Monday, June 30, 2008

Trades have Pacers poised for improvement

Last year the Indiana Pacers finished with a 36-46 record, one game back of the Atlanta Hawks for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Here was the Pacers main starting lineup:

(Listed stats are '07-'08 averages)

PG: Jamaal Tinsley -- 11.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.7 steals
SG: Mike Dunleavy -- 19.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 steals
SF: Danny Granger -- 19.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.2 steals
PF: Troy Murphy -- 12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.2 apg
C: Jermaine O'Neal -- 13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 2.1 blocks

And these are some of the stats from other players in the Pacers rotation who averaged 15+ minutes off the bench, possibly because of injuries:

C Jeff Foster -- 6.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.7 apg
G Kareem Rush -- 8.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.3 apg
G Ronald Murray -- 11.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.5 apg
G Marquis Daniels -- 8.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
PG Travis Diener -- 6.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.8 apg

The Pacers had another player on the bench, Ike Diogu, who only played in 30 games, averaging 5.6 points.

Two starters, Tinsley and O'Neal, both missed several games due to injuries last season. Tinsley only played in 39 games, starting 36 of them, and O'Neal played in just 42 games, starting 34 of them. Tinsley also had a fair share of off-the-court problems, and O'Neal's name was frequently mentioned in trade talks with the Lakers, Nets, Knicks, and other teams over the last few years.

In order to build around Granger, and to a lesser extent Dunleavy, the Pacers recently made two significant moves in the offseason. The first was the trade of Jermaine O'Neal and the 41st pick in the 2008 NBA Draft (the Raptors selected Nathan Jawai) to Toronto for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston, and the 17th pick in the draft (the Pacers took Roy Hibbert). So, to first take a step back from that deal, the Pacers turned Jermaine O'Neal and a second-round pick into Ford, Nesterovic, and Hibbert (plus cap space); barring some injuries, Baston probably won't play very much.

The second move happened during the draft and had the Pacers sending Jerryd Bayless (the 11th pick in the draft) and Ike Diogu to Portland for Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush (13th pick), and Josh McRoberts. Again, to summarize, the Pacers traded a draft pick and a player who received few minutes for another draft pick (a 6'6 SG/SF), a proven back-up point guard, and a bench player -- not a bad idea.

The Pacers front office seems very content with completely reshaping the team's roster. If the team cannot trade Jamaal Tinsley, it will probably cut him. If Shawne Williams and Marquis Daniels do not change their ways and fix their images, they may be gone as well. With the trades and personnel moves, the Pacers starting lineup will probably be as follows:

PG: T.J. Ford -- 12.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.1 steals
SG: Mike Dunleavy
SF: Danny Granger
PF: Troy Murphy
C: Jeff Foster

With this starting lineup, the Pacers lose the offense and blocked shots of O'Neal, but the team gains more consistent point guard play from Ford. Ford put up the numbers above despite playing only 23.5 minutes per game last year; if healthy, he should play more than that and post even better numbers. Ford should thrive in getting the ball to the two best-shooting Pacers: Dunleavy, who was 12th in the NBA in three-point shooting at 42.4%, and Granger, 26th in the NBA at 40.4%.

And the Pacers bench could include:

G Jarrett Jack -- 9.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.8 apg
G/F Brandon Rush
C Rasho Nesterovic -- 7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 apg
C Roy Hibbert
G Ronald Murray
G Travis Diener
G Kareem Rush (Rush is a free agent, so he may walk; a forward may take this spot)

The Pacers may not be a much improved team next year, but with the trades and possible upcoming moves, the team should be more exciting to watch with a younger core of players. Instead of building around O'Neal, which failed, the Pacers are now building around Granger and are hoping that Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert develop rapidly in their first few years in the league.

At the very least, Larry Bird probably won't have to make comments like this anymore, which he made in February of 2008:

"We've got to be very clear about this -- we don't want our players hanging around murderers," team president Larry Bird said. "That's not a good sign for our young fans. It's not a good sign for management."

The Pacers are definitely taking some steps to change that.

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