This Is How a Team Becomes Good

With the win over the Lakers Sunday, the Pacers have become something of an NBA darling these days.  As Jared noted yesterday, there was plenty of love coming from all over the NBA world.  More credit was forthcoming in the weekly power rankings, as Marc Stein and John Schuhmann both moved the Pacers up to 11th, and John Hollinger’s statistical analysis places the Pacers at 9th.  Of course, none of this means anything concrete at all, and the warm fuzzies will go away quickly if the Pacers finish this road trip 1-3.

Still…it is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Much of the focus of this improvement has been on Roy Hibbert.  While that is pretty well-deserved, it’s important to note that there have been a lot of other positive factors.  Danny Granger is playing the best defense of his career.  Brandon Rush is playing the best basketball of his career after returning from suspension.  Darren Collison has struggled, but contributed overall.  Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford, and James Posey have all been healthy and valuable veteran contributors.  Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough have provided youth and energy.

And then there’s Solomon Jones.

At one point this season, I was referring to Solomon Jones as Typhoid Solo.  In the first 11 games this season, Solo had appeared in eight of them.  He averaged 3.5 points and 1.1 rebounds in just under 12 minutes a night.  In the roughly 95 minutes he was on the floor, Indiana was outscored 234-162, or a pace of about 36 points every 48 minutes.  For every 100 possessions in that time, the Pacers were scoring 85 points, while giving up 122.  Jones had a negative +/- rating in each of these eight games.

However, the last four games has been a different story.  Solo’s individual numbers have not been dazzling – 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in about 16 minutes – but the team has performed well overall with Solo on the floor.  The offense has been unimpressive, scoring only 101 points per 100, but the defense has been stifling – holding opponents to only 78 points per 100.  The Pacers have outscored their opponents 129-99, and the only game where Jones posted a negative +/- was the Laker game (-3).  Even then, the Pacers only allowed 82 points per 100 in Solo’s 14 minutes.

Now, clearly Solomon Jones is not solely responsible for these results, but it is very good news for the Pacers and their fans that the team can still keep or build leads when Solo is on the floor.  Why?  Because when Solo is on the floor, Roy Hibbert is not.  They have not played a single second together.  Over the course of the season, it will be crucial that the Pacers remain competitive – hold their own or gain ground – when Hibbert is resting or in foul trouble.  Otherwise, they’ll face the beggars choice of having to either run Roy into the ground or to give away games or opportunities.

If you want proof of how valuable even a serviceable back up for 10-15 minutes a night can be, just ask Phil Jackson or Pau Gasol.   In the last three games, Gasol played 42, 45, and 46 minutes.  When the final two minutes of the game arrived Sunday night, Pau had been on the floor for 34 straight minutes of clock time.  It showed mightily both when T.J. Ford got to the rim at the 1:30 mark,  and in Gasol’s inability to recover on Hibbert’s final bucket with 16 seconds left.

If the Pacers are going to be a good team sooner rather than later, this is how they’re going to do it.  They will need contributions great and small from every player who dresses.  Be it Roy Hibbert or Danny Granger or Darren Collison …

… or Solomon Jones.

As the great basketball mind Karl Marx said, “From each according to their abilities …”

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