Bloggers Talk: Indiana Pacers

So we have a double bonus for all of you readers out there looking for some Pacers information (and there has to be a ton of you out there if you’re reading about the NBA on a Nets-centric site right?). For today’s edition of Bloggers Talk we started out with some questions for Pacers blogger Jared Wade over at the True Hoop site Eight Points, Nine Seconds. But then, we got a call from blogger Josh Dhani to answer some questions over at his Pacers blog Always Miller Time. So here you go, two Pacers bloggers for the price of one. NBA – I love this game!

NAS: After missing some time at the very beginning of the season, Tyler Hansbrough is off to a solid start. What are your expectations for him this season and in the small sample you’ve seen, what are his strengths and weaknesses?

Wade: Out of the three outings Tyler has played in, he’s been very good in two. The most impressive thing is how his aggressiveness has gotten him to the line. In wins against Washington and G-State, he shot 10 and 8 free throws, respectively, and this was in just 13 and 16 minutes played. He was billed as a guy who would bring tremendous energy to the court and he has been exactly that so far while also putting up points in transition and scoring on both jumpers and in the paint in the half-court. A lot of people doubted his ability to score at this level within any structured offense so this has been great to see for Pacers fans. He is indeed at times a little overly frantic and comically spastic, and I don’t ever expect him to be a major go-to guy in the half-court, but he definitely appears to be someone capable of being a high-quality reserve in this league for the next decade.

Dhani: Hansbrough has been looking good. His debut was great and has been a good fill-in for Troy Murphy. He’s a great strength at backup but I hope he can improve on his shooting a bit. He’s doing good right now, and I am looking forward to some more from the kid.

NAS: Roy Hibbert is off to a very good start. Should people be surprised by this?

Wade: I have been surprised by just how polished his jump hook has looked. He was a decent, if inconsistent, option in the post as a rookie, but Roy is really starting to look like a guy that Coach Jim O’Brien can dump the ball into to get points. And because of his height, he can really make it look easy if he fights and wins good position on the box. He’s nowhere near as dynamic as Brook Lopez nor does he have the same arsenal of moves, but I think Roy, like Brook, can really be an efficient weapon for his team if he focuses on posting up close to the rim and punishing his defender with size after the catch. His shot-blocking has also progressed quicker than I expected. I didn’t think he would already have a 4-block game and a 5-block game in his first 7 games.

Dhani: Yes, they should be surprised. Hibbert wasn’t that good last year and was committing a lot of fouls. He’s improved big time but I think he still needs to lay off a bit on the fouling. He’s been a big key for the team’s rebounding, and it’s great having a guy who can also score for his size.

NAS: The team’s defense appears to be exceeding expectations right now. Any reason to believe this could be a fluke or has the team really just come together on the defensive end in the early-going?

Wade: The coaching staff and the front office preached defense all summer. The acquisitions of Dahntay Jones and Earl Watson weren’t seen as major moves, obviously, but Larry Bird, at least publicly, talked a lot about how much of a difference we might see in the overall defense just by adding a few quality perimeter defenders — something the team has lacked severely since Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson were moved. Because the Pacers play at a face pace, O’Brien set a goal of holding teams not to any PPG number but instead to around 43%-44% shooting. Right now, the Pacers are holding teams to a FG% of 43.6%, which is 8th best in the NBA, and an even better 46.6% eFG%, which is 6th best.

All that said, yeah, they’re playing over their head. The Knicks, for example, missed a ton of open shots and the Warriors and Celtics shot a combined 7/27 from three, which I’m pretty sure is not totally attributable to any amazing game plan. Sometimes people just miss shots, ya know? Still, the defense is certainly improved from last season and I do expect it to be better than the offense all year long from an efficiency standpoint. The new perimeter guys are helping out a lot on the ball, which subsequently even helps the offense as it lets Danny Granger focus more on scoring.

Dhani: I think their defense is looking great. They have won four games in a row and played strong against the Celtics. I’m glad we picked up guys like Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson, Luther Head, and Solomon Jones because they’ve been pretty good on the defensive side.

NAS: The Pacers didn’t seem to receive much attention this past off-season, despite them almost always being in the hunt for a playoff spot each year. Has it gotten to the point where the NBA community either underappreciates or is taking the Pacers for granted?

Wade: If you just look at the roster, there’s definitely not much to get excited about. The personnel isn’t dynamic and none of the players are even particularly interesting outside of Danny Granger. Troy Murphy’s stats from last year were considered empty numbers and with Mike Dunleavy still on the shelf, I can’t say I was particularly optimistic about the season.

However, the personnel can be irrelavent some nights. Jim O’Brien’s spread, pass-heavy offense just creates some wins. Almost regardless of what the defense does, it creates a ton of open three-pointers and as long as you have NBA players on your team, they are going to have nights where they hit 10 out of 20 when a couple of guys get hot. And if you’re making 10 threes, finding a few other ways to score and playing at least passable defense, you’re going to pick up some wins — particularly in a league where good even good teams essentially relax fairly often on the second night of back-to-backs. I mean, the Pacers beat the Celtics, Magic, Cavs, Lakers and Nuggets last year. I’m not trying to discount how well guys like Danny, Murphy and even Jarrett Jack, TJ Ford and Jeff Foster played at times last season, but a few of those wins were just “Indy is clicking on all cylinders” games where they put up a 40-point quarter. In a seven-game series, I just don’t think the roster is good enough to beat any of the other top six or seven other teams in the East, but I think they actually do have a chance to sneak into the Playoffs, presuming Dunleavy can come back and be a productive contributor.

Dhani: Well, I think we need to pay more attention to Indy now. We’re a totally different team. We don’t have the Reggie Millers, Jamaal Tinsleys, Jermaine O’Neals, Stephen Jacksons, and Ron Artests anymore. Our team is young and we’re hungry for the playoffs this year. We were at 0-3, and now here we are above .500 at 4-3. We got a good team led by Granger and Co., and I think they have a great chance of making the playoffs.