Defense, of all things, keys Rush’s rise
By Conrad Brunner | Jan. 17, 2008 When Kareem Rush was considering signing a free agent contract with the Pacers this past summer, he met with Coach Jim O'Brien to gauge his prospects for playing time.
"When I sat down with Kareem," O'Brien said, "I told him there was 'an unbelievable opportunity for you to become a key part of this franchise. We aren't bringing you in to come off the bench. If you can earn a starting job by defending, you're going to get it.' "
Though Rush's reputation is built almost exclusively on his long-range shooting ability, defense is precisely why he was promoted when O'Brien opted to go with a small lineup four games ago. Rush showed he hasn't lost his shooter's touch in Wednesday's 125-117 comeback victory over Golden State, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers.
"My main focus is to help the team in any way I can and right now it's primarily on the defensive end," Rush said. "They usually have me matched up against the best perimeter player. If I can add some offense in there that's a benefit. I'm going to try to play hard and try to capitalize on my opportunity.
"It's a good change. I think everybody knows I can score the ball but to be thought of as a defensive player is a positive. I haven't been known for defense throughout my career so it's an added advantage for me to go out there and earn some more minutes on the court."
Rush has averaged 12.3 points on .391 shooting overall but .455 (10-of-21) from the 3-point line in four starts. More revealing is that the Pacers have outscored opponents by 25 points with Rush on the floor in that span; when he's been on the bench, Indiana has been outscored by 23.
"I'll give it from (assistant coach) Dick Harter's perspective," said O'Brien. "He thinks that Kareem has become our best defensive player. He does everything tough, he's hard-nosed, he'll take on Baron Davis or Steve Nash, it doesn't matter. Kareem came here because we told him that we were going to need snipers from outside that shoot the three but the volume of his minutes would depend upon his ability to defend at a level we thought was appropriate. Well, he has exceeded that level defensively to where we can't find him enough minutes. The only time he comes off the court is when he's tired. I need him to be on the court for us."
The evolution into a primary defensive responsibility and the accompanying spot in the lineup has been the latest twist in an unusual season for Rush. A training camp injury set him back and he played sparingly in the first month of the season, playing more than 20 minutes just three times (and scoring in double figures once) in the first 21 games. In the last 19, however, he has become a fixture in the rotation. Rush has played at least 20 minutes in his last 12 appearances and has scored in double figures 12 times in the last 19 games.
"It's been a roller-coaster," Rush said. "I came in here with high expectations but then I got injured but knew eventually my time would come. I stayed patient, continued to work hard in practice and coach gave me an opportunity and I took advantage of it. Now, hopefully I can take advantage of starting."
It's a particularly odd twist that Rush has made more of an impression on the coaching staff with his defense than offense but that doesn't mean he's fallen short as a scorer.
"I think there's been some times he's had some brilliant offensive games," O'Brien said. "I think what you're seeing is a complete player rounding into shape. I think he's playing both ends of the court and that's what you want every player to do."
So Rush is now our premier perimeter defender?