The Pacers won last night for the fourth time in their last five tries. Their 9-7 record marks the first time they’ve entered December with a winning record since the 2006-2007 season. Yesterday, I focused on the crucial role that Solomon Jones has been playing during this stretch. Today’s topic isn’t as cheery on the surface, but I’d still consider it good trouble to have.
The Pacers’ two most recent lottery picks — Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George — have hit something of a rough patch. Hansbrough has been erratic, shooting only 41% from the floor in his last four appearances. George has been invisible – playing in only three of the last 11 games after averaging almost 19 minutes a night during Brandon Rush’s five-game season-opening suspension.
What could be more concerning is that both have looked to be getting more lost when they’re on the floor. Taken at face value, it may seem that they are regressing. However, it’s my contention that this is little more than a trick of the light.
Paul George is a 20-year old rookie. Tyler Hansbrough is, for all intents and purposes, a rookie as well. In my opinion, both have shown that they have the ability to be at least solid contributors at the NBA level, if not more.
Both of them, like most rookies, are playing on an island. They’re adjusting to the league, and they’re learning a lot of new things. The effect for both must be awfully similar to drinking from a fire hose. When they’ve had an impact on a game, they’ve done it outside of the normal flow. Paul George has done it with his size, skill, and athleticism, while Tyler has made plays and changed games with his innate Buckaroo-Banzai-ness.
However, the Pacers have started to gel as a team. Coach Jim O’Brien has spoken for his entire tenure here about being “tied together,” but this is the first time under O’Brien that Indiana has had this phenomenon occur for a sustained period of time. As this happens, the lack of experience and understanding of the two “rookies” becomes more and more obvious. As the overall quality of the team’s play increases, it becomes harder and harder for George and Hansbrough to raise the level by force of sheer talent, athleticism, or effort alone.
This cannot be a permanent condition, but it’s not something to be overly worried about at the moment. In fact, I find it somewhat encouraging. As the two of them catch up to their teammates in terms of understanding, it will only make the team that much better. The things that made them contributors in the past will only be enhanced as they grow into their roles.