Pump Up Music: DJ Kool -- "Let Me Clear My Throat"
The Big Picture: The Indiana Pacers visit Charlotte tonight on a mini-skid, having lost to New York and Cleveland the past two games, but before that, they'd won five in a row. There are several reasons for Indy's surprising run to start the season, starting with Mike Dunleavy's absence due to injury. Dude has tools to make him a good player, but only put it all together last season. In some ways, removing him clears the rotation and brings order and sense.
Three players have been legitimately surprising this season. First, against all odds, Dahntay Jones is killin' it on offense. The guy who was J.R. Smith's defensive platoon partner in Denver last year is now scoring at about the same rate Stephen Jackson has. It probably won't last all season, but if it does, that's a huge boost off their bench for now, and he should probably take more of Brandon Rush's minutes moving forward.
Second, Roy Hibbert has cut down on his fouls, upped his rebounding, maintained his scoring, and gotten a lot more minutes as the starting center. He fell in the draft because he came out a year too late, but in his second season, he's building upon a bumpy rookie year. He doesn't have the shooting range I expected him to have coming out of college, but he's much better close to the basket than I thought he'd be. Instead of being Ilgauskas or Bogut, maybe we have to reevaluate him as more of a Chris Kaman type.
Finally, Tyler Hansbrough is having a good amount of success off the bench. There were two things he did exceptionally well in college, and they're both translating to the pro game. He's an energetic rebounder (actually doing better in the pros than he did at UNC), and he gets to the line. He was a shockingly poor shotblocker in college, but that's only part of defense, and as long as his D is reasonable, his chances of starting someday remain good. All of this has added up to 18/9 per36, which is second on the team in scoring behind Danny Granger and third in rebounding behind Troy Murphy and Hibbert.
(Side note: What in the world is Indy thinking by giving ROOKIES real minutes? Criminy, it's like they don't even care about playing the right way! They're never going to build a winning team that way...)
Key to Victory: I'm not worried about Granger so much as I'm worried about Hibbert. With Larry Brown's total non-confidence in either DeSagana Diop or Alexis Ajinca, if Tyson Chandler can't play, that's about thirty minutes of game time where we'll be relying on Nazr Mohammed and Boris Diaw to guard a 7-2 center on the block, with three point shooters all around him. Doubling isn't a particularly appealing option.
Interestingly, Indy hasn't really gone small all year. The logical smallball lineup for them would involve Troy Murphy as the nominal center, Granger at the four, Jones at the three, Rush at the two, and either T.J. Ford or Earl Watson at the point. Instead, Hibbert and Solomon Jones have been on the floor at center for 446 of a possible 480 minutes (I'm pretty sure, never together). Going small might benefit the Bobcats, though, since that would allow us to play Diaw at center against a guy he'd normally play against anyway.
Detail That Might Interest .08% of You: In his "Book of Basketball", Bill Simmons ranks Reggie Miller as a better Hall of Famer than Dennis Rodman, Pete Maravich, Sidney Moncrief, Chris Webber, Chris Mullin, Kevin Johnson, and Arvydas Sabonis, among others. He also lists Robert Horry as the 85th best player ever, and Paul Pierce at number 54, but hey, the man's just giving his opinion, right?