Pacers' roster younger, deeper, more athletic

By Conrad Brunner | Oct. 25, 2010
Jim O'Brien doesn't have to look far to find reasons to be encouraged about the 2010-11 Pacers.


O'Brien
To complement gold medalist and former All-Star Danny Granger, there is a dynamic new starter at point guard, an emerging star at center, key veterans who've recovered from injuries, more depth and athleticism than in recent years and a much more positive vibe sourced in improved team chemistry.

Though the veteran coach is not predicting an end to the team's four-year absence from postseason play, he is cautiously optimistic about what the Pacers can achieve.

"I’m going in with the idea to get this team in a playoff race," he said. "I think we’re capable of that. Certainly as this evolves we will find out some strengths (become) greater strengths. Our weaknesses will be exposed and the challenge will be (to) hide those weaknesses."

To that end, here's a breakdown of the roster, position by position.

POINT GUARD


Collison
Each of the past four seasons, the player that finished as the starting point guard departed via free agency (Earl Watson in 2009, Jarrett Jack in 2008, Flip Murray in 2007 and Keith McLeod in 2006) but now the revolving door is closed with the key acquisition of Darren Collison.

Collison, 22, was named to the 2009-10 All-Rookie First team after averaging 12.4 points and 4.7 assists, shooting .477 overall and .400 from the 3-point line. He looked like a future star while filling in for the injured Chris Paul, averaging 18.8 points, 9.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 37 starts.

With veteran T.J. Ford in the backup role, second-year standout A.J. Price fully recovered from offseason knee surgery and rookie Lance Stephenson on hand, the previously problematic position suddenly is one of the deepest on the roster.

SHOOTING GUARD


Dunleavy
With incumbent starter Brandon Rush testing the franchise's patience with a five-game NBA suspension to begin the season, there will be a different face in the lineup Wednesday night against San Antonio – and he may prove difficult to unseat.

Healthy for the first time in three years, Mike Dunleavy looked very much like his old self in training camp and the preseason. If he's able to regain something close to his 2007-08 form (19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists), Dunleavy could have a welcome impact with his deadly 3-point shooting, instinctive movement and polished all-around offensive game.

Rush made strides last season, averaging 11.2 points in the final 44 games and ranking 15th in the league with a .411 mark from the 3-point line but must show greater reliability on and off the court. Veteran Dahntay Jones posted the first double-figures average of his career (10.2) with the Pacers last season but faces a battle for playing time this year as the wing positions are stacked.

SMALL FORWARD


Granger
Though Danny Granger didn't play regularly for the gold-medal U.S. team in the FIBA World Championship over the summer, he learned an important lesson. Namely, a U.S. team considered to be second-tier talent (the U.S. was dubbed the "B-Team" entering the competition) with no proven track record could achieve well beyond expectations by developing a strong bond that produced selfless play and relentless hustle. He also learned quite a bit about leadership from Chauncey Billups.

Granger's credentials as an individual are established: premier scorer, elite 3-point shooter, former and likely future All-Star. What remains is for him to prove he can lead a team, this team, to greater heights. That job will begin by setting an example on the defensive end, perhaps sacrificing some offense in the process.

First-round pick Paul George has drawn frequent comparisons to Granger because he is a long, lean talent with a sweet 3-point stroke but he has a different sort of game, more productive off the dribble, more disruptive on defense. Veteran James Posey brings two championship rings and a strong defensive presence to the wing.

POWER FORWARD


McRoberts
This was a mystery position entering camp because of the absence of Troy Murphy, the double-double machine dealt to the Nets in the three-team trade that landed Collison and Posey. But Josh McRoberts quickly clarified the pecking order. Though not as much of a 3-point threat as Murphy, McRoberts is much more athletic, aggressive and active – and can knock down the open jumper if called upon.

Supporting McRoberts is last year's top pick, Tyler Hansbrough. Back to full health after a rookie season truncated by vertigo, Hansbrough will need some time to get up to speed in terms of rhythm and system and his development will bear watching throughout the season.

CENTER


Hibbert
In short order, Roy Hibbert has evolved from a guy skeptics thought wouldn't fit with the Pacers because of his lack of athleticism to one of the centerpieces the franchise is building around. Hibbert took his preparation to the next level, going through a week-long boot camp with Bill Walton and undergoing mixed-martial-arts training to increase his agility. He dropped 20 pounds and has added strength and is on the brink of a breakthrough season.

The return of Jeff Foster to full health after back surgery cost most of last season is very welcome. He's the team's best post defender and one of the most prolific rebounders in the league. Solomon Jones was something of a disappointment in his first season with the Pacers but remains an intriguing prospect because of his length and athleticism.

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