June 5, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (right) greets power forward Kevin Garnett (left) during the second half in game five of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Arena.Boston won 94-90. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE


The big hub-bub in the Pacer world today is whether or not O’Brien is going to change the line up again.  He has commented that the “Big Lineup” (read: Murph & Hibbert together) is too slow, can’t defend and can’t run.  This, of course, is true, but any lineup this team plays is going to have a whole bunch of “can’ts.”  In any case, the Pacer fan base is now expecting either Murphy or Hibbert to be sent to the bench.

Actually, most are expecting it to be Roy, given O’Brien’s penchant for veterans.  To me, it doesn’t particularly matter, just as long as Hibbert gets his minutes.  Roy has actually produced more off the bench then as a starter: 13.0 & 6.0 on 50% shooting vs. 10.7 & 5.8 on 49% shooting.

In fact, I think it basically comes down to whether O’Brien wants to lose with a center the fanbase likes (Roy) or one the fanbase hates (Troy).

But…that’s neither here nor there.  The real point of this little missive is to give a quick follow up to a comment made by Hayden in the recap for the Suns Game.

Hey, can you shed some light on why Jim O’Brien changes his starting line-up once every second game or so? Is there a bet on? Is he going for some kind of record? Has he got Memento-style anterograde amnesia? Questions that deserve answers.

Well, there’s a litany of things that can pointed out:

  • Granger, Dunleavy, Murphy, Foster, and Hansbrough have all missed significant time.
  • T. J. Ford and Brandon Rush have regressed.  (TJ may have actually devolved.)
  • Most of the other players on this team (Dahntay, Solo, Watson, Head) simply aren’t starting quality players.

Mostly, however, this is just a bad team with an increasingly desperate coach.  His security blankets from last year (Foster, Granger, Murphy and Jack) are either underperforming or gone altogether.

But, whatever the reasons, real or imagined, he’s piling up some impressive numbers.  If he actually changes the lineup, there’s a pretty good chance that it will be the 17th different starting lineup this season.  Through January 19, only three teams (Golden State, Sacramento and Washington) have had that many different starting units:

2010 Starting Lineups

As a second way of looking, I took the top two most frequently used starting lineups and calculated them as a percent of total games.  These lineups account for 66% of games started, leaguewide.

percentThe Pacers were dead last at 29%.

This is not something that is unique to this year for O’Brien’s Pacers.  The next new starting combo he uses will be his 60th different one.  Of the 206 games Jim O’Brien has coached for the Pacers, he has used no starting lineup for more than 17 games.  Twenty nine different players have donned a Pacer uniform under Obie, and 25 of them have gotten at least one start.  Those not earning that honor include David Harrison, Courtney Sims, and Maceo Baston.  The fourth, AJ Price, is highly likely to become the 26th different starter at some point later this season.

Basketball-Reference has the starting lineup information for all teams going back to 1987.  In looking at the Pacers history during that time, Jimmy is certainly a leading tinkerer, but he does not have the most different lineup cards.  That honor belongs to Rick Carlisle, who tried a staggering 93 different permutations during his four-year tenure.  Of course, that was greatly inflated by the impacts of the brawl (30 units in 2005) and the Ron Artest trade debacle (31 in 2006).  Bird only started 11 different combinations during his highly successful three-year stint.  Here’s a look at the year by year numbers for the Pacers:


If nothing else, that graphic shows you just how unstable the Pacers have become over the last few years.  While one would hope that it will settle down, it’s not something I expect to happen real soon.  The talent isn’t there.  The health isn’t there.  It’s possible, perhaps likely, that Indy will have a new coach either later this season or going into next.  This pattern probably won’t change with a new inhabitant the hot seat, and it probably won’t change for some time even after they get out from under the contracts shackling them right now.

Perhaps we should make it a drinking game.


All is ready for the final meeting on the starting lineup for tomorrow night’s game at the Palace.

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Tags: Isiah Thomas Jim O'Brien Larry Bird Larry Brown Rick Carlisle

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