Player Analysis: Lou Amundson
May 31, 2012
Every good team has a guy like Lou Amundson, an overachieving, scrappy hustler who annoys opponents because he's always battling, willing to throw his body into the mix or onto the floor, coveting the basketball the way sportswriters cherish Marriott points.
Maybe he can't shoot straight but if he could, maybe he wouldn't be an overachiever.
The thing is, the Pacers thought that guy was going to be Jeff Foster, or maybe Jeff Pendergraph. Amundson was a pleasant surprise.
Going into the season, the plan was for Foster to be carefully brought along, his minutes on a short leash, doing his thing as veteran leader and backup to Roy Hibbert. Pendergraph was signed as a free agent to share minutes with Foster and develop as a potential long-term answer to the backup center question.
Except Foster couldn't shake the back problems that would eventually lead to his in-season retirement and Pendergraph sprained his surgically repaired knee -- the one that cost him the entire 2010-11 season -- shortly after his arrival and couldn't play.
Anticipating a wealth of big men but suddenly facing a dearth, Larry Bird was forced to make a move and so on Dec. 19, he traded Brandon Rush to Golden State to acquire Amundson.
On paper, this was not a particularly good deal. On the court, it proved otherwise.
Rush was a former lottery pick, an athletic wing player capable of defending shooting guards and small forwards, a major threat from the 3-point line but also possessing the remarkable ability to vanish before our very eyes. In a contract season, he would of course put up the best numbers of his career for the Warriors, averaging 9.8 points, shooting .501 overall and .452 from the arc -- fourth-best in the NBA. Alas, Golden State did not make the playoffs.
Amundson, on the other hand, was a prototypical journeyman. Undrafted out of UNLV, unable to find a full-time home; the Pacers became his fifth team in six seasons. Yet he quickly established himself as a fan favorite as the crowd chanted "Looooooo" whenever he entered the game or made a big play.
He produced modest statistics, averaging 12.6 minutes, 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 60 games, all off the bench, but played an invaluable role. Though undersized as a center at 6-9, 225, Amundson absorbed the punishment that comes with the assignment and found a way to dish out some, as well. He proved a solid shot-blocker and aggressive rebounder, providing much-needed energy.
Along the way, there were a few big games. He scored a career-high 21 points, making 10 of 11 shots in the process, against Portland on March 13. He had his only double-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds) against New Orleans on March 3.
Early in the year he couldn't find the basket, missing 29 of his first 36 field goal attempts, but made 48 percent the rest of the way. He wound up shooting more accurately from the field (.430) than from the free-throw line (.427) -- something he has done in every season of his career save 2006-07, when he was an even 40 percent from both.
Like the rest of the second unit, he struggled in the playoffs, as his numbers dipped to 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds, even though his minutes (16.0) rose. His biggest impact was an inadvertent elbow that opened a gash above the eye of Miami's Udonis Haslem in Game 4, prompting hundreds of Heat fans to wear replica bandages.
Even so, it would be hard to characterize Amundson's 2011-12 season as anything other than a success. He was a valuable role-player on a contending team, much as he was in Phoenix, and re-established himself after missing nearly half the 2010-11 season with injuries.
"I'm hopeful Lou can return with us, sort of in that same role he carried out last year," Coach Frank Vogel said. "One of the things Lou didn't get an opportunity to do is just play extended minutes and get to play more with either David (West) at the four or Roy (Hibbter) at the five. I think he's more of a natural power forward but because of need we played him at center.
"He needs to continue to work on his mid-range jump shot but also his playmaking, pocket passes in the paint and making good decisions. I also think he can add some bulk, some strength, to help him bang with bigger bodies in the paint. He's got really long arms and great hops so he makes up for his height with his athleticism and length."
An unrestricted free agent, Amundson faces an uncertain future with the Pacers. Larry Bird made it clear in his postseason press conference he has a great deal of faith in Pendergraph, who has one year remaining on his contract. Kyrylo Fesenko was signed late in the season and at 7-1, 280 pounds certainly has the physique of a prototypical backup center.
Amundson is anything but a prototype but proved once again this season he can be a valuable role-player. Should he return to the Pacers for 2012-13, it will be interesting to see how that role evolves.
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