BY CHAD SMITH
Danny Granger got his gold medal in Istanbul, but did he also get the message?
The message that was sent to Granger from USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski was the same message that Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien has been trying to send to him for years. Danny, you need to improve your defense. Everyone knows of his capabilities on offense, but this is not football. Basketball players need to play defense too.
Granger didn’t get very much playing time this summer as part of Team USA’s undefeated squad in the FIBA 2010 World Championship. The minutes that he did get were basically garbage time, when the U.S. had a big lead. If Danny wants to make the playoffs, he will have to work on his defense and get his teammates to do the same. If he is the leader of this team, he needs to lead by example.
There are more concerns about this Pacers team before they can consider making a run at the playoffs. Obviously the PG, SF, and C positions are looking good with Darren Collison, Danny Granger, and Roy Hibbert. The real questions are at SG and PF. Let’s analyze the situation at the SG spot first.
Brandon Rush has been at this position on and off the last couple of years, and his inconsistency has been the main reason why. He hasn’t played well enough to make him the obvious choice here, but he hasn’t exactly been a bust either.
Brandon hasn’t enjoyed a good summer though. Getting suspended for five games was the worst thing that could happen to him because he’s always on an emotional roller coaster. It will be interesting to see how he responds when he returns from his suspension and gets over the embarrassment of failing a drug test three times.
One of the other options at the SG position is their second-round pick this year, Lance Stephenson. Stephenson’s history is well noted, but another legal issue during this offseason has prevented him from making the jump here. He had an amazing summer in the summer league in Orlando, but his off-the-court problems continue to linger.
He may have been a decent option for the Pacers before that incident occurred, but now they are going to have to take the wait-and-see approach.
The other choice the Pacers have for the SG spot is their first-round pick, Paul George. I personally think this is the best option, as he has progressed very well over the summer, and has done everything the team has asked of him. He is looking like a great role model and a solid contributor for this team for many years to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is starting at SG on opening night.
Now looking at the PF position for the Pacers, things don’t look as promising. With Murphy being gone, who is going to step into the starting PF position this year? There are a few options, but none of them are better than average.
Josh McRoberts is well liked here, but that may be more to his Carmel background more so than his hustle and overall talent. He is a good option to have on the bench, but he is not a starter in the NBA.
Tyler Hansbrough was supposed to be the answer here by now, but his odd situation has prevented him from even seeing the court. He’s been dealing with an inner ear infection/concussion/vertigo for nearly nine months. Not nine days or nine weeks, but nine months. Larry Bird said last week that he has yet to be cleared to take part in contact drills. Basically, this will be Tyler’s rookie year.
Then there is Jeff Foster, who has been a veteran on this team that has provided much needed rebounding and a little inside defense. While he isn’t expected to score, or do really much of anything else, he is a great “hustle” guy. That has made him what he is today, and why fans appreciate him. Unfortunately, Foster is now 33 years old and coming off back surgery last season. He may be able to provide some assistance, but don’t expect him to start or even play in all 82 games this year.
There is one more option at PF if the Pacers can find a way to make a spot for him. Undrafted rookie Magnum Rolle opened a lot of eyes this summer in Orlando. He averaged 13.4 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots per game in about 28 minutes of play. He could be the perfect fit here for the Pacers if they can clear a spot for him on the roster.
In my opinion, the Pacers are solid at PG with Collison, SF with Granger, and C with Hibbert. Finding those other pieces that they can put around them will determine if this team is capable of getting back to the playoffs this season. I think George and Rolle are the answers there, but only time will tell. It might be another year before they make it, but Christmas could come early for hungry Pacers fans.
With Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, and Milwaukee expected to get the top-six seeds for the playoffs this upcoming season, there is an opportunity for the Pacers to get the seven or eight seed. They just might be able to surprise some people and get Indiana back where it belongs, in the playoffs.