Conrad Brunner

Q. Do you see Jermaine O'Neal's lack of double-figure rebounding as a problem for the rebounding-poor Pacers? It seems that Jermaine has never been quite as good at rebounding as it seems he should. What do you think? (From Paul in Indianapolis)

A. While making a judgment on one preseason game (in which O'Neal had five rebounds in 27 minutes against Minnesota last Thursday) would be wildly premature, it's a reasonable question based on last season. O'Neal's rebounding average of 8.8 was his lowest, by far, of his five seasons with the Pacers and 15th among NBA power forwards. He had averaged 10.1 in the first four, with a previous low of 9.8 in 2000-01. The shoulder injury suffered in March certainly didn't help but neither was it the cause; he played just three regular-season games after that happened, so his average was already well-established. While the Pacers did struggle on the boards last season, ranking near the bottom of the league, that was most likely an aberration; when at relative full strength the year before, they were among the top rebounding teams in he league (ranking sixth in the league in overall rebound percentage). To be sure, the team needs O'Neal to fully exploits his primary strengths low-post scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking to the fullest extent of his abilities. Maybe being forced to play center for awhile will turn out to be a good thing for the team and O'Neal, because he is at his absolute best when he's working the lane and not drifting on the perimeter.