Pacers have nice guys, bad team

GAME TIME: Grizzlies 107, Pacers 94

It took Larry Bird a

few years to get rid of the Pacers’ “bad” guys

— Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington. Jamaal Tinsley, and Ron

Artest. Presumably the roster is now stocked only with

“good” guys.

But just how good are the members of this latest edition of

the Pacers?

Mike Dunleavy is a terrific one-on-none shooter

with excellent range. He also moves extremely well without the

ball, particularly on backdoor cuts after being presented with back

screens.

But his defense is still awful. Indeed, the Grizzlies went at

Dunleavy at every opportunity — in the low post and on wing

isos. Because he lacks strength, Dunleavy has to give ground on

defense and must rely on help being sent his way ASAP.

Dunleavy is

good enough to be a valuable sixth man on a better

team than Indiana.

Troy Murphy is a less than adequate defender with

poor lateral movement. He was late on several rotations, was easily

lifted by fakes, and was abused by Zach Randolph. To compensate for

his paltry defense, Murphy has to rebound (he did pull down eight

of these) and, most importantly, hit his perimeter shots. His 3-12

shooting performance in Memphis made him a liability at both ends

of the floor.

Because of his limited athleticism, Murphy would also best

be employed as a

fairly good player off the bench.

T. J. Ford is a scorer not-so-cleverly disguised

as a point guard. He took 13 shots in 23 minutes, while recording

three assists — but all of his assists came on

drives-and-kick-outs. The point being that he usually looks for his

shot, and passes only when he can’t see the basket well

enough to put one up. He did hustle on defense but was thoroughly

outplayed by Mike Conley.

Ford would do

good work as a backup playing about 15 minutes per

game — a role that he has always resisted.

Roy Hibbert is a foul waiting to happen.

Otherwise, he has no defensive presence whatsoever. He did convert

a clumsy, but effective lunging layup from the left box, and

managed to stuff home a cookie-pass from Earl Watson. Hibbert moves

as stiffly as a man on stilts, and handles the ball as though it

was twice as big as it really is.

Hibbert is definitely

no good as a starter, and at best should be the

fifth big in a four-man rotation.

Brandon Rush has talent to spare — as

evidenced by a sensational put-back and also by an even more

sensational spin and pull-up jumper in the lane. However, like

Murphy, Rush must hit his jumpers to justify his court time.

Overall, Rush was only 3-10, but even worse, was 1-6 from the

perimeter.

Since he’s only a second-year player, Rush is

good enough to warrant his apprenticeship being

extended through the 2010-11 season.

Dahntay Jones is the team’s best defender

— strong, forceful, and blessed with quick reflexes. On one

second-quarter play, Jones was guarding O. J. Mayo, and after

battling his way through multiple screens still managed to be in

position to draw a charge on Mayo. Jones can also drop open jumpers

and power his way to the rim. All he lacks is sufficient vision to

be comfortable in a team-oriented offense.

Even so, Jones is

plenty good.

Earl Watson did a much better job of running the

offense than did Ford. Watson is also stronger and is finishing

much better than he ever did before. Sometimes, however, he tries

to do too much with the ball and is out of control, e.g., the

third-quarter floater he was forced to airmail in heavy traffic.

Watson’s strength was evident in the eight rebounds he

snared. He plays earnest defense on the ball and also plays the

passing lanes.

Watson is a

very goo

d backup, a tough, aggressive player who can

change the tempo of a ball game.

Jeff Foster makes up for his lack of mass by

playing smart, quick-handed defense, and using his sticky hands and

exquisite timing to clean the glass. His defensive rotations are

also well-timed. Too bad a chronically painful back has limited his

mobility.

Foster is not

nearly as good as he once was and, as his 33rd

birthday rapidly approaches, this season may indeed be his last.

Solomon Jones is physically weak, is routinely out

of position on defense, and demonstrated his profound

ineffectiveness when he found himself alone with the ball under the

basket and shot a self-induced air-ball.

Solomon is

no good and, in fact, just might be the worst big

man in the league.

Tyler Hansbrough, of course, was Indiana’s

No. 1 draft pick last June, and has been universally celebrated as

being an All-American good guy. His numbers in the game at hand

were interesting — 4-13, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and

14 points in 23 minutes. But his total performance was erratic.

The rookie made a couple of nifty moves in the low post

— a tight spin for a layup, and then a 3-point play after a

triple-fake finally got Randolph airborne. But, on a fourth-quarter

sequence, Hansbrough also had two interior shots blocked by

Randolph in quick succession. Still, Hanbrough seemed to be much

more comfortable playing in the vicinity of the hoop than he was on

the perimeter. He set a solid screen on a handoff, but was also

slow to get himself in the proper position to set several weak-side

screens.

He delivered one clever assist pass to a dive-cutting

teammate (his other assist came when Dunleavy received the ball and

buried a jumper), but was generally a mite too slow in deciding

what to do with the ball when facing the basket.

Hansbrough attempted (and missed) a total of six mid-range

jumpers — three bounced off the front rim, one caromed off

the heel of the rim, and one was an air-ball. No wonder the young

man is only shooting 37.8 percent.

Hansbrough’s initial defensive stance was wide and

strong, and he showed good anticipation along with quick hands. But

his relatively slow lateral movement made him extremely vulnerable

to spins. Although he did manage to snatch a dribble away from

Randolph, the veteran big man had his way with the rook.

