Pacers have nice guys, bad team

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

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 good 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.”



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