Team Preview #20: Indiana Pacers
by Eric Wong AKA Roto EvilAugust 30th, 2008
LAST SEASONThe Pacers won 36 games under new Coach Jim O'Brien, a year after winning 35 games under Rick Carlisle. The difference?
In '06-07, they had a 92.4 pace factor (10th), made 5.9 threes (17th), dished out 20.5 assists (19th), and scored 95.6 points (24th) per game.
In '07-08, they had a 97.7 pace factor (3rd), made 9.2 threes (3rd), dished out 22.7 assists (7th), and scored 104.0 points (7th) per game. The result? A more exciting squad and much better fantasy stats.
OFFSEASON MOVESKey Additions: TJ Ford, Jarrett Jack, Nesterovic, Brandon Rush, R. Hibbert, J. McRoberts, M. Baston
Key Losses: Jermaine O'Neal, Flip Murray, Diogu, Kareem Rush, Jamaal Tinsley?, Shawne Williams?
Jermaine O'Neal's wish was finally granted, as he got traded to Toronto over the summer for TJ Ford, Nesterovic, and Maceo Baston. I remember Baston throwing down a lot of dunks as a Michigan Wolverine, and thought he had potential as the Bulls' very last pick (#58) in 1998. While he helped turn Maccabi Tel Aviv into a Euroleague powerhouse, he's played just 614 total minutes in the NBA. What's odd however, is that he played in 16 games for Toronto in '02-03, 47 games for Indiana in '06-07, back to Toronto for 15 games last season, and now he's back in Indiana. At 33 years old, is this the year that he finally gets some serious playing time? With Ike Diogu also gone (sent to Portland for Jack & McRoberts), perhaps.
The Pacers also received two 1st round picks in their trades, netting swingman Brandon Rush (to replace his brother Kareem!) and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. TJ Ford will basically replace Jamaal Tinsley, whom the Pacers are actively shopping. Don't be surprised if Shawne Williams is sent packing as well, as Indy is trying to cleanse itself from any troublemakers. Perhaps their most unheralded yet most intriguing pickup was the 21-year old McRoberts, who was born & raised in Indiana before starring at Duke.
ROTATION / PLAYING TIMEIt sounds like Tinsley's days in a Pacers uniform are over, so T.J. is now running the show. While Tinsley always flashed potential, Ford will be much more dependable. If healthy, I project he'll start and play around 30 minutes per game. It took 6 years, but Mike Dunleavy, Jr. finally showed why he was the #3 overall pick in '02. He set career-highs in nearly every single category and shot the ball way better than he ever did before. He's found a home in Indiana, so he's a lock to duplicate the 36 mpg that he averaged last season. Backing up both guys will be Jarrett Jack, who performed fairly well as Portland's 3rd guard. I'll project 22-24 mpg for him off the bench, which means much fewer minutes for both Marquis Daniels & Travis Diener.
At small forward, Danny Granger is one of the most underrated young players in the league and is only going to get better. He saw nearly 38 minutes of action after the break, so expect the same for '08-09. I think Brandon Rush is a much better defender and athlete than his brother Kareem, so I'm expecting him to play a key role as a rookie. He'll get at least 10 minutes per game, and perhaps up to 20 if Williams is traded and they give Granger a chunk of minutes at power forward. Like Dunleavy, Troy Murphy has never sniffed the postseason. The Notre Dame grad hasn't been that spectacular since signing a lucrative 6-year deal for $58 million in 2005, but his minutes should go up this year with Jermaine & Ike now out of the picture. I'm projecting 32-33 minutes for Murph and a solid bounceback campaign. At center, Jeff Foster will likely start and pull down mad rebounds as always. He averaged 24.5 mpg last season, but that number may fall to 22-23 with Nesterovic around. Rasho should get 18-20 minutes at center, which leaves some garbage time for Hibbert until he proves himself. Baston & McRoberts will battle for the remaining big man minutes, and could even play a key role if someone gets hurt.
DON'T SLEEP ON: Troy MurphyLooking at his recent stats, it's hard to believe that Murphy was one of just 5 players to average 15+ points and 10+ rebounds per game in '04-05. Since then, his role on the Warriors declined, he was traded to the Pacers, and he's had to battle for minutes ever since. But it's time for Troy to step up. And based on his Post All-Star numbers, I think he's ready. After the break, his minutes rose to 31.8 and he put up 14.8 points, 7.7 boards, 2.4 assists, .7 steals, .5 blocks, and 1.4 threes while shooting a rock solid 50.5% FG and 42.2% 3P.
OK, so those shooting %'s are sure to decline a bit, but the rest of his numbers could easily rise with a few more minutes. I'm going to project around 15 points, 9 boards, .5 blocks, and 1.5 threes per game. The blocks are weak, but the threes are money for a center-eligible player. Did you know? Only 4 players have ever been named Big East Player of the Year TWICE: Chris Mullin (St. Johns), Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), Richard Hamilton (UConn), and Troy Murphy (Notre Dame).
BE CAREFUL OF: Mike DunleavyAs I said before, Lil Dun had a career-year in '07-08. His 17.3 PER blew away his previous high of 15.1 (set in '03-04), and the green light from Jim O'Brien helped him finish 12th in 3P% (42.4%) and 17th in threes per game (2.0). And he was surprisingly consistent, shooting 48% FG or better in 4 of the 6 months. Mike D. turns 28 next month, so he's in his prime, but I'm doubtful that he can duplicate last season's stats.
For starters, I think the Pacers will have a more balanced scoring attack this season, as Murphy will get more shots and Ford is a better scorer than the Tinsley/Diener/Andre Owens PG trio. I also like Jack & Rush off the bench. They're not going to steal any minutes away from Dunleavy, but they could steal a few rebounds & assists. And lastly, I'd estimate that the chances of him shooting better than 42.4% from beyond the arc are about 12%. He's still a Top 50 fantasy player, but you need to be careful.
ROUND BY ROUND TARGETS(Where you should draft these guys in an 8-cat Roto league with 12 teams and 14 man rosters)
Granger: 2nd - 3rd