Though not full strength, Price Pacers' best player thus far
You watch him work into the lane, finding the seams and spaces, and you see him float the effortless jump shot with perfect form and balance, and you have to wonder:
If this is 85 percent, I can't wait to see what A.J. Price will be like when he's all the way back.
That he's on the court at all speaks volumes of Price's dedication to rehab after a freak knee injury in a charity game in May. Price fractured his patella, an injury that required surgery and had a projected recovery time of four to six months.
Price made sure the short end of the projection would stick and was on the court for the opening of training camp. And he's proven to be a tough guy to take off the court.
"A.J. has been our best player in the first three games across the board," said Coach Jim O'Brien. "It's very impressive and he never has a bad practice."
The team's second-leading scorer in the preseason, Price has averaged 13.7 points on 11-of-21 (.524) shooting overall, including 5-of-10 from the 3-point line. He has produced those numbers in just 15.3 minutes per game.
"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent yet. I'm getting there," Price said. "I'm still about 85 percent, in my eyes. I'm still working to get myself there. I'm just playing confidently right now and that's the most important thing."
After a solid rookie season (averaging 7.3 points in 56 games) playing both guard spots, the 2009 second-round pick from Connecticut headed into the offseason with a non-guaranteed contract. Then came the knee injury, then the acquisition of combo guard prospect Lance Stephenson in the draft, followed by the trade that brought starting point guard Darren Collison from New Orleans.
Each move seemed to push Price further down the depth chart.
But Price pushed himself to recover more quickly than expected and now finds himself pushing for a bigger role. He's the only reserve to have scored in double figures in all three preseason games. With Ford battling a hamstring strain and Stephenson struggling to pick up the defense, Price has been Collison's primary backup at the point.
"If that were to continue throughout the season, you bet you'd find more minutes, there's no doubt," said O'Brien. "If the guy's your best player, you'd better believe you'll find more minutes."
Makes you wonder what'll happen when he returns to full strength.
"I think he's a heck of a player," O'Brien said. "I know what he's going to be when he gets to 100 percent because not only does he do it in practice he does it consistently in games. He is a very, very valuable piece."
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