Is Jim O'Brien a Lame Duck Coach?

Jim O’Brien’s rotation is cryptic, the rationale behind which is known seemingly only to him.

To outsiders, there often seems to be little rhyme or reason as to why, for example, marquee offseason acquisition Darren Collison was often watching TJ Ford close out games early in the year (and even as recently at 1/2/2011 watch TJ get the bulk of the meaningful fourth quarter time against the Knicks). Or why a guy like Tyler Hansbrough can have a 20-point/9-rebound game (on 9/12 shooting) in 29 minutes during the Pacers sixth game of the season and then get 11 minutes (with 0 fouls) in the seventh. Or why Roy Hibbert’s crunch-time minutes were often jerked around early in the year. (It may be hard, but think back to the time when he actually, ya know, deserved minutes based upon his performance.) Or why James Posey (a) very often has been leaned on to play power forward in crucial situations only to (b) pick up 2 DNP-CDs in the past five games. Or why when Roy Hibbert got sick and couldn’t play against the Warriors on Wednesday, Josh McRoberts, recipient of DNP-CDs in 6 of his previous 7 games, got the start.

The rationale for the last decision, I’ve been told by 8p9s partner-in-crime Tim Donahue, was so Jeff Foster could “finish” the game without going over his 30-minute maximum.

I’m sure there are also some reasons for the others listed (and the other curiosities that I didn’t mention). I imagine many of them have to do with players blowing defensive assignments, players not running the floor poorly, players not understanding the offense, players not spacing the floor properly and players simply just not doing their jobs. There are all sorts Xs-and-Os particulars that I have no problem admitting in public that are simply over my head.

And some things are more explainable, like AJ Price leapfrogging the struggling TJ Ford (shooting 30.6% in the new year) as the first point guard off the bench in Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors. (AJ’s poor play may have made that a quick experiment in trial and error, however.)  Similarly, it’s hard to fault anyone for Roy Hibbert’s inconsistent role in the rotation since his post-November productivity swoon reached crisis-level status (some of which has also been “can’t-stop-fouling-related,” it’s important to note).

Still, even with that caveat and another HUGE one (the complete understanding that I have of this roster’s relative parity of talent after Danny Granger, Collison and Hibbert), the rotation is weird — and it has been all season. I also fully get it that aside from Granger, Dunleavy and Rush, there has been almost no consistency from the rest of the roster this year. (Because so much of Dunleavy’s value in a game is decided by whether or not he misses or makes shots and because I’m talking about Brandon frickin’ Rush, let me doubly punctuate my empathy for a coach having to rely on anyone on this roster every night … Danny included. UPDATE: Also Jeff Foster, who I forgot to include originally as an oversight.)

But, really, at some point things need to settle down. A lot of these players we are discussing are suited to be 8th and 9th men in this league. They have some skills but they are just not super talented. Used effectively, they can help out, (I think … most of the time at least) but if they don’t have any idea what their actual roles on this club are, then is it really surprising that they so often fail to fulfill them? Don’t players, particularly mediocre players, need a defined job to do before anyone can really expect them to do it well?

Perhaps most importantly in regards to the title of this post, does the coach even know what those roles are? Because, ya know, it is almost February.

According to a report last night on TrueHoop by Chris Broussard, I’m not the first to start asking these questions. (And, yes, fans, I know many of you have been beating this drum for like three years now.)

Indiana Pacers brass is not pleased with the performance of head coach Jim O’Brien, according to several league sources.

That said, O’Brien, who is in the last year of his contract, is likely to remain as coach the rest of the season. Part of the reason is that no one on O’Brien’s staff — Dan Burke, Frank Vogel, Jay DeFruscio, Vitaly Potapenko and Walter McCarty — is viewed as a suitable replacement.

One complaint about O’Brien is the strange way he divvies up minutes: Tyler Hansbrough plays 36 minutes one night, posting 23 points and 12 rebounds, and just 23 minutes the next; Paul George plays 21 minutes one night, four the next.

GM David Morway could also be in trouble after the season, and league scuttlebutt has former Portland GM Kevin Pritchard as a likely replacement. Pritchard was close to being hired as the replacement for Rod Thorn in New Jersey, but the Nets, of course, settled on Billy King.

As an outsider, I have no inside information, so I’ll leave it at that other than to point out that it’s not just the rotation stuff that has been curious at times, but also the coach’s tone in the press (mostly earlier in the year).

And I will also say that I’ve always been a big fan of Kevin Pritchard and am curious as to why he doesn’t have a job yet. The rumors surrounding his exit from Portland made it seem as though he was a strong-headed decision-maker who enjoyed his authority. That could mean he might have trouble meshing with a guy like Larry Bird (who is also on the last year of his contract, something not noted here by Brossard).

UPDATE: Forgot to note that Pritchard was traveling with the Pacers for the start of this road trip.

Ben Golliver of CBS Facts and Rumors added this about Pritch:

A Moneyball-style GM like Pritchard would make a ton of sense in Indiana, as his understanding of advanced statistics, analytics and cap management is generally seen as the surest way for a small-market team to get the maximum bang for their buck and narrow the gap between the LA’s and New York’s of the world. Pritchard’s name will likely generate a lot of interest this summer, as he and TNT commentator Steve Kerr are the two biggest names among former GMs that are not currently employed in that capacity.

I listened to him speak last year at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (and briefly talked to him personally on the matter), and he certainly does know his advanced stats.

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