Positive Signs from the Pacers’ Opening Night Win

Oct 29, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel tries to avoid getting hit as forward Chris Copeland (22) and center Roy Hibbert (55) jump up to celebrate against the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Philadelphia 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel tries to avoid getting hit as forward Chris Copeland (22) and center Roy Hibbert (55) jump up to celebrate against the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Philadelphia 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA is finally back, and opening night featured two Eastern Conference heavyweights: the Indiana Pacers vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. At times, it was just as ugly as that sounds.

Nevertheless, the Pacers pulled out the victory and even did some positive things! It’s hard to decipher which positive things were a result of playing the Sixers, which were outliers, and which are reality. Regardless, I only had two instances of wanting rip out every hair on my head while watching this game — and that could turn out to be a season low and this is another positive thing! These are the others.

Roy Hibbert Looked … Good?

Roy Hibbert had a far better start to the season than I predicted he would. He’s noticeably leaner than last year, and it even seems like his balance has improved, though he’s still below a newborn giraffe in this regard.

Hibbert had an impressive “Hold Me Back” moment after Malcolm Thomas pushed him to the ground from behind. Hibbert lumbered off the ground until suddenly finding a burst of energy and fury as teammates gathered to keep him away from Thomas. This was a very nice performance by Roy. The yells were powerful and the chest bump was very believable. Not Oscar worthy, but he deserves a nomination at the very least.

The Big Dawg’s offensive game looks improved. His footwork was much more controlled than in seasons past. Granted he was playing against the 75-pound Nerlens Noel and an array of D-Leaguers, but Hibbert’s 22 points were the brightest spot of the night. If he had played like this in the playoffs last season, the Pacers might have made a trip to the Finals.

Roy also had a dominant defensive game, accruing 7 blocks. Philly ended up scoring 48 points in the paint, but a lot of this came early and in transition, so the responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the center’s shoulders. Speaking of …

Man, That Was Some Poor Transition Defense

Philly had 19 fast-break points, but it sure felt like a lot more. Tony Wroten, a below average player, was getting to the rim with ease. The Indiana Pacers had a very tough time getting back on D in transition and semi-transition situations.

Indiana’s defense starts with Roy Hibