Roster report: Shooting guard

I've started, stopped, erased and re-started this story again and again because the central topic is Brandon Rush.

If I still used a typewriter and paper, my wastebasket would be overflowing with enough discards to replenish a clearcut forest.

Should the focus be his need to be more aggressive? His confidence? His eye-opening talent? His unrealized potential? Am I frustrated by the slow pace of his growth thus far? Or encouraged by the promise of what lies ahead?

But the question that keeps popping into my head: is Brandon Rush the answer at shooting guard?

There are many qualities that argue for Rush. Physically, he has a tantalizing combination of size, strength and athleticism. He emerged as one of the league's top 3-point shooters last season, hitting .411 overall (15th in the NBA) a remarkable .465 in his final 44 games. Defensively, he already is above-average with the potential to be a lock-down stopper.

But there are other traits that make you wonder. The missed layups … all those maddening missed layups. Those lapses where he drifts away from the flow. The games where he's there, but he's not.

"Obviously, the jury's still out," Larry Bird said in his year-end media briefing. "On the defensive end I thought he did very well this year. He needs to work on his ballhandling and he needs to be more consistent. On the offensive end, sometimes he has a tendency to disappear and stand around.

"I think you've got to get him involved and keep him involved. When he comes out and scores early he usually plays pretty well on the offensive end. But I look at the whole picture. I don't look at it like Brandon needs to score 14 to 16 points. He rebounds the position very well. We just need him to be more consistent."

There's that word again.

In each of his two NBA seasons, Rush has started very slowly but come on strong. As a rookie, he didn't come around until the final six weeks of the season. Last year, his uptick came in January. In the final 44 games, he averaged 11.2 points.

"The beginning of this year, I don't think I was aggressive," Rush said. "I wasn't looking for my own shot and I was being too passive.

"Everybody was telling me I needed to start being more aggressive, even my teammates. When your teammates are saying that, it sinks in. That's the way I figure I turned it around."

To round out his offensive package, Rush must work on finishing strong around the rim, drawing contact on dribble penetration – he has averaged less than one free-throw attempt per game in his career – and improving his handle.

"Because he has established himself as a knock-down 3-point shooter – you look at him over the last half of the season, he's probably close to 45 percent, and anybody that could shoot at that level over the last half of the season is probably one of the 10 best shooters in the league, percentage-wise," said Coach Jim O'Brien. "With his speed and his leaping ability, and then his ability to be aggressive by improving his ballhandling and concentrating on finishing, they're all keys that will allow him to take it to the next level."

With continued improvement, Rush could be an ideal complement to Danny Granger on the wing because he plays well without the ball, can handle challenging defensive assignments and spaces the floor with his shooting range.

He may never be a guy that puts up dazzling numbers and his career recommends against such expectations – his scoring average all three seasons at Kansas was in the 13s – but does have the stuff to be a winning player.

Rush was actually outscored by his backup, as Dahntay Jones averaged a career-high 10.2 points in his first season with the Pacers. The only problem with that is Jones was signed to be a defensive stopper on the perimeter and that did not transpire.

At his best in transition, muscling his way to the hoop or in the mid-range game, Jones does not shoot the 3-pointer well enough (.316 for his career after going 4-of-32 last season) to fit comfortably into O'Brien's offensive system but is valuable because of his ability to defend all three perimeter positions.

Luther Head was solid when called upon, averaging 7.6 points and shooting .352 from the arc in 47 games, but disappeared from the rotation in March and April and is a free agent.

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