NBA Season Preview: The Indiana Pacers


96271311.jpg.7473_crop_340x234.jpgLast season: The Pacers went 32-50, which puts them a step above the downright tragedy of the Nets, Timberwolves, and even the Wizards, but still among some pretty miserable company.

Head Coach: Jim O’Brien will again have the Pacers running (they were the second fastest team in the NBA last season), running, running. This time, however, his system has the benefit of a more gifted point guard.

Key Departures: Troy Murphy, Earl Watson, and Luther Head, though T.J. Ford isn’t far behind them.

Key Additions: Darren Collison, Paul George, hopefully a healthier Tyler Hansbrough, Lance Stephenson, Lance Stephenson’s rap sheet, and possibly Magnum Rolle (an unsigned second round pick).

Best case scenario:
The Pacers improve by leaps and bounds with Darren Collison running point, and mount an improbable surge for the East’s final playoff spot that ultimately falls short.

For that to happen: The aforementioned Collison needs to be just as good as (actually, probably better than) advertised. He made the most of an opportunity in New Orleans, but Collison is the lovable backup/injury replacement no more. This is his team to run, and though Collison showed his maturity as both a player and a person last season, that’s a lot to hinge on a second-year point guard.

However, the Pacers’ best-case outcome relies on factors stretching well beyond Collison. He remains a vital to Indiana’s improvement, but the loss of Troy Murphy is exactly the kind of understated move that could end up docking the Pacers a handful of wins. Replacing Murphy will be some combination of Danny Granger (playing out of position), Tyler Hansbrough, and Josh McRoberts. That’s troubling.

Murphy was second on the team in three-pointers made, second in three-point shooting percentage, and tops among the Pacers in rebounding by a huge margin. Don’t underestimate the impact of the first two (particularly since Indiana was actually a below-average three-point shooting team last season, in spite of their run-and-gun reputation), but it’s Murphy’s rebounding that could be missed most. Hansbrough showed a knack for grabbing the stray board during his abbreviated rookie year, but it remains to be seen whether he can do so against first-string competition.

That kind of uncertainty is worrisome for a squad that was already 29th in the league in offensive rebounding rate, and 22nd in defensive rebounding rate. Indiana was so worried about pushing the pace last season that they forgot the ball altogether, and I’m not sure that’s likely to change given the acquisitions made. If it does, however, it’ll be a credit to Hansbrough, McRoberts, a grown-up Roy Hibbert, and probably Jeff Foster.

More likely the Pacers will: Streak up the court while puttering along. Indiana has made some serious moves for the future, but this roster is obviously incomplete.

We already know what to expect from Danny Granger, who will likely see a slight bump in his overall production/efficiency, even if he’s more or less the same player he was last year. Guys like Collison just have that effect on people. Or really, maybe it’s that guys like T.J. Ford and Earl Watson have that effect on people. Granger will benefit from having a better distributor running the show, even if his game won’t be notably more diverse or explosive than before. ‘He is who he is,’ as they say, and honestly, that’s just fine.

However, talented though Granger and Collison both may be, it’s Indy’s other rotational holes that stand as a bother. Plenty of people are expecting Roy Hibbert to take a great leap forward, but he may just be content to clunk around in his space boots on the launchpad. His per-minute numbers from year one to year two were nearly identical — fairly strong, mind you, if still not indicating much overall improvement — but Hibbert continues to work against himself by racking up fouls.

Per 36 minutes, Hibbert averaged 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks last year. Not too shabby, right? Here’s the thing: Hibbert only actually played 36 minutes in a game three times in the entire season, despite starting in 69 games. Hibbert has had his chances, but a push in the post here and a late rotation there have sandbagged him.

Brandon Rush is solid. Paul George is promising. Dahntay Jones is…still pretty surprising, honestly. The Pacers have talent, it’s just of the complementary variety and a little on the green side. 

Prediction: 35 wins. Darren Collison will be this team’s clean, well-lighted place. He’s the type of player through which to run O’Brien’s offense, and Indiana, who has been a bit overrated on that end of the court due to it being a supposed stylistic strength, may actually have a competent attack once again.

Of course, I’m not exactly sure who’s going to be playing much defense at the 4, who’s going to be grabbing the boards, and where the Pacers’ perimeter shooting is going to come from, but hey, these things happen with teams on the mend. Even teams that have been on the mend for the last four seasons.

As long as Indiana is fine with another year of development, a Pacers squad with a bit more order is a proper start.

Greg Oden on basketball career: ‘It’s over’

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6
Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images

Greg Oden’s multiple injuries dictated the former No. 1 pick wouldn’t have the career forecasted for him.

But he returned from three years off an NBA court to play for the Heat in 2014. He followed that breakthrough with a couple tryouts and a stint in China.

Could he once again return to the league?

