Like most Pacers fans, I’ve been following this team’s moves over the summer, particularly their draft picks and the recent 4-team trade (KUDOS TO LARRY BIRD & JIM MORWAY, BTW!), as well as, reading some of the threads that discuss player rotations, etc., and a few things stand out with me that I would like to share with the readers. Keep in mind that my opinions are based on how I see the roster as it currently stands, as well as, how I believe the coaching staff can utilize the roster in order to get the maximum usage at each position based on the overall makeup of the team to date. In doing so, I will also provide a position-by-position breakdown of how I see where each player fits and the pros and cons of each. And with that, here we go...
Point Guard: The addition of Collison definite has the "potential" of stabilizing the most important position on the roster. Without question, the Point has been a position in flux for the Pacers since the days of Mark Jackson’s departure. Excluding TJ Ford, the Pacers have had at least six different starting PG’s since - Ollie, Anderson, Anthony, Tinsley, Jack and Watson. I won’t dare mention the many backup PG’s who have come and gone. Needless to say, this team needs a PG who can lead, remain healthy, establishes tenure but most importantly takes pride and ownership of this vital position. The obvious hope is that Collison is the future, as well as the present, for this team at PG. However, his acquisition creates some problems. For starters, you have AJ Price waiting in the wings. I’m sure coming into this season he may have had the impression he would at least be the backup-PG, but his injury may push him as far back as the #4 PG. How can this be? Well, TJ Ford is still a Pacer. Thus, the problem is obvious. Unless he is traded or he finds himself benched again by coach O’Brien, I don’t think Price will see as much playing time as he had hoped coming into the season at least not until he fully recovers from his knee surgery and definitely not before the trade deadline. But Price isn’t the only player who’s time and development from this position may become stalled. Stevenson may also find it difficult to see playing time this year even as a combo Guard. I’ll go into more detail later on why I believe this to be so when I discuss the Shooting/Scoring Guard position. For now, the only way I see the rotation improving at this position is to trade TJ Ford. I do believe, however, that in the interim between Price healing and the trade deadline, we will see Collison and Ford running the Point. Who starts is the bigger question. My money is on Collison only because he gives coach O’Brien more of what he wants from a PG - a passer with good court vision, the ability to defend at the point of attack, and the ability to score along the perimeter. Collison’s ability to probe the defense and make quick decisions above all else makes him the more suitable choice as a starting PG. Nonetheless, we’ll have to wait and see if Ford can finally get his act together plays more up to the style coach wants. Regardless of whether or not Ford complies or not, whether he increases or decrease his trade value, management will make every attempt to trade him or buy him out. Until he’s gone, our two younger up and coming PGs will continue to wait and watch from the sideline.
Shooting Guard: I see this position in as much turmoil as the PG position and here’s why - the acquisition of James Posey. That statement may come as a bit of a surprise for most readers, but there’s a reason why I make this pronouncement. As the roster currently stands, we have Brandon Rush, Paul George, Mike Dunleavy and Lance Stevenson fighting for playing time here. (It should be noted that Dunleavy and Stevenson could see playing time at other positions, SF and PG, respectively. More on the SF position in a moment.) However, as I see the makeup of this roster and based on Brandon Rush’s performance since his acquisition and the overall fluctuations this position has undergone since Reggie Miller retired and Stephen Jackson was traded, I don’t see Brandon Rush as the future SG for this team. My reason for this have been very well documented by the fans and sports analysts alike, as well as coach O’Brien and Bird themselves: Rush hasn’t show the confidence and consistency required of a reliable, starting Shooting Guard. While he does bring a skillset to this position that really haven’t been since in a while, i.e., his ability to drive baseline and get to the rim, his defense, and his ability to play above the rim, he still hasn’t taken ownership of this position. In his defense, I believe a large part of as to why he hasn’t done so is because of how coach O’Brien has "plugged" him into the offense. In my observations, I believe coach wants Rush to become a prototypical catch-n-shoot type of SG. But that’s not exactly Brandon Rush’s game. He’s far more effective if he’s allowed to move with the ball and "react" to what the defense gives him as opposed to relying on designed plays to contribute while on the floor. He can take his man off the dribble and drive the lanes, go base line, step inside for jumpers, or hand outside the arch for the 3, but I think he often times feels he’s been pigeonholed, and that probably makes him feel unsure of his capabilities or