Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: The Indiana Pacers

Today we tackle the Pacers. If there was ever a team so desperate to rediscover itself, it's the Pacers. This is a team steeped in history but that cannot get past one fight in Detroit four years ago. It needs a good ol' fashioned tent revival. And Rob Mahoney is going to give it one.

Projected Record: 40-42 (3rd in the Central, 8th in the East…although they may be 7th with the Wizards’ new injury woes)

Let me start by saying yes, you read that correctly. The Pacers will return to the playoffs this year. I mean, the math is simple: take the Pacers points scored last season (104 per game), add T.J. Ford’s PPG (12.1), Rasho Nesterovic’s PPG (7.8), Jarrett Jack’s PPG (9.9), and Brandon Rush (13.3) and Roy Hibbert’s NCAA PPG (13.4) last season. I’m not so great with the whole numbers deal (come back, Sparks!), but that basically means Indy should outscore their opponents by elevendy billion points per contest.

Math is a science. And it is infallible.

If you’re not into my complicated metrics, there are still plenty of reasons for you to buy into the Pacers return to the post-season. At the end of last season, Indiana sat at the lonely 9th place, just a game behind the Hawks, and the girl who’s just ugly enough to not be allowed into the club. But you know what? She went home, traded that old, tired dress for a flashy new one, put on her trampiest makeup, stuffed her bra, and strutted right back up there. And the bouncer sighed, looked at his clipboard, and said “…Fine.” Is it glamorous? Of course not. But it’s a start, okay?

Look at last year’s team, a squad that won 36 games in spite of practically being without their star player for the entire year. Jermaine came back for a few appearances, but was a ghost of his healthy self, out of shape, and may have actually hurt the team as he tried to shoot his way into a groove. That team featured Travis Diener and Flip Murray as the point guards. Now, swap out Travis Diener and all of those name jokes for quasi-star T.J. Ford, and transform Flip Murray, the inconsistency machine that has no conscience and mails it in on defense, into the steady Jarrett Jack. That alone is a world of improvement.

Granger is apparently some sort of half-robot, half-prophet who’s going to change the game, rise to super-stardom, and possibly kill Sarah Connor. He’s already a near 20-point scorer who can do a bit of everything, and I’m glad that Larry and the Pacers brass understand how valuable he is… except for that whole extension thing. But this is just Granger’s fourth year, and he’s supposedly already been handed the reins to the team. If 19.6 PPG and a PER of 16.7 is the transitional, growing pains period from part-time weapon into THE MAN, you can only imagine where the ceiling exists for this guy (probably somewhere in the mid-to-high Mesosphere, if you’re curious).

But if you want a singular reason why the Pacers may suddenly find themselves in the playoff race, it comes down to interior defense. You know, defense wins fringe playoff appearances, and all that. But manning the middle last season for the Pacers was Jeff Foster and Troy Murphy, who actually did a respectable job. But add two new additions to the mix (Rasho Nesterovic and Roy Hibbert), and all of a sudden Indiana has a pretty formidable front line. Hibbert isn’t ready for any semblance of a full-time gig yet, but does it get much better as a third or fourth option at the toughest position to fill in the league? On top of that, while Rasho seems like a throw-in for the Ford-O’Neal trade, he’s actually quite a gem of a post defender. The Raps found him to be pretty valuable in aiding Chris Bosh last season, and he can play a pivotal role (pun, teehee) for the Pacers in the same way. The burden will ultimately be on the perimeter defenders to raise the Pacers above average on that end, but their jobs become a hell of a lot easier with a group of shot blockers behind them.

The depth the Pacers have on the wings and in the middle is extremely important, both in terms of the rotation and as it also affords the Pacers’ young players plenty of time to develop. Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert, despite being chosen in the lottery, don’t have the weight of a team on their shoulders. The expectations are more tempered, more reasonable. Both have the opportunity to be contributors on this team, and I fully expect them to do so. But knowing that they can work, develop and learn the NBA game, especially for two players who play such a “college ball” style, should help all Pacers fans sleep a bit more easily at night.

The Pacers aren’t poised to upset the giants or cause any huge ruckus. Still, slowly but surely, they’re improving. To reward that improvement they’ll probably get a thrashing at the hands of the East’s elite, but they made it. They made it, man. And no one, I mean no one, can take that away from them.[/melodrama]

IMAGE NATION by Rob Mahoney


After a few dark years of being the bad boys who were not in Detroit (and the bad boys for all of the off-court reasons), things are starting to look up in Indiana. After swapping Jermaine O'Neal with TJ Ford, there is the instant "feel good" story of Ford and his wonky back issues and insane speed. Ford also opens things up for the Pacers to get Jamaal Tinsley the hell out of Indy. For fans, this is a great thing.

After draft day, the Pacers have Brandon Rush and who doesn't want to root for this Rush sibling to shine in the L? Jeff Foster is still around nine years later, and I must say, I am a fan. Couldn't tell you why, but he just seems like a good guy. Along with TJ, the Pacers inherited Maceo Baston ,and the guys who bounce around the NBA as well as Euroleague are the guys you should watch and hope for if you like those "making it" back stories. Along with Rush came Jarrett Jack and since the tourney when he was with Georgia Tech, I've only wanted good things for him. Perhaps in Indy it will all come together.

They've also got Travis Diener, who tried his best to keep things together last season and is apparently quite the prankster in the locker room, and of course, the incomparable Larry Bird overseeing "basketball operations". Anytime a team gives Bird a reason to go on radio or television and give an interview about his thoughts on the league, it is a good thing. For people who want to see if a squad can turn things around, look no further than the Indiana Pacers.


White People. I mean, really, just because you are the most cornbread city in the NBA (well, except for, maybe, OKC) doesn't mean you have to have all those white dudes on your team. They ain't gonna do any better at drawing an audience of NBA Hoosier fans than a team featuring exclusively an awesome Danny Granger and rejuvenated T.J. Ford. There is no harm in having that many white people on your team, except for the fact that you will NOT be good. They aren't even European, for crying out loud. Joe Six Pack doesn't want to see a bunch of guys he could play pick up with at the Y out there trying to contend for a playoff spot. And if he DOES want them out there, then he at least wants a try out and a shot at all that stupid money these honkies are making. Really Indy, get the white out.

Also, Jamal "Batsh*t" Tinsley, the Pacers' prostate cancer.


I swear this is the last country song for our previews. But if you asked me for a song about Indiana that had a foreboding sign about what can happen when you try and start over but don't really, this is the first song I'd come up with. Also, I elected for the infinitely lesser Travis Tritt version over the original Waylon recording because of the hyper-emotional video and the drastically over-produced refrain. Hey, you, Jamaal Tinsley. You may change your mind, 'cause the weeds are high where Corn Don't Grow.


PLAYER TO WATCH: Danny Granger. Granger has essentially become in my mind the John Connor of the NBA. He's completely inexperienced, but is all that's left after a nuclear holocaust to lead mankind against the killer robots. If he learns to go Nova, look out. Don't let this guy go under your radar.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: It's got to be Ford, right? Just from the perspective that they traded the franchise player for him. He's been an injury issue, he's been inconsistent, and if you ask Raptors fans about him, they start spitting and gnashing their teeh like they have 'roid rage. Ford needs to be Good TJ the entire year. If Evil TJ comes out, this team disintegrates.

WORST PLAYER: Not Travis Diener, I'll tell you that! Travis Diener is a Saint! Hmmm... Tinsley's going to be gone sooner than later, his locker's even cleaned out. Stephen Graham? Hmmm?

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