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Christmas Break Evaluations

Though as hard as it may seem, the Indiana Pacers have taken in a third of their season. Though the blue and gold aren’t close to wanting to be finished, the 82-game grind reaches that milestone. Through those 27 games, the Pacers sit at 13-14, their best record at this point since the team was at 14-13 three years ago. This year feels a little different from that year, since this year’s team hasn’t had the same slip ups against weaker opponents. To the tune of 7-1 against Eastern Conference non-playoff teams, the 2007-08 team had already blown games to the 60-loss Clippers, Timberwolves, and Supersonics. So in that sense, it feels like things are a little better as the worst team the Pacers have lost to this year are the suddenly resurgent 76ers.

To commemorate the regular season reaching this mark, I wanted to look at the positives and negatives everyone has brought this season, in hopes of seeing the positives continue and the negatives slowly worked out. Of course, all can’t be good, but this team, when playing at their best, can beat anyone in the league. There’s just not a lot of room for error when it comes to their best vs. their not-so-best. So I wanted to quickly recap everyone’s stretch of the season so far.

Jim O’Brien

Positives: Driving team to quality defensive effort
Negatives: Rotations, can be a bit blunt with his players

It’d be foolish to suggest the team has been winning in spite of O’Brien, but at times, it makes you wonder. There are players on this roster who thrive in O’Brien’s system, Mike Dunleavy for one, James Posey as another. He’s gotten the team to play very good defense, a huge step up from previous seasons, but he still remains an enigma on the rotation front. As a whole, his rotations have been stable, but haven’t been open enough to give his roster a look when things might not be going their best. He showed some progress in this regard when he substituted A.J. Price in to give the Atlanta Hawks a different look recently. Hopefully, this can happen more in the future. He’s also a bit harsh with his guys, no problem with tough love coaching, but his wording of matters seems to be a bit unnecessary. I’m not in love with O’Brien’s coaching this season, but he still gets an effort from his guys despite all the negatives we fans feel.

Danny Granger

Positives: Defense, all around effort
Negatives: Poor shooting as of late; gets lost in games too often

Granger’s game this season has been a pleasant surprise given his struggles last season, but has taken an ugly turn in the month of December. Granger’s scoring average shouldn’t be reflective of his season; he’s got more weapons around him that can score more efficiently, but his recent rough patch in shooting has dragged his percentage down to career lows, a rather perplexing matter, given the overall impact his game has had. His defensive abilities were a bit overstated to start the season, but this could’ve been a byproduct of his defensive reputation, which was always understated. Granger’s play of late has been discerning, but a hot streak puts him back into a favorable position.

Roy Hibbert

Positives: Drastically improved, a true post player, a force when he is playing well
Negatives: Gets easily frustrated, trouble timing post moves, awful stretches of poor play

Roy’s year has been a growing one. Though he’s drastically improved, he plays like a superhero that’s learning to control his powers. He played exceptionally well to begin the year, but has really struggled of late. His shooting for an interior player is discernibly low, often the result of indecisiveness in the post. He doesn’t appear to use his height enough and allows other players to push him around instead of instilling his force. Roy is learning a whole new game with his new powers, but when he plays well, there’s no doubt he’s the league’s most improved, and has shown his ability to alter opposing offenses on his presence alone.

Darren Collison

Positives: Speed, unstoppable in pick and rolls, improved decision making
Negatives: Struggling defense, doesn’t fit into system

Collison has been downright average this season. He’s been a pretty disappointing show on the defensive end, and hasn’t had the chance to run the offense to his abilities. I don’t think this grade reflects the player Collison can or will become, but I do think it reflects the system he doesn’t fit quite into. Last season’s starter numbers in New Orleans were very real, and he can perform to that level, but he doesn’t look so effective in this offense, averaging just 13.4 PPG and 4.1 AST.

Josh McRoberts

Positives: Explosiveness, defense, hustle play
Negatives: Limited as a starter, gets bullied, still earning his ways

While McRoberts has been a calming effect on the erratic starting lineups of years past, his play has reached some deep valleys over the course of the first part of the season. Despite his athleticism, McRoberts is a limited player. I don’t know he ever becomes a fleshed out player, but age is certainly on his side. He works best when he’s altering shots defensively, rebounding, and waking up a crowd with a thunderous jam, but he’s struggled lately playing the interior grunt work, both of his own and of the system’s fault.

Mike Dunleavy

Positives: Good offensive awareness, active defense
Negatives: Some streaky play, overall defense

Dunleavy has rounded back into form since his surgery, and his addition to the team is nothing but advantageous. Dunleavy is best when making his defender work on the offensive end, as he can hit a shot from anywhere on the floor. He’s been a bit streaky, but still boasts the best true shooting percentage on the team. His defense has been active this season; though still weak by league standards, has been the best of his career. His play as the season progresses could be the difference between postseason or bust.