perhaps he believes he has more to offer but his abilities are being constrained within this offense. Either way, Brandon Rush hasn’t shown me that "the Rush is on!" And like many Brandon Rush fans, I’ve been waiting to see him break out of his college-confined shell and become an NBA caliber basketball players. The wait continues... As such, I would drastically change the rotation at this position and insert Danny Granger as the starting SG. I know I’ve just received several wide-eyed looks, but there’s a reason for this and once you see my rotation which I will provide later, you will understand why. For now, just know that based on my observation of the players and how the roster currently stands, I believe this shift will have a dramatic improve on team defense and strengthen the team’s ability to attain a 3-pronged offense which is vital to every contending/championship caliber team. Stevenson could also see playing time at SG, but he'd likely fall behind Paul George who is taller, stronger and has performed from this position at a higher collegic level. My assessment as far as the potential for playing time between these two rookies, therefore, is George would see more minutes that Stevenson. But this isn't a knock on Stevenson; it simply means that it's quite possible the coaching staff (O'Brien) may want to hold Stevenson back and see how things shape up at PG and groom either as a Combo Guard. Either way, Stevenson should see more playing time over the next year or two either due to Dunleavy's expiring contract or if a player or two are among the Guards are traded. So, to Stevenson I'd say "be patient; your day will come soon. For now, just soak it all in and learn what you can and work to get better day-by-day."
SmallForward: If Granger is moved to SG or PF as has been suggested by Bird in his recent press conference concerning the acquisition of Collison and Posey, who will start at this position? James Posey, of course! This is where the improved team defense begins to shape up. As a veteran player, James Posey provides the attributes on both sides of the ball this team desperately needs. He’s a smart and savvy player who is patient with the ball and won’t force shots. He’s not known to be a post-up SF, but he does posses this skill. But one thing he will do unlike why Dahntey Jones was brought here for is relief Granger of this defensive assignment along the Wing. This is important if Granger is to continue being the offensive threat, that "Go-To-Guy" every team needs. This is not to say that Danny should slack off in playing stronger defense regardless of what position he plays, i.e., SF, SG or PF, but in shifting him to SG, Danny will no longer be that player who matches up to the opposing team’s best offensive threat. If Posey is to become this team’s new starting SF, who will back him up? Based on experience, players development, defense and overall talent, I believe that job should befall Mike Dunleavy. Yes, another surprise choice, but again there is a reason for this and it’s based moreso on how Dunleavy would fit with the 2nd Unit as you will see when I present my version of the rotation later. But assuming that Dunleavy remains with this team (as he is one of those expiring contracts Bird mentioned in the press conference), he would fit better as the 6th or 7th man moreso than Dahntey or Brandon.
PowerForward: The primary reason this position has been in flux since JO was traded is due to the very reason JO’s productivity dropped prior to his departure - player health, i.e., Hansborough, Foster. Anther aspect that has contributed to the instability from this position has been the youth movement that followed, i.e. Soloman Jones, McRoberts. Suffice it to say, no player has been able to take ownership of the PF position any more than one has been able to make PG or SG their own. But I believe that is about to change. Trading Troy Murphy opens the door for either Tyler Hansborough or Josh McRoberts to step through and take control of the 4-spot! Of the two, I believe McRoberts presently is more poised to do so. Moreover, he’s probably a better fit to play alongside Roy Hibbert than Hansborough because of his speed, rebounding ability and ability to spread the floor alittle more than Hansborough. Of course, Hansborough still has the stigma of his vertigo to get over. So, until he can demonstrate that he is over that ailment, my vote would be to give the starting PF job to McRoberts. He’s a much more athletic players than Hansborough, plays above the rim, has quickness, amazing reach, will hustle for loose balls just like Hansborough and Foster, can rebound, has shown shot blocking ability and has this uncanny ability to constantly stay in motion and get in on plays you wouldn’t expect him to be part of. I love McRobert’s "youthful exuberance"! I just hope the young man doesn’t hurt himself. But as they say in football, "those who are afraid to take a hit usually are the one’s who get hurt!" I believe Josh McRoberts will "wear the helmet" and get out there and do the dirty work a player from the PF position needs to do....things Troy Murphy would not do. McRoberts is a natural big man. He’ll bring back that tough-guy persona that has been missing from this position for the Pacers that hasn’t been seen since the days of the Davis Boys.
