GRANGER, HARRISON STARTED LAST 5
Young Players Developing Under Fire
By Conrad Brunner | Jan. 10, 2006
Silver linings are sometimes hard to see, when your team is going through another frustrating year as the victim of circumstances beyond its control. But there is some substantial good news for the Pacers, borne of those very same circumstances.
The team's nucleus of youth has been put on the developmental fast track and, despite some wobbles, has handle the accelerated responsibility.
Danny Granger and David Harrison, the team's last two first-round picks, both started the last five games together and fared well. Granger averaged 12.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals while shooting 48.8 percent at small forward. Harrison moved in at center and averaged 16.6 minutes, 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 51.7 percent.
Add 2002 first-round pick Fred Jones to the mix and the Pacers have a strong wave of young talent in the pipeline. After a slow start, Jones has come on strong of late, averaging 15.7 points and 3.7 assists while shooting 47.6 percent off the bench in the last seven games.
"All three of these guys have worked very hard to get ready for this kind of opportunity and they're doing a good job with it," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "There's going to be some inconsistency, especially with rookies like Danny, and a guy like David that didn't play that much last year although he had some periods where he got extended minutes. But the only way they get better is to get out there. We're pleased they've worked hard to get into this position."
This season wasn't supposed to be about developing youth, but injuries and Ron Artest's trade demand have forced a change in priorities, at least temporarily. With the young players all contributing, the Pacers went 2-2 on their final prolonged Western Conference road trip of the season and at 18-14, fifth in the East.
It's not a bad position when considering only one East team has played more than their 18 road games, and none more than their 17 games against the Western Conference. But the schedule doesn't relent quite yet. Beginning Wednesday night against Milwaukee at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pacers play nine games in 14 nights.
And so the young players must continue to produce under pressure, with relatively little practice time to hone any dull edges. The team should be much better at the end of the season because of their trial by fire even if times are somewhat tough while the flames are highest.
"Right now, that's our reality," Carlisle said. "Of course, it's a silver lining to any difficult situation when you have this kind of opportunity that presents itself and guys get a chance to develop.
"I think it certainly is one of the positives that comes out of a tough situation, but going into it this is not what we had in mind. We figured these guys would be able to play some and were talented enough to do some good things but they've been thrust into this whether it's fair to them or not. And now they've got to deal with it."
The team returned healthier, with Jermaine O'Neal back in the starting lineup for the first time in six games in Monday night's 96-90 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles. Austin Croshere could be back after sitting out Monday night's game with a mild concussion sustained when he banged heads with Jeff Foster Sunday in Sacramento.
But all is not quite well. Jamaal Tinsley has missed six in a row with a right biceps injury isn't expected back Wednesday night.
"He continues to show gradual progress," Carlisle said of Tinsley. "We're talking about a partially torn muscle in his shooting elbow, so it's going to take a while longer but he is better. He's working out but he has not practiced with the team yet and it's going to be hard to get him practice reps in the next 10-15 days because of the schedule, but we'll have to figure it out and find a way to get him ready." NOTES: Jeff Foster has averaged 10.5 rebounds in the last six games. … Sarunas Jasikevicius has averaged 11.2 points while shooting .417 from the arc but .371 overall in the last five. … Anthony Johnson has gone 4-of-24 from the 3-point line in the last 10. … The team has shot 24.1 percent from the arc in its last 11 losses and 44.7 percent in its last 11 victories. … The bench has averaged 37.8 points in the last six games.