhere, in the dark pits of the back of the lineup, Dahntay Jones is still a Pacer. And honestly, this should still be a possible option, if not the most logical. Jones, though not a nightly scorer, showed last season that he possesses that skill, a perfect solvent to a slow offensive start. Instead of taking away Dunleavy’s assured punch, you can ask a little of D.Jones, who will more than comply.

Not to mention, it was the exact role he played in Denver the year they made the Western Conference Finals, and may have beaten the Lakers if Trevor Ariza didn’t make Ed Reed jealous. Does D.Jones in the starting lineup equal an Eastern Conference Finals berth?

For the sake of hyperbole...yes. Yes, it does.

Though to be completely sane, of course it won’t, don’t be silly. Jones offers a stout defensive reputation which I’m still trying to figure out is more weighted towards "defense" or "reputation," but think of the advantages here: Jones to start gives a slow offense a scoring punch. Dunleavy can slide into the three in the second unit and Rush can be a sniper at the 2.

Deeper in the rotation, it seems to be a logical sort of step, but doing so takes away the sniper edge Rush gives you, and may (or may not, I’m still not sure) take away some defensive abilities as well. Given Obie’s offensive ideals, Rush standing beyond the three point line is far more useful than Jones taking home a thundering jam with the authority of Zeus, so that’s important to take into consideration, but let’s not leave Jones out in the cold, because he’s played the very role we need him to successfully (don’t want to hear from Hollinger, lalalala!)

I can see the advantages in each of the potential starters, so much so that I’ve successfully convinced myself that it’s a really tough choice because none of the options are particularly engaging. It’d be a little easier if the Pacers were able to pull off that Kobe Bryant trade I tried on NBA 2K11, but alas, I can’t use trade override, and I don’t think Bird can either.

But with what they have, I’d be pleased to see either Rush or Jones take the starts. Both have the experience George lacks, but aren’t a waste of offensive overkill like Dunleavy is. Of course, starting doesn’t mean majority minutes. I don’t expect, nor really want to see lots of minutes from Rush or Jones, but specialties are specialties, and if this starting lineup can produce like they should, they seem like the most useful.

So gather around the roulette wheel, spin it, and…take Brandon Rush as the Pacers starter for the 2010-11 regular season. Though doubtful, maybe the first five games are perfect opportunities to see how Dahntay Jones looks. It’d be a lot more fun than wasting it on Dunleavy. It’s possible we could not be in misery when the second unit gets drilled into the ground on a 14-2 run with that possibility.