Dana Hunsinger Benbow of IndyStar:

Asked whether he’d play basketball again, he said, “I wish. It’s over.” Instead, he is back with the Buckeyes as a student coach, helping out the players and Matta any way he can.

Oden, who was picked one spot before Kevin Durant, once declared: “I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things.” That statement is blunt, reality and sad all wrapped into one.

It’s a shame we never got to see Oden healthy for long. There was good reason for the Trail Blazers to pick him first, but injuries ruined what could’ve been an intriguing extend debate over him and Durant.

Hopefully, Oden finds fulfillment in the next chapter of his life.

Report: LeBron James didn’t want to play for Cavaliers before they drafted him

Vince Bucci/Getty Images

The Cavaliers landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft seemed like a fairytale.

The consensus top choice and one of the most-hyped prospects of all-time was a local kid from nearby Akron, LeBron James.

But this happy accident didn’t come through rainbows and butterflies. To get the top seed in the lottery, Cleveland had to get bad – really bad. The Cavs missed the playoffs five straight years, bottoming out at 17-65 in 2002-03.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When James was a teenager, he started attending games at the arena, and he couldn’t believe how bad the Cavs were, how empty the arena often was, with its bright blue seats seeming like a neon sign of disinterest. During his senior year of high school, he went to several games, was given courtside seats and visited the locker room. His thought was pretty clear after he watched that 17-win team with the lowest attendance in the league: They were awful, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.

Can we be surprised someone who grew up in Akron, Ohio, as a Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys fan didn’t want to join the Cavs? LeBron was a frontrunner.

What he didn’t realize at the time: He’d gain the power to singlehandedly transform a franchise, and he’d develop an emotional attachment to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland wasn’t going to remain unwatchable with him. He turned the Cavs into a credible championship contender. Then, after leaving for the Heat, he returned. He even delivered delivered its long-awaited title last season.

The tears of joy he cried afterward show just how much that area, including its NBA team, means to him.

That he was initially sour on the Cavaliers adds an interesting twist to the story. It doesn’t detract from it.

Kevin Durant shoots extra while echoing his critics: ‘They called me a coward!’ (video)


The Warriors’ Kevin Durant era started out with a thud – a 29-point home loss to the Spurs.

He responded by shooting extra jumpers after practice while repeating his critics.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN:

When asked after his session about shouting criticisms, Durant explained, “That’s what I say to myself when I’m working. I hear it all the time. You hear the noise. You hear what they say about you. Everybody hears it. So it’s a little extra motivation when you hear it.”

Of the scene, Durant said, “Nobody in this arena right now, and that’s when you get better. Nobody sees you when you’re doing this stuff right here, but luckily y’all was in here watching.”

Depending on your perspective, Durant is:

  • Maniacally driven to succeed
  • Feeling the pressure in Golden State
  • Showboating in front of a camera

I’ll take a little of all three.

Not one 2016 top-10 draft pick started his team’s first game. How does that compare historically?

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Commissioner Adam Silver poses for a photo with the top prospects before the start of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Ben Simmons is hurt. Brandon Ingram is being brought along slowly. Jaylen Brown is on a good team trying to win now. Dragan Bender is blocked by Marquese Chriss. Kris Dunn is stuck behind Ricky Rubio (for now). Buddy Hield lost a preseason battle to E'Twaun Moore. Jamal Murray is ready for only a minor role. Marquese Chriss is blocked by Jared Dudley. Jakob Poeltl got drafted by a good team with an established starting center. Thon Maker is far too raw.

The top 10 of 2016 NBA draft class isn’t off to a fast start.

In fact, no top-10 pick started his team’s first game after being drafted for just the second time on record. The only other time it happened since 1983, as far back as records go, was 2013.

The only 2016 draft picks to start so far are No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis (for the Thunder) and No. 27 pick Pascal Siakam (for the Raptors).

No. 11 pick Michael Carter-Williams was the only 2013 draft pick to start his team’s first game in 2013. So, at least the class of 2016 has a leg up on that class, which was led by No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.

Here’s each first-round pick since 1983 to start his team’s first game since being drafted. Top-10 picks are in blue, and all other first-rounders are in orange.