Brandon Rush

Positives: Active on both sides of the ball, willingness to be involved in offense
Negatives: Can still be removed from games

I’m not sure if it’s fair to say Rush has been the most improved player on the team. After all, Hibbert is a whole new player, but Rush…Rush is playing at a surprising level. Through two seasons, we weren’t sure it would ever click with Rush, who had shown flashes of brilliance, but his play this season has to be the least expected outcome for the player who seems to have finally matured into the lottery level talent he was drafted to be. The rest of the season will be a big sign to what kind of a role he’ll have as the team moves forward.

T.J. Ford

Positives: Leadership abilities, willingness to accept role
Negatives: Decision making at times

Ford has been a pleasant surprise this season given his erratic play from last season. While he’s posting career low scoring numbers, he’s doing so within the realm of his role with the team. His shooting numbers are among career worst as well, but he’s not afraid to take a stagnant offense into his hands. He’s taken the task of tutoring A.J. Price and Darren Collison, realizing his acceptance of his role doesn’t mean he can’t use it to get himself a better position within the team. His defense has large in part been a positive, but he still finds himself in a bad place during possessions. He has a nasty tendency to try and make plays that aren’t there, a habit that wasn’t there at the beginning of the year, but has popped up recently since he’s been more of a focus in the rotation.

James Posey

Positives: Knows role, usefulness in veteran leadership, awareness at all times
Negatives: Doesn’t have a position he fits leading to defensive liability, struggles on the court when not hitting shot

I’m a larger proponent of Posey’s abilities on the floor than most, but his value is pretty well pigeonholed. His abilities defensively aren’t noteworthy, but he doesn’t quit, and sets himself up in great position seemingly every trip down the floor to pick up the charge. He’s been unrivaled in this skill, and helped push other guys to step up their game as well in this area. Offensively, he limits himself mostly to three pointers, a skill that can make him most valuable player one night, and completely worthless another. I want to see him get his minutes, but I also want Jim O’Brien to be more open to going away from him if he’s struggling, but I am all for Posey getting his time, even if the team is 4-9 when he plays more than 20 minutes.

Solomon Jones

Positives: Proving to be a capable backup, some highly relevant stretches of good play
Negatives: When he’s overmatched, he’s fairly overmatched; not prone to dreadful stretches

Solo has been one of the bigger surprises thus far in the first part of the season. After a questionable summer, Jones has come through in recent games to become a suitable backup, almost to the point where we’ve been interested to see him take the floor. Solo’s decision making has improved drastically as the season has progressed, learning his place in the offense and working on the defensive end. He’s likely to be on and off all season, but given his forgettable play last season, it’s a huge step in the positive direction.

Tyler Hansbrough

Positives: Has been a nice pick-me-up for the team’s immediate struggles; just knows how to win, baby
Negatives: Looks more lost on offense and defense than would like, though hard to say whether it’s him or the system forcing him out of his element

Hansbrough’s minutes have been very sporadic; his play has seen a similar tilt. Largely, his impact hasn’t been felt in the box score, but it’d be foolish to write off his play as poor. As a whole, it’s been a disappointing campaign from Hansbrough’s first full season because of the minutes and up and down performance, but he can still be a factor on both sides of the floor. His .148 win share per 48 minutes is top on the team for anyone who’s played over ten games. It’s hard to tell if these numbers hold up in extended minutes, but as Posey in extended minutes has the team at a losing record, the Pacers are 5-0 when Tyler gets 20 minutes of floor time, even if that’s moderately skewed since four of those fives games were blowouts Hansbrough got time in.

Elsewhere on the roster, given the limited action of the rest of the team, Jeff Foster has looked like the valuable Jeff Foster we’ve missed the past couple of years when he’s gotten floor time, but limited action for him would be best. He needs to be held for times when he will be needed. He’ll be most valuable to be used sparingly preparing for a playoff run than nightly.

Paul George’s time has been nonexistent, but it’s hard to fault Jim O’Brien too much. The rook is behind three of the team’s most effective players, he just doesn’t have a role right now. But he showed great athleticism on the defensive end, and needs to find his own shot. The kid can be very good. Dahntay Jones is proving to be a poor fit for this wing heavy team, given his complete lack of floor time, and A.J. Price can still provide instant offense off the bench when given the opportunity.

I think we have reason to be pleased, but there’s still a lot of room to grow, because every player on this team is harboring a nasty downside to their play this year. No one has played at a high enough level over the course of these 27 games to make anything a given, but they play well as a team, and have responded tremendously to losses this season. Now if only they can get a nice winning streak or two going and stay ahead in the playoff picture. How have you felt about everyone so far?