Center: I goes without saying Hibbert owns this position. But don’t confuse him taking ownership of it with him dominate from the paint just yet. He’s still young, growing, learning, developing into the kind of skilled, tough minded Center we’ve commonly seen from most well known Centers throughout the history of the NBA. I was never more thrilled to learn that management had brought in Bill Walton to "tutor" Hibbert. I can’t wait to see how he applies what he has learned on the hardwood. But make no mistake - Roy Hibbert is the present and the future Center for this franchise. His backup should be a healthy Jeff Foster, whom we all have come to know, love and admire. Jeff remains one of the most under rated Center/PFs in the league, but he earned much respect when Tim Duncan spoke candidly about him on this issue, as well as, when announcers began to speak highly of his unique rebounding ability. One should NEVER under estimate the importance of 2nd-change shot opportunities, and the Pacers missed that asset once Foster and Hansborough went out last year. Hopefully, both are able to return and remain contributors for this team. You don’t have a more loyal players dedicated to his craft than Jeff Foster. Yet, his presence posses a threat to Magnum "PI" Rolle’s development should management be able to sign him which I pray they will. Should Bird have no choice but to trade Foster to make room for Rolle, it would be a great lose for this team because as I look down the roster there may be one or two players who could be plugged into the backup Center position, i.e., Solo or McRoberts or even Rolle, but none will fill it like Foster can.
Okay, now that I’ve addressed each position it’s time to outline who I believe would best fit as starters/reserves on this team:
PG - Collison/Price/Ford
SG - Granger/George/Stevenson
SF - Posey/Dunleavy/Rush
PF - McRoberts/Hansborough/Solo
C - Hibbert/Foster/Rolle
Notice that Dahntey Jones’ isn’t listed. The reason for this is as I’ve said above. When you really look at the various skills and potential make up of the roster and rotations and consider what each player brings and how they may work best with one another, Dahntey just doesn’t fit. You could plug him in behind Posey, but then you lose the ability to bring in a player who can either score from the perimeter, post up his player or drive the lanes. Yes, Dahntey can do these things but he’s not nearly as consistent with them as Dunleavy, and as such he doesn’t pose as big a threat. Even Brandon Rush, as inconsistent as he has been, can be a bigger threat offensively than Danhtey. Moreover, Rush has shown a greater ability to defend his man over Dahntey. Again, this defensive reduction on Dahntey’s part may stem from his attempt to showcase his offense moreso than his defense last year, but based on the statistics, as well as my own observations of these two players, I believe Dunleavy and Rush would make better fits within the rotation at SF over Dahntey.
Those players in bold are players I believe could be traded by the trade deadline if not sooner. However, I’ve plugged them into the rotation to illustrate how I believe the lineups/rotations should pan out. Of course, this is only this fan’s opinion. Still, if you consider the full range of capabilities each player brings, it’s not difficult to see how man- and team-defense would improve among the starters as listed, as well as how the reserves led by Dunleavy can maintain a high level of continuity particularly on offense, but certainly on defense.
Those players in italics are players I believe would either move up at their relative positions or be shifted elsewhere depending on how and future trades may shape up, i.e., should Ford be traded Stevenson would move from SG to 3rd PG behind Price and Rush could move to 3rd SG behind George or even ahead of him depending on how George performs or, if coach O’Brien preferred and assuming he shifts Granger to starting SG, he could backup Granger whereby Granger could continue to mentor him. Such a rotation would provide the Pacers with something else they haven’t had in over 10 years - skilled "craftsmen" at their respective positions.
For far too long, this team has brought in a hodgepodge of "swing players", guys who could play from multiple positions. However, IMO, what this has done is erode professionals at each position, players who have honed their craft to become skilled post defenders, rebounders, pure shooters, penetrators, passers - the fundamental skills each player playing from their respective positions need in order to perfect their skills to the highest degree possible. To put it simply: Michael Jordan didn’t become the Hall of Fame player his is because he was shifted around from PG to SG to SF throughout his legendary career. He became the master of his craft be playing from one position and one position only throughout his career, and by doing so he perfected his craft. Same can be said of all the great Hall of Famers in NBA history! I believe this team needs to get back to that and it can start this year provided the roster pans out close to as I’ve outlined it above.
Your thoughts are greatly welcomed.