(As his first contributions to 8p9s, Kevin Hetrick is digging deep into how the Pacers performed last year and what they can do to improve next season — whenever it begins. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of his series here.)
In our last installment, we looked at the “core six” players in terms of how they played last season and how they project to fit in with this franchise long term. Now, it’s time to look at the other players — some of which may not even be on the roster the next time the Pacers pick up a ball for a league-sanctioned game. Whenever that may be.
We will look at the rest of the squad in descending order by minutes played.
Rush will be 26 years old next year and is slated to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. At best, he should be a fourth guard. Unfortunately for the Pacers he led the team in minutes in 2009-10 and was fourth in minutes last year. He shot an excellent 42% on threes, but was otherwise unspectacular with a PER around 10, which is basically replacement level. Seven of every ten shots he took were from outside 16 feet, resulting in him rarely getting to the foul line. This offsets his three point shooting and results in true shooting (54%) that is almost exactly average (surprise) at 54%.
On the strength of his long-distance accuracy, his eFG% shooting was a little better — but not much, only outpacing the league average SG by 1.5%. Worse still, he is a low-usage player who struggles to create his own shot, making only one unassisted field goal per game in 26 minutes.
He was average at rebounding and protecting the ball, but was 51st of 55 shooting guards in assist rate and 53rd in assists at the rim per 40 minutes (per Hoopdata). He’s not an elite defender and tends to lose focus, particularly off the ball and in rotation situations. While not completely indicative of his performance, the Pacers were 5 points per 100 possessions worse on defense last year when Rush was on the floor.
Since we’re going down the list in order of minutes played, it disconcerting to see Dunleavy behind Rush. Junior had struggles of his own last season, no doubt. But with Rush on the court last year, the Pacers were outscored by 5.98 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, during Dunleavy’s 779 minutes at shooting guard, the Pacers outscored opponents by 7.94 per 100.
There certainly isn’t a 14 points-per-100 difference between the two players, but these numbers do reflect how much better the Pacers operated with a starting caliber NBA shooting guard. Dunleavy and Rush had similar usage rates. However, Dunleavy’s TS% and eFG% were 5 points higher than Rush’s, and he was also a much better distributor, recording nearly twice as many assists per 40 minutes with fewer turnovers. Dunleavy grabbed 16.2% of available defensive rebounds, ranking 17th out of the 107 NBA swingmen who played 40 games.
In sum, he plays effectively within both the team offensive and defensive systems, and doesn’t take much off the table. Dunleavy will be 31 next year and is a free agent.
McRoberts was very effective last year as a role player. He didn’t try to do too much and played solidly when opportunities presented themselves. His TS% and eFG% were 6% and 7% higher, respectively, than the average power forward. While only shooting 60 three pointers, he made an impressive 38% while also finishing second on the Pacers in FG% at the rim (among those with at least 50 attempts).
He was a capable defender last year as a league-average rebounder, while averaging 2.71 defensive plays (blocks plus steals) per 40 minutes (compared to a league average of 2.33 for power forwards) against only 4.1 fouls per 40 (average is 4.7). The Pacers were 1 point per 100 better on defense with him on the court, and the combination of these attributes resulted in McRoberts having the lowest defensive rating of all Pacers.
McRoberts’ best skill is probably his passing — something even more valuable on a team bereft of passers. Of 57 power forwards who played 40 games; McRoberts was 4th in assists per 40 minutes, and 8th in assist-to-turnover ratio (per Hoopdata). McRoberts will turn 24 years old next season and is a free agent.
Foster will turn 35 next year and, like the last two players, is a free agent. After missing almost the entire 2009-10 season, Foster played nearly 1,000 minutes last year. As Pacers fans know, he has never been a very good scorer, peaking at 7 ppg, but he’s becoming even less effective as he ages. Last year he scored only 7 points per 36 minutes and had shooting percentages well below average for a center.
Focusing on scoring, however, obscures the thing that Foster is great at: getting the ball off the glass. Foster’s offensive rebounding rate of 19.1% was the best in the NBA last year, and the closest center only grabbed 13.9% of available offensive rebounds. Of players that played over 600 minutes, the nearest player (Dejuan Blair) was at 14.8%. No one in the NBA was in Foster’s neighborhood as an offensive rebounder. If he had played enough minutes to qualify, this would have been the third time that he led the NBA in this category. (He is 5th all time for qualified leaders since 1971.) Foster also takes care of the ball well; his assist-to-turnover ratio was 5th among 58 centers. In short, Foster was a very effective anchor for the second team.
Posey will be 35 next year and, unfortunately, is not a free agent. (He has one year left on his contract, which, at $7.6 million for the final year, was the price Larry Bird accepted to obtain Darren Collison in that trade with New Orleans.) Last year all he wanted to do offensively was shoot threes, taking 88% of his shots outside the arc. Unfortunately again, he was not very good at making them. No need to belabor that Posey is probably not part of the team’s short- or long-term plans.
Price will be 25 next year and is under contract for one more season. After giving the team solid minutes in 2009-10, Price was very poor offensively last year. He shot 8%-9% below average for guards in TS% and eFG%, which is a shame considering his 23% usage. He was an average passer and below average rebounder.
The Pacers were 3.49 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, but his adjusted +/- was negative 12.7 points per 100. That metric gives Price no credit for the Pacers successes when he was on the court. (Most of the credit appears to go to Foster, which we will discuss more in part five of this series.). Given Price’s offensive “contributions,” this seems reasonable.
Ford is 28 and a free agent. He was likely the worst offensive point guard in the NBA last year. He was benched the second half of the season. There is not much to say about T. J. Ford as it relates to the future of the Indiana Pacers.
Jones will be 31 next year and has two years remaining on his contract. It’s hard to make much of last season’s 600 minutes, but efficiency-wise, Jones had a career offensive year. His career high TS% of 56% was paired with career high usage. His turnover rate was at a career low. This may be due to playing primarily against back ups; in 2009-10 (in 1,900 minutes) his shooting was below average and he had the 7th highest turnover rate of all shooting guards. Jones is a solid defender, but is a below average rebounder that fouls too much.
Jones will be 27 next year and is a free agent. There is not a lot positive to say about his play last season. His eFG% and TS% were approximately 10% below league average for a center. Of the top 58 centers in minutes, Jones ranked 53d in defensive rebounding and fouled the 5th most times per 40 minutes.
Stephenson will be 21 next year and is under contract for one more year. He was the 8th ranked player in the high school class of 2009, but through his one year of college and one year in Indiana, there are concerns about conditioning, shot selection and behavior. Larry Bird has said that he is the most talented player on the roster. So far, we have yet to see this reflected in his numbers.