At first glance, the Indiana Pacers have all the characteristics of a bad franchise. They missed the playoffs last year. They were ranked 28th overall in attendance in 2008-‘09. They appear on national TV a whopping three times this season (two of those are NBA TV). And the average basketball fan probably couldn’t name more than three players on their roster.
But the funny the about it is, they aren’t that bad. Remember, Indiana finished the season in the ninth slot, just three games behind the Pistons. A lot of fans around the league – including their own – don’t understand that the Pacers have the pieces to compete for the eighth seed or better. Start with the core they already have. Danny Granger was an all-star last year and is quickly becoming one of the biggest all-around threats in the game. Last season, he averaged 25.8 point, 5.1 boards, 2.7 assists, 1.03 steals, 1.45 blocks, while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. He proved on several occasions last year that he can take over a game himself.
When people talk about one of the league’s most prolific rebounders, Troy Murphy’s name is hardly brought up despite his 11.8 rpg average (second best in the NBA). Mike Dunleavy is overpaid, but he can fill it up on any given night and score a variety of ways.
During the offseason, Larry Bird made significant changes to the team’s supporting cast. Gone are Marquis Daniels are Jarrett Jack. They were replaced by a cast of defensive players like Dahntay Jones, Luther Head and Earl Watson. Indiana also has Brandon Rush, who is sure to build on his solid rookie year. And although fans and critics were skeptical about the drafting of Tyler Hansbrough, I think that he is going have a strong debut.
He’s a winner and his tenacity and heart will help make this Pacers team a tougher defensive team. Though he will never be an all-star, he will be in the league over 10 years – barring injury of course.
Along with Detroit, Philly, Washington and Toronto, Indiana’s in the running for one of the East’s final two slots. The Pistons and Sixers are due to slide and it will open up opportunities for some of the lottery teams. Although Washington and Toronto will probably get one of the spots, I think the Pacers got tougher and better defensively. If TJ Ford can step up offensively to make up for the losses of Daniels and Jack, then they will have a good chance to possibly steal that last spot.
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