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Pacers 2009-10 Player Review: Brandon Rush

Brandon Rush

#25 / Guard / Indiana Pacers

It seemed like things finally clicked when Brandon Rush dropped 29 points in back-to-back games during a twelve game stretch where he averaged 17.4 PPG and 5.2 RPG in helping the Pacers close out their 2008-09 campaign on an 8-4 run. So of course, expectations were high following the rookie’s often perplexing season. For all the talent he had, he just didn’t seem too focused in putting it together.  After all, before that 12-game stretch of "he can do this!" play, Rush had a rookie average of 6.3 PPG and 2.7 RPG. Not exactly glowing for a guy who had just a year earlier been a catalyst to his team’s National Championship run.

Things didn't seem much better as November rolled around. Rush offered a slow start to the 2009-10 season, and then, well, an even slower start to the 2009-10 season. At some point, I think we all just resigned our fate to Rush's value as an NBA player and just painfully accepted it. The guy who had been described as an "enigma within an enigma" spent the first month of his sophomore year shooting 35% from the floor and 53% from the line. He had productive games, and then seemed to take nights off. Sometimes he could find motivation to take 10-15 shots, other times he would turn around and give you two shot attempts.

It’d be nice to say things got better in December, but they didn’t. It’d be nice to say Rush started finding consistent production in January, but he didn’t. It’d be nice if Rush finally showed up in February, but he didn’t. What three quarters of Brandon Rush’s second year in the NBA provided was an eight game stretch at the end of January where he scored in double figures all eight games, as the Pacers went 4-4 in the particularly dark winter months. That's exactly the sort of thing you look for in your lottery drafted all purpose guard.

Rush remained healthy, however, likely from lack of pushing himself, and was one of the few Pacers who found consistent playing time all season. When Rush would hit a considerable rough patch, Jim O’Brien couldn’t bench him because someone else was going down or performing at a lower level. Rush was the only Pacer to play in all 82 games, making one wonder how it took him so long to get his game going.

Brandon finally woke up from his hibernation as March Madness rolled around, giving fans a déjà vu performance of his 08-09 spring debut, scoring in double figures in 15 of his final 23 games, to help once again boost his generally disappointing statistics in helping the Pacers play themselves out of a high lottery pick for the third straight year. Rush offered some bright spots throughout the season, however, showing a lot of positives on the defensive end (highlighted by being glued to LeBron James in full on Dagger Mode) and being one of the Pacers most feared three point shooters.

So how did Rush impress?

It’s hard to really say. The eye test approves of Rush as a defensive player. While the team's defensive effort was up as a whole in the 09-10 season, Rush’s defensive play at times was the best on the team. Personally, I’d go as far to say that he was the team’s best overall defender this past season, even though advanced statistics don’t tell a similar story. While Rush is far too talented to simply focus on the defensive end, becoming a lockdown defender could get him good work in the league for a long time.

The other bright spot for Brandon was his ability behind the arc. Rush hit at least half the threes he took in a game 37 times this past year, really giving the anemic Pacers offense a boost when he was pulling up for the shot, instead of passing out of it. Rush also showcased some offensive flashes towards the end of the year, as he made all six of his drives to the basket in the final two months of the season (you all know I’m kidding…he only had two drives). It’s difficult to really know whether or not Rush’s aggressiveness offensively is anything we can really expect, since his second year was more or less a reflection of his rookie year in most departments offensively.

And how did Rush disappoint?

John Hollinger came out and made it a point to mention that Brandon Rush was on pace to become the worst player in NBA history (according to him) to get as many minutes as he did. Of course, we all know this has more to do with the Pacers lack of floor spacing guards (Mike Dunleavy, where are you?) and the fact Rush was actually available instead of sitting half the season with something broken or torn.

If you take Hollinger’s PER into account, Rush’s 9.6 is abysmal. I don’t put a lot of stock into it, but I know some do, and to be honest, Rush’s statistical production was about as bad as the PER suggests. That isn’t to say Rush didn’t make himself useful at times, he just didn’t make himself useful much of the time. He was a nightmare when he got down for a layup, made most of his plays before the first quarter ended, and he was all too eager to make that one extra pass too many. It all adds up to Brandon being an underwhelming player at this point. His lack of drive to improve takes him from a player who could be one of the best all around players in the NBA to simply being there. Rush seems content to coast on his abilities instead of becoming the player he can be. And that’s what’s so disappointing about him.

Well, what’s next for Rush?

Considering Larry Bird has quietly (or not so quietly) tried to move Brandon to Charlotte each of the last two trade deadlines, it’s kind of hard to know what the future holds for Rush in a Pacers uniform. Given the lack of change in coaching philosophy, and Rush’s generally perplexing Twitter posts, it’s tough to really know what’s going on within The Enigma or more so what to expect from him next season.

With fellow Kansas guard Xavier Henry getting considerations as a potential pick for the Pacers, it’s clear the franchise hasn’t been too pleased with the production of Rush to this point and could be looking in another direction. A recent rumor linking him with the San Antonio Spurs and Tony Parker is just another reason why Brandon’s time as a Pacer could be drawing closer to an end than not.

If he sticks around, however and the Pacers look elsewhere in the draft, expect him to continue to find consistent minutes in the guard spot. What he does with those minutes will be up to him, but we can all hope he either figures it out or ships out. It will be far too difficult to have to watch another four months of anemic Brandon explode once the sun comes out beyond the dreary winter clouds, just in time to push the Pacers into another low lottery selection.