#32 / Forward / Indiana Pacers
After trading Troy Murphy in a four-team deal that netted Indiana Darren Collison, the Pacers addressed their biggest area of concern at the point guard position, while simultaneously opening up a hole at the starting PF position. Regardless of one’s opinion on Murphy’s ability to function in extensive minutes on a successful basketball team, he was at least able to hold down the starting job with consistency.
With no new faces coming in to salvage what could potentially be a disaster; Indiana was forced to work within to find their new starting power forward. Tyler Hansbrough was still not up to game speed, Jeff Foster was still fairly questionable with injuries of his own, Solomon Jones would be needed as the backup center, and James Posey isn’t even a power forward.
So the duty fell on Josh McRoberts, an additional piece to the long ancient Brandon Rush/Jerryd Bayless draft night trade in 2008. Despite showing flashes over his first two, limited years in Indiana, the move appeared to reek of desperation. McRoberts immediately became cited as the worst starter in the NBA. Even still, within the franchise, McBobs had a far higher standing. The story was that he had earned the starting spot in a much improved display, and it made sense; after all, with McRoberts as the fifth scoring option in an offensive minded starting lineup, he needed to simply be a clean-up player who complimented Roy Hibbert.
Even Jim O’Brien was on board, citing that exact type of play from Josh was what the team would be looking for. The positives of McRoberts were immediate. He not only looked much improved, but played solid basketball on both ends, even showcasing a deceptively sublime offensive game with an equally deceptive three point game.
As the season progressed, McRoberts held down the starting spot well, even as the team fell into their slump following their solid November. As Hibbert’s struggles grew, O’Brien’s tune on McRoberts changed. Suddenly the player who wasn’t expected to score wasn’t scoring enough points (despite averaging close to 7 points per game) and would be taken out of the rotation completely.
The move, in O’Brien’s perspective, was made to give Indiana a small ball lineup that would work Paul George into a playing role as pressure to also play Tyler Hansbrough grew within the organization. Unfortunately, the move to pull McRoberts, seemed perplexing as Josh couldn’t have possibly done a less effective job down the stretch on Amar’e Stoudemire in the team’s disheartening loss to the Knicks than James Posey did.
In fact, of all of O’Brien’s moves throughout January that made no sense, McRoberts move from the starting lineup to outside of the rotation topped them all. It seemed that unless McRoberts was being saved for a trade, to bench talent because of veteran favoritism may have made the Pacers the most dysfunctional and worst run franchise in the NBA.
It all came to a boiling point on what would be O’Brien’s final night as coach, with a begrudged return to the rotation, McRoberts scored 13 third quarter points against the Chicago Bulls which put him at a career high 20 for the night, was everything that kept the Pacers within striking distance of the Bulls. Suddenly, out of nowhere, McRoberts didn’t see any fourth quarter minutes until the game was well out of reach, leading anti-O’Brien sentiments to an all-time high before he was dismissed two days later.
Following the O’Brien dismissal, the calming rotation and steady playing time helped Josh play some of his best ball of the year as the trade deadline drew near. At the deadline, McRoberts was traded to Memphis in exchange for O.J. Mayo, that is, until he wasn’t. While it was certainly no curse to be "stuck’ with Josh, the talent upgrade Indiana could have benefited from was undeniable, even if other aspects of Mayo were not.
The Pacers ultimately opted to move McRoberts to the bench in favor of Hansbrough, which helped the team, as well as McRoberts, who had a number of quality games down the stretch. His positive play, including high energy hustle plays led some Pacers fans to believe the team was better off keeping McRoberts, which helped trend a positive feeling as the season drew to a close and the postseason began.
When there, however, Josh was not the player he had been at any positive point in the season. The player who had shot a team high .547 from the field shot a perplexing .333 instead. His rebounds were down, his effectiveness was down, and getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar in Game 5 that saw him get ejected for heated play with Joakim Noah. In the end, his uninspiring postseason series really put a damper on a very solid year of growth from McRoberts.
So how did Josh impress?
There’s no denying McRoberts brought a lot of positive things to the Pacers this season. Quality shot selection (his .547 FG% is the highest for any single Pacers since Jeff Foster in 2007-08), great energy, some of the team’s best athleticism, the dunk contest quality jams and subsequent snub (even if the dunk contest was rigged). His offensive game was deceptive on a lot of nights especially given his ability to score in bunches.
His defensive abilities predicate largely on whom you ask and what situations are brought up, but regardless, he was adept to showcasing some solid defensive plays from time to time, and was good at defensive rotation. That is to say, there were some stretches of great defense from McRoberts. His athleticism and hustle helped to create a lot of advantages, but his own shortcomings limited him as well.
And how did McRoberts disappoint?
In addition to being the "worst starter in the league" at the beginning of the season, and a "filthy, dirty thug" during the Pacers/Bulls playoff series, it somewhat seems Josh’s negatives lie mostly in what he isn’t. With Foster aging, finding a suitable replacement would be great. It seemed in his short play over the past couple of years that McRoberts could be that kind of player; a Jeff Foster with more offensive touch.
But in his first truly full season, that comparison lost all of its air. McRoberts isn’t much of an accomplished rebounder, especially on the offensive end, where the Pacers were killed when pairing Roy Hibbert and McRoberts in the starting lineup. McRoberts also lacked the calm poise necessary to be a quality enforcer, though he’s still, surprisingly, just 24 years old.
Well, what’s next for McBobs?
The Carmel native will be seeking his first real NBA contract this summer, where that will be is anyone’s guess. The Pacers have plenty of options with McRoberts; sign him, let him walk, open up the possibilities of a sign and trade. The most interesting thing about the Pacers postseason series with Chicago was seeing what players performed well. Inexperience was no excuse for any of them, and some came up where others did not. The poor play of McRoberts in the postseason could limit interest within the trade market, but could make him more available for Indiana.
The team will certainly need to deeply look into what McRoberts brings the team. They need talent upgrade, but Josh is certainly one of the most athletic players on the team. They will be looking at a severely depleted and brand new front court, stability could be nice. Market value should and likely will determine Josh’s employer for next season, and while I for one wouldn’t mind seeing him back, I also don’t think he should be a terribly high on the priority list unless the team fits in talent that he is compatible with. It’s disappointing to think we may be without Josh’s thunderjams next season, but it may prove to be a necessary sacrifice.