Leandro Barbosa Is Happy to Be a Pacer, Bring Speed and Energy, Take Shots

Trades are a cold reality of the NBA. One day, a team is paying you a huge salary for your services, and the next they are telling you thanks, but no thanks — we can do better.  Then of course comes the relocation hassle and the burden that can place on families.

For Leandro Barbosa, however, being traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Indiana Pacers was a welcome change. “It was my time,” he said, “and I’m happy to be here.”

It also usually helps the transition process when the player isn’t blind-sided by the news. Barbosa foresaw moving on. “I kind of knew,” said Barbosa. “[Raptors GM] Bryan Colangelo told me Indiana was really interested, and he told me that it was maybe going to happen.”

Then, on the day of the trade deadline, it did. And now the 29-year-old, long-armed combo guard from Sao Paulo, Brazil — the largest city in South America — once again gets to do what he made his NBA name off: being a key scorer off the bench for a playoff team.

Individually, his time in Toronto was marked by unusually erratic (for him) shooting accuracy and struggles through a chronic wrist injury. But worse was the team’s futility. During his two years as a Raptor, his team racked up 102 losses compares to just 62 wins. This, for a guy who made the Western Conference Finals with the Phoenix Suns in his second season and won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award for the 61-win Suns in 2006-07.

In that respect, Barbosa is just happy to be headed back to the playoffs. “I’m very happy to be here,” said Barbosa. “It’s a good team. It’s a team that is going to the playoffs for sure. I love the coach and the organization. It’s a good opportunity for me—a new family for me.”

Leandrinho, as he is called in his native Brazil, missed 8 of his 10 shots last night in Indiana’s loss to the Suns and blew 3 of his 4 attempts against the Wizards the night before. But in his Pacers debut last Tuesday against the Clippers, Barbosa scored 9 points in his first 9 minutes in an Indiana uniform and finished the game scoring 12 on 10 shots.

They key thread in all performances has been putting up a lot of looks.

According to Barbosa, that’s exactly what he was brought in to do. He talked about his role with the team with coach Vogel soon after he arrived and was told that his job is to always be aggressive when he is on the court. It looks like he has gotten the message since he now leads all Pacers players in shots per minute, hoisting 17.3 per 36 minutes. Danny Granger ranks second with 16.2 per 36 minutes while the David West comes in a distant third at just 12.9 per 36.

George Hill hasn’t exactly been shy about putting up the rock this season himself. Before Barbosa showed up, he was the guy expected to be the high-volume scoring guard off the bench, usually playing alongside the more restrained AJ Price. Now, however, the team has a back-court duo who both have the green light to let it fly whenever they can get a good look. Barbosa is looking forward to continue playing alongside his new teammate and do their job, which he calls bringing “speed and energy” as they try to hold the score for the starters to rest.

“I never have played with [Hill], but I kind of know what he likes to do,” said Barbosa. “When I was with Phoenix, we played against each other many times — I had to study him and he had to study me. So he kind of knows me and I kind of know him.”

The sample size is tiny, of course, but so far he has made just 8 of his 24 (33%) shots as a Pacer, with last night’s 2-for-10 night providing the bulk of that inaccuracy. After his first night, it looked like the adjustment process would be seamless, but the last two outings have been a reality check. In this season, there isn’t a lot of downtime or even practice time — they play the third game of a back-to-back-to-back tonight, for instance — but Barbosa will likely enjoy a few off days and plane trips over the next few weeks to continue to learn all the ins and outs of the playbook.

“It’s been tough for me,” said Barbosa of joining a new team’s system mid-way through the year. “But I’m getting there. I’ll be OK, especially when the playoffs come. I’ll be all right.”

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