Ford Not Starting But Finds Himself Finishing
It would be easy for T.J. Ford to be unhappy.
After losing the starting point guard job each of the previous two seasons, he has been the subject of numerous trade rumors. He thought he was headed out of town last February and again this offseason – especially so after the Pacers traded for Darren Collison, who represents the present and future of the position.
Rather than sulk, Ford has thrown back his shoulders, stuck out his chin and soldiered on. Now, he not only has proven invaluable off the bench, he has become a leadership presence in the locker room for the Pacers' otherwise young group of point guards.
"It's ironic to T.J. to be in a position where he can see a new point guard struggling the same way he did from the standpoint of the concepts we're trying to create at the point guard spot – the ability to create a flow by giving up the basketball and knowing it's going to get back to you – and I think he has a lot of confidence in himself," said Coach Jim O'Brien. "He's very focused. This is his contract year. He was not happy with the way things have gone in the past and I just think he's a guy that has an immense amount of proud. As a result he's going to be ready when we call on him."
Ford has averaged 21.7 minutes, 7.3 points, 3.0 assists and 1.67 steals as the Pacers have gotten off to a 2-1 start. He was the guy on the court down the stretch for both the victories, in Charlotte Friday and at home against Philadelphia Saturday.
"We all want to win," Ford said. "The bottom line is getting down to helping guys, helping your teammates and trying to improve. Wining makes a locker room happy and when you lose it's a bad feeling. We're just trying to enjoy ourselves and you try to enjoy your job and that's all I'm doing this year.
"It's a role that I've played before. I just haven't played it for a full year. I understand what it takes, I understand my position and I understand the things I have to do when I'm on the court. I just try to do my best and bring something to the team and change the game and change the flow. I think so far I've been doing a good job."
Collison is in his second season, as is A.J. Price. Lance Stephenson, who has joined Price on the inactive list for the first three games, is a rookie. O'Brien cherishes Ford's experience at this critical position.
"T.J. and I never butted heads (in the past) the way people think that we butted heads," O'Brien said. "I need leadership at that position. He knows I need leadership and I think he's been a great leader of the other guys that are playing, Darren and Lance. I think he has been an exceptional leader. A quarterback type of guy, which a point guard is, needs to exert leadership and I don't think that was always the case in the past and we've had numerous conversations about that.
"He knows I'm confident that he is by far our best defensive player at the point guard spot right now and he's a guy that we'll have in there at the end of the games because he has that experience. I think he understands that in order to maximize the rest of his career he's got to do a number of things and talent is one thing, the ability to lead a basketball team is another. I think he's going to a great job of that this year."
Hansbrough accelerating his timetable
If O'Brien had intended to move cautiously with Tyler Hansbrough in the early part of the season, doling out minutes here and there as the young forward grew more comfortable with the system and his teammates, that plan may have been scrapped.
Hansbrough has the look of a player not willing to wait.
After sitting in the season-opening loss in San Antonio, Hansbrough played a key role in the Pacers' next two victories, totaling 43 minutes, 21 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. With Hansbrough on the court, the Pacers outscored their opponents by 25 points. With him on the bench, they were outscored by nine.
"I feel better physically and I am able to lift up and help this team win some games," Hansbrough said. "I am coming around, but still have a long way to go. I am pleased with my progression and hope to keep playing at that high level. I’m glad to be back out on the court and able to help out.”
O'Brien said he must limit the play calls with Hansbrough on the court because the second-year forward from North Carolina does not yet know the full package after missing most of the five-on-five work in training camp. Now fully recovered from the inner-ear malady that cost him most of his rookie season, Hansbrough is catching up quickly.
"I make no bones about the fact that the whole question mark, the whole dilemma with Tyler was he missed the whole year last year and has missed two training camps. He is behind," said O'Brien. "But we're going to find a way to try to get him on the court every game out because as he's picking up everything he plays as hard as a human being can play. You can't negate the impact that has on the team."
Hibbert developing a passing fancy
We all knew Roy Hibbert would be better this season. But this much better?
Through three games, Hibbert's averages (18.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.67 blocked shots) are dramatically up – so much so, in fact, that he ranks second among all NBA centers with a PER (player efficiency rating) of 26.0. Only Joakim Noah (30.0) ranks ahead of him.
"The last two games he’s had 11 assists and three turnovers," said O'Brien. "I say we’re going to go through Roy (offensively) because he’s a unique big man. He’s growing almost on a daily basis.”
Hibbert is also averaging close to 35 minutes per game, largely because he has avoided foul trouble. Hibbert is fouling once every 9.5 minutes, compared to once every 6.1 minutes his first two seasons.
"Roy's playing well," said O'Brien. "What doesn't show up in the stat sheet is the number of shots he's adjusting. … His conditioning is paying off and he's doing a solid job defensively. I certainly would like to see him be a dominant rebounder but hopefully that will come in the future."