Year Pick Player
2016 11 Domantas Sabonis
2016 27 Pascal Siakam
2015 1 Karl-Anthony Towns
2015 2 D'Angelo Russell
2015 3 Jahlil Okafor
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis
2015 7 Emmanuel Mudiay
2014 1 Andrew Wiggins
2014 2 Jabari Parker
2014 10 Elfrid Payton
2013 11 Michael Carter-Williams
2012 1 Anthony Davis
2012 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2012 3 Bradley Beal
2012 4 Dion Waiters
2012 6 Damian Lillard
2012 7 Harrison Barnes
2012 10 Austin Rivers
2011 1 Kyrie Irving
2010 1 John Wall
2010 5 DeMarcus Cousins
2009 4 Tyreke Evans
2009 6 Jonny Flynn
2009 7 Stephen Curry
2009 9 DeMar DeRozan
2009 10 Brandon Jennings
2008 1 Derrick Rose
2008 2 Michael Beasley
2008 3 O.J. Mayo
2007 2 Kevin Durant
2007 3 Al Horford
2007 6 Yi Jianlian
2007 27 Arron Afflalo
2006 5 Shelden Williams
2006 6 Brandon Roy
2006 10 Mouhamed Sene
2005 1 Andrew Bogut
2005 4 Chris Paul
2005 16 Joey Graham
2005 25 Johan Petro
2004 1 Dwight Howard
2004 2 Emeka Okafor
2004 3 Ben Gordon
2004 5 Devin Harris
2004 9 Andre Iguodala
2003 1 LeBron James
2003 3 Carmelo Anthony
2003 5 Dwyane Wade
2003 10 Jarvis Hayes
2002 2 Jay Williams
2002 4 Drew Gooden
2002 10 Caron Butler
2001 6 Shane Battier
2001 27 Jamaal Tinsley
2000 1 Kenyon Martin
2000 3 Darius Miles
2000 17 Desmond Mason
1999 1 Elton Brand
1999 2 Steve Francis
1999 4 Lamar Odom
1999 6 Wally Szczerbiak
1999 9 Shawn Marion
1999 18 James Posey
1999 26 Vonteego Cummings
1998 2 Mike Bibby
1998 3 Raef LaFrentz
1998 5 Vince Carter
1998 7 Jason Williams
1998 9 Dirk Nowitzki
1998 10 Paul Pierce
1998 14 Michael Dickerson
1997 1 Tim Duncan
1997 4 Antonio Daniels
1997 5 Tony Battie
1997 6 Ron Mercer
1997 13 Derek Anderson
1997 23 Bobby Jackson
1996 1 Allen Iverson
1996 3 Shareef Abdur-Rahim
1996 4 Stephon Marbury
1996 5 Ray Allen
1996 6 Antoine Walker
1996 11 Todd Fuller
1995 1 Joe Smith
1995 2 Antonio McDyess
1995 3 Jerry Stackhouse
1995 4 Rasheed Wallace
1995 7 Damon Stoudamire
1995 22 George Zidek
1994 2 Jason Kidd
1994 3 Grant Hill
1994 6 Sharone Wright
1994 10 Eddie Jones
1994 18 Eric Mobley
1993 2 Shawn Bradley
1993 3 Anfernee Hardaway
1993 4 Jamal Mashburn
1993 6 Calbert Cheaney
1993 7 Bobby Hurley
1993 18 Luther Wright
1992 1 Shaquille O’Neal
1992 3 Christian Laettner
1992 5 LaPhonso Ellis
1992 6 Tom Gugliotta
1992 9 Clarence Weatherspoon
1992 11 Robert Horry
1992 24 Latrell Sprewell
1991 1 Larry Johnson
1991 4 Dikembe Mutombo
1991 5 Steve Smith
1991 9 Stacey Augmon
1991 11 Terrell Brandon
1991 24 Rick Fox
1990 2 Gary Payton
1990 7 Lionel Simmons
1990 8 Bo Kimble
1990 10 Rumeal Robinson
1989 3 Sean Elliott
1989 5 J.R. Reid
1989 14 Tim Hardaway
1989 19 Kenny Payne
1989 21 Blue Edwards
1988 3 Charles Smith
1988 5 Mitch Richmond
1988 6 Hersey Hawkins
1988 9 Rony Seikaly
1988 10 Willie Anderson
1988 14 Dan Majerle
1988 20 Kevin Edwards
1988 21 Mark Bryant
1987 2 Armen Gilliam
1987 3 Dennis Hopson
1987 6 Kenny Smith
1987 12 Muggsy Bogues
1987 13 Joe Wolf
1986 1 Brad Daugherty
1986 3 Chris Washburn
1986 5 Kenny Walker
1986 8 Ron Harper
1986 11 John Salley
1986 12 John Williams
1986 13 Pearl Washington
1986 21 Anthony Jones
1985 1 Patrick Ewing
1984 1 Hakeem Olajuwon
1984 3 Michael Jordan
1984 4 Sam Perkins
1984 6 Melvin Turpin
1984 18 Vern Fleming
1983 1 Ralph Sampson
1983 2 Steve Stipanovich
1983 13 Ennis Whatley
1983 20 Roy Hinson

To some degree, this year’s state of affairs is understandable. Simmons was a lock to start before he got injured. Two playoffs teams – Celtics (who took Jaylen Brown No. 3) and Raptors (who took Jacob Poeltl No. 9) – drafted in the top 10 due to trades.

But the effect is clear. This draft class seems underwhelming.

It’s why the Rookie of the Year race feels so wide open and a 2014 draft pick, Joel Embiid, is the frontrunner.