Dunleavy believes best is still to come
He wants to expand on breakout season
By Mike Wells
Posted: October 2, 2008
Indiana Pacers swingman Mike Dunleavy played and looked like a free man last season.
He no longer had to deal with the constant criticism that marked his first 41/2 seasons with Golden State. A clear mental state and an offense geared around his skills allowed Dunleavy to average a career-high 19.1 points and quiet those who saw him as a spot-up shooter and draft bust.
So what's next for the former No. 3 overall pick?
"If I can get better in my sixth year in the league, I can get better in my seventh," he said. ". . . I had a lot of pent-up aggression (last season) and frustration and I never really expected it to take that long, that many years, to figure things out. I think I can play in a lot of systems, but I think it helped completely getting away from that mess (in Golden State)."
Dunleavy's offensive breakthrough -- he averaged five more points than his previous best season and shot a career-high 42 percent on 3-pointers -- didn't surprise Pacers coach Jim O'Brien, who said he structured some of the offense to take advantage of Dunleavy's all-around ability.
"Michael is a basketball player and Michael needs to play basketball," O'Brien said. "Playing basketball is moving, passing, handling it, being a playmaker. If the only thing you're going to do is spot up, he's never going to have his potential reached. Here, we almost created it because of his skill set because he's so good at moving."
Dunleavy made enough of an impression on Larry Bird that the Pacers president said, "Whatever you did last summer, you should do it again," during their end-of-the-season meeting.
That wasn't good enough for Dunleavy. He knows if he expects to finally play on a playoff team, it's going to take more than knocking down an open 3-pointer or filling the lane on fast breaks.
O'Brien already has said he wants Dunleavy to become a better leader and improve his defense.
Dunleavy took about three weeks off right after the season, then another couple of weeks in late June to get married. He spent the rest of the time working on parts of his game he routinely fine-tunes -- countless jump shots, fundamental pump-fakes and drives to the basket -- and put extra emphasis on his defense
"I put a lot of work into it," Dunleavy said. "The biggest thing I wanted to improve on was my quickness and things like that. Being 6-9, 6-10 and having to chase these little guys around, it's something I have to get better at and improve on."
While working out in California and New York with teammate Troy Murphy, Dunleavy developed tendinitis in his right knee. It's still sore and forced him to watch the first two days of practice from the sideline. It's possible he could practice today
O'Brien said a player can't "dramatically" improve his lateral quickness. However, players can become better defenders by making sure their "technique is flawless, from his body position, to the angle of his feet."
"There's nobody better on the team from a standpoint of understanding where he needs to be," O'Brien said of Dunleavy. "He's not going to be Kobe Bryant from the standpoint of containing the basketball, but there are ways -- little tricks -- that can be taught to players about how to improve and contain the ball."
Dunleavy's offensive numbers might not grow this season; the Pacers are expected to have more capable scorers than they did last season. But if he can improve on defense, he'll be able to distance himself further from the mess that was Golden State.
"It's great to see what's happened to him," said Murphy, his teammate since 2002-03. "He really had a tough go with some of the criticism out there in Golden State that was unwarranted. He worked his butt off (during the summer) and he's in great shape. He's going to get over this little hiccup (knee) he has and he'll be fine."