Sunday, October 29, 2006

Season Preview: Realistic Scenario

After offering my best case and worst case scenarios for this season, it's time to look toward opening night with a realistic look at this Pacers team.

The Pacers have plenty of talent to win NBA regular season games and maybe a few playoff games. But winning a playoff series or advancing deep into the playoffs? Well, this current team will have a hard time making the playoffs let alone going on a run deep into May. While the talent level is there for the Pacers, toughness, poise, and consistency are ingredients separating the wannabes from the contenders. JO and Al do a lot of talking about adding those elements to the team but I remain skeptical until it shows on the court.Keys to the season
JO and Al
The time is now for JO and Al. They have a chance to work together and lead the Pacers to a great season. This is considered JO's team but he can't shoulder the burden himself and should be happy to incorporate his running partner into a leadership role. These two need to lead the way in scoring and rebounding while remaining cool when adversity strikes or the game pressure rises (see Dwayne Wade). We know Al is excitable and JO has been combustible when faced with a bad call or chippy play. Mixing in a little maturity with their games can take this team to a different level.
JO and Tins
Over the past two seasons JO and Tins have missed a 69 and 82 games respectively (and Tinsley missed another 30 in 03-04). If the Pacers don't get 75 games a piece out of these guys you can forget the playoffs. The new emphasis on an uptempo offense requires Tinsley to handle the ball and set up teammates for easy buckets. All indications out of the preseason show a healthy and happy JT ready to roll for the regular season. The Pacers have nice role player depth this year but it is much younger than last year. Losing JT and/or JO for an extended amount of games will crush any hopes for a successful season.
Club Rio Trio
Jack, 'Quis, and Tins received plenty of attention for their off-court activity at the start of training camp, but once the regular season starts the Pacers need to hear about their on court activity. As mentioned above, Tins has to stay healthy and do what he does best with the rock in his hand. Jack need to be a pro, which means shooting the ball and defending without wasting energy arguing with the refs, teammates, or fans. Daniels is a wild card since he's a new face and his role has yet to be clearly defined. One thing that is known is he can play the 1, 2, or 3 as the situation dictates. If he can play this role productively he really gives the Pacers some flexibility in matching up with the opposition.
The new faces and youth will make consistency a hard obstacle to get past early in the season. It is already apparent that turnovers will be a good indicator of how the team is playing. They will win most nights if they can keep the TOs under 15. With 13 of the first 19 on the road, a 10-10 record at the quarter pole would actually be a nice start. I'm sure it wouldn't excite the fanbase but it would be a good building block for the rest of the year. After 20 games all of the excuses of adjusting to the new faces will no longer be valid and it will be time to put all of those positive words from JO and Al into action. If they can play with some consistency then finishing the remaining 62 games over .500 should be an attainable goal.

Do I believe half the stuff I just wrote? I'm trying. I know one thing, this team is fragile and will need to see some growth in the games of several players to be a factor in the Central Division. I'm an optimist so I believe they can do it, but I'm also a realist and I don't see any way to avoid inconsistency over the long haul with this group. I'd consider 43-39 and a 5 seed in the East a solid season from this team with a chance to win a playoff series and build on the foundation for next year.

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