#17 / Guard/Forward / Indiana Pacers
A common trend for the Pacers over the past couple of seasons (besides not making the playoffs, dark winters full of lots of losing, and unnecessarily great Aprils) has been an outbreak of injuries. As many players, both current and no longer on the roster, missed ample time including Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Foster, no player has had an injury linger more than Mike Dunleavy.
Dunleavy was nearly out of basketball after a particularly nasty bone spur in his knee in 2009, which resulted on season ending surgery, and an uncertain timetable for his return. To his credit, he returned early in the 2009-10 season, but his play was far from useful as he floated through games, making minimal impact, posting his worst year as a Pacer.
Fortunately, as the season began to draw to a close, Dunleavy appeared to be rounding back into game form, setting up higher expectations for his 2010-11 campaign. He joined the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, partially due to the suspension of Brandon Rush, other parts involving O’Brien feeling his offense would suit the starting lineup well despite dropping a primarily offensive player into the fourth scoring option.
Mike’s shot struggled to come around, especially from range at the beginning of the year, that is until he came alive with a 7-7 shooting performance in Indiana’s fabled 20-21 third quarter against Denver, where he had 31 points and 6 three pointers, which set him up on a nice streak of good play. In addition to on and off shooting, Dunleavy was big on the defensive glass, averaging 5.5 boards through November, even grabbing his first double double in two and a half years against Oklahoma City.
As the season progressed, Dunleavy would be the on again, off again starter with Rush in hopes of getting the most out of Rush’s defensive abilities to start and Dunleavy’s offensive abilities off the bench, an experiment that saw Indiana go 3-7. Dunleavy was made the primary starter following Jim O’Brien’s dismissal, all while his albatross expiring contract and offensive skill set had his name frequently pop up in trade rumors as the deadline drew near.
That’s why speculation ran at an all time high when Dunleavy was made inactive on Trade Deadline Eve with a sudden and mysterious thumb injury. It seemed like a sure sign of an impending deadline move; that is, until it was made obviously clear that Dunleavy had actually broken his thumb, sidelining him for an undisclosed amount of time.
The deadline drama would swell in spite of Dunleavy, who suffered the team’s only significant injury for the entire season, a win, if such a thing could be considered one. Similar to his recovery following knee surgery, Dunleavy was able to return ahead of schedule five weeks later with plenty of time to get him rounded back into game form for the Pacers’ playoff run.
All signs pointed to a positive push once there from Mike, who played some of his best ball down the stretch. Unfortunately, whether for a lack of experience, a lack of consistency, poor matchups, all of the above, or none of the above, Dunleavy offered the Pacers very little of anything on either side of the court in the postseason. Though his minutes were short, he didn’t do much to earn more than he was given, shooting 35% from the floor, including a woeful 4-8 from the free throw line in Indiana’s Game 4 victory.
For what may have been his final go as a Pacer, it was a fairly low key and slightly sour note to end on, a disappointing finish to a fairly good return to form for Dunleavy.
So how did Duns impress?
As the Pacers worked towards their incredible 20-21 quarter that Dunleavy was one of the biggest parts of, Chris Denari mentioned after Dunleavy’s third shot, "Maybe he’s coming out of his slump." It’s certainly fair enough to assess every stretch of Dunleavy’s play with that simple statement. The whole season seemed to take that tone with Mike.
It seemed he was always coming out of his slump, mostly because it seemed he was slumping so often. Whether or not he actually was, when he was on, you were able to ride him for long stretches, but he certainly caught some frustration on those nights when nothing seemed to fall. Despite that, he still had one of his best shooting seasons at 46% and 40% from three point range.
His movement away from the ball and ability to stick the shot on catch and shoots also helped Indiana tremendously when he could get his shot going. It helped open up numerous things for the team in an offense that seemed to stagnate during the time he missed.
Defensively, there’s never been much to say about Dunleavy that would consider it to be a strong point, an okay point, or even a passable point, as Danny Granger called out his defensive abilities on NBA TV, he had perhaps his best defensive year yet. While his on the ball abilities weren’t much to speak of, he rotated well and played good help defense.
And how did Mike disappoint?
Dunleavy was especially streaky in 2010-11, which more or less mirrored Indiana as a team all season. Where the two separated themselves was in the postseason. Dunleavy shot just 7-20 from the field and 3-11 from three point range. While his role was limited, he didn’t do a terribly effective job providing Indiana any kind of necessary spark outside of his play in Game 2.
Ultimately, everything disappointing about Dunleavy’s season is the same thing that’s been disappointing Pacers fans for years; inconsistency, out of nowhere injuries, sketchy defensive skills. Dunleavy didn’t so much disappoint this year as he did play to his level. It was certainly nothing that hadn’t been seen from Pacers fans over the past four years, and he still managed to post one his best overall seasons with the Pacers.
Well, what’s next for Dunleavy?
Most of the expiring contracts for Indiana have pretty clear writings on the wall in regards to the team’s intention to retain them, but no one’s a bigger mystery than Dunleavy. On one hand, the contract the team had desperately looked to shed for over four years is finally off the books, and it could be seen as a way to continue moving away from the team’s past stretch of futility. At the same time, in a reduced role, Dunleavy could still be a key piece to Indiana’s bench, one that certainly can’t afford to be choosy at the moment when it comes to players that can score the basketball.
But even if it’s a little unclear right now, Indiana’s direction on Draft Night will clarify absolutely everything regarding the future of Mike Dunleavy in Indiana.