With the young NBA season already heating up, it appears the Pacers could be a tough opponent. So long as they don’t actually play the Miami Heat, that is. Though the season is just eight games young, the Pacers appear to be a solid playoff team: they’ll take care of business against bad teams and hold serve at home.
Of course, these are my thoughts following back-to-back wins at Boston and against the not-yet-tragic Charlotte Bobcats. Whereas last Thurdsay, I was trying to calculate how many wins it would take to notch the eight seed again this season in the East. Such is life in this shortened, compacted NBA season in which the Pacers may be a much more even keel squad than most teams based on their depth and non-reliance on one individual player.
My displeasure with Lance Stephenson as a member of the rotation has been documented on this site. My affinity for AJ Price should also be known. Still, early performances should make this preference an easy decision. Though the numbers don’t overwhelmingly tilt in Price’s direction, simple observation does.
With Price, the offense seems comfortable and directed. He’s no Mark Jackson, and never will be. He is, however, a consummate teammate (watch him on the bench during games) and a calming force in the high-energy second unit, which has been the team’s strength in recent wins.
Price was productive in last spring’s playoff series against the Bulls, both in his back-up role and when filling in for an injured Darren Collison in game two with the starters. He’s a highly competent backup, a perfect set-up man at the beginning of the second quarter and end of the third.
Stephenson’s potential, on the other hand, is undeniable. He’s unbelievably quick and often flashy. He could, possibly, someday, maybe, be a solid NBA starter that teams have to gameplan for.
But here’s the thing: He’s not right now.
The offense stalls with him in the game. George Hill has to take on much more of the ball-handling to keep things going. Oddly, however, Frank Vogel has already said that Stephenson will return to his role as Darren Collison’s backup. I wonder how much management is pulling strings to keep Stephenson in the game?
Frank’s quotes aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Stephenson. He brings up the same points I just did.
“[I’m] looking forward to him taking advantage of his skills when he starts to come around.”
On the other hand, he likes what he has seen out of Price.
“The offense flows when he’s in the game. The ball moves, he’s a great passer, a great leader of the team.”
For a team needing all the wins it can get now for a potential third seed in the playoffs, this seems pretty cut and dry to me. Take certainty now over future promise.
Go West, Young Man
Recently, David West has taken quite a bit of flak for his decision to sign with the Pacers rather than the Boston Celtics. Reports are that the two deals were pretty similar. This led to a quote from Celtics guard Ray Allen who essentially called West (and I’m summarizing) a money-grubbing egotistical jerk that doesn’t care about winning or a championship.
Admittedly, my avulsion for Boston’s reaction to this may be tainted by years of disdain for that city ever since Willie McGinest faked an injury on a goal-line stand against the Colts in 2004.
Another article written by a Boston-based reporter was published the day of the Pacers/Celtics game. The author essentially paints West as a man not driven by ego, but afraid of the spotlight in Boston and tradition of the Celtics. It goes so far as to print a quote from West about him not being a nightlife, party guy. The implication is that West wants to lead a ho-hum life in the “cornfields” of Indiana on an average team rather than be subjected to the scrutiny of the league’s most storied franchise.
I would like to add three sidenotes to the Pacers-Celtics debate. First of all, David West is a family man with a wife and two children. No wonder he’s not out clubbing. Second, the Celtics are not a championship contender. The team shipped out Kendrick Perkins last year and shopped around its franchise point guard this season, essentially destroying their team chemistry. The average age of Boston’s “Big Three” is 35. And lastly, the Pacers might actually be the better team. After all, they won the game, in pretty dominating fashion in Boston even with a sub-par game from West.