Hansbrough is indeed a rookie: On one play he tried fronting

Randolph, but they were both too far from the basket for this

tactic to be successful — an easy lob pass led to an

unopposed layup.

It’s quite understandable that Hansbrough is more

effective on offense — because his teammates’ moves are

familiar to him and he can easily react to the overall choreography

of whatever play is called. But his lack of quickness is a

detriment on defense, where he necessarily has to be more reactive

than proactive.

To his credit, the youngster never stopped hustling. This

admirable quality, along with his evident intelligence will

eventually combine to make Hansbrough a

fairly good role player.

Conspicuously missing from the active list is

Danny Granger, the Pacers’ ace point-maker. Even

with Granger in uniform, though, Indiana sorely lacks someone who

can create his own scoring opportunities. They also are in dire

need of a shot-blocker, and a pivotal scorer who must be

double-teamed.

However, since the lower realm of the Eastern Conference is

so

bad, the Pacers just might be

barely good enough to sneak into the eighth

playoff slot.

STRAIGHT SHOOTING

In honor of Kobe’s most recent buzzer-beating winners,

here’s a list of the best current and all-time clutch

shooters.

Jerry West certainly qualifies — although he largely

fashioned his reputation as Mr. Clutch by scoring big numbers (from

30.8 ppg in 1968 to 40.6 ppg in 1965) while his Lakers repeatedly

failed to win championships. In fact, when they did finally succeed

in 1972, West had the worst playoff outings in his career —

scoring a “mere” 22.9 and shooting only 37.6 percent.

That’s why many of his peers believe that West was not the

dominating force in the clutch as he was — and still is

— reputed to be.

Reggie Miller’s rep as a wondrous clutch shooter is

likewise inflated simply because many of his heroics occurred

against the Knicks.

Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were legitimate

top-of-the-list closers. As were Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, John

Havlick, Sam Jones, George Mikan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit,

Oscar Robertson, James Worthy, Robert Horry and, of course, the

incomparable Michael Jordan.

Among today’s players, the qualifiers include Ray

Allen, Chauncey Billups, Tim Duncan, Michael Finley, Derek Fisher,

Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Jameer

Nelson, Paul Pierce and the almost equally incomparable Kobe

Bryant.

Overall, the three most reliable clutch shooters in NBA

history are (in alphabetical order) Bird, Bryant and Jordan.

VOX POPULI

David Stern says women could play in the NBA within 10

years. I say it’ll never happen due to the extreme physical

differences. What’s your take? –

Neil Perry, La Mirada, CA

For sure, a woman could possess the necessary quickness,

speed, court vision, work ethic and basketball IQ — as well

as being tall enough to play either of the backcourt positions. But

it’s hard to imagine she would have the strength, muscle mass

and hops to compete with resident NBAers.

An even more insurmountable problem would be the size of her

hands. Not nearly big enough to palm and easily handle a

men’s basketball.

Several years ago, Carol Blazejowski was undoubtedly the

best woman’s hooper in the known universe, and much was made

of her playing with a team in the summertime USBL. In private, her

all-male teammates were unanimous in believing that — except

for hitting an occasional 3-pointer — Blazejowski would

routinely get humiliated in practice sessions and was on the roster

strictly as a publicity ploy.

It’s impossible that Stern truly believes his public

statement in this regard. He’s just being politically

correct.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

Saul Kent is a self-proclaimed futurist and author of The

Life-Extension Revolution. For many years he was a fixture on the

various basketball courts in Woodstock, NY.

Here is his testimony:

“My short-range goal is to live forever in paradise,

which is not necessarily a specific location. It’s more like

the option to do whatever you want, whenever and wherever you want.

It’s freedom without any limitations. My philosophy is the

direct opposite of what Red Holzman preached when he coached the

Knicks. Holzman said that he always concentrated on the possible

and he never worried about the impossible. But I worry only about

the impossible.

“Right now I only have three problems in my life.

Number one — growing old and dying. Number two — I hate

gravity. Gravity is a very strict limitation and it’s very

hard to escape it. You could lessen the effects by submerging

yourself in water, but who wants to be in water all the time? And

the third problem is that I can only be in one place at one time.

“One of my favorite places to be, however, is playing

basketball somewhere in Woodstock. I’ve played basketball in

at least 35 states and several foreign countries. I’m only

6’1″, and a natural center, so I tried to get a game together in

Japan. I figured I could dominate. But when I was there nobody

played hoops in Japan.

“They do play in Russia, and when I was in Moscow I

asked the In-Tourist Bureau about playing in some local game, but

they didn’t know how to handle my request. A lot of guys in

Woodstock don’t have normal jobs so there’s usually a

game going on somewhere. The regulars have sufficient skills for

the games to be challenging, and they’re laid back enough to

preserve what’s left of my sanity.

“In New York City, most players are more concerned

with winning arguments than with winning ballgames. They’re

always looking for an edge. There are still arguments during the

games in Woodstock, but they’re more eccentric and more

quaint. For example, there’s one guy who always claims

he’s being fouled in the act of shooting before he gets the

ball.

“My goal is to be the oldest active basketball player

in the history of the planet. In the future, I hope to dunk. In 25

years there’ll be an NBA franchise at L-5, a space settlement

equidistant between the moon and Woodstock. Aliens will be let into

the league, unless they have a considerable advantage like being

15-feet tall and having 10 arms. The NBA will become the new CBA,

the Cosmic Basketball Association.

“And I have two mottos that govern my life… If

at first you don’t succeed, you’ll never get to second.

… And this one … Give me immortality or give me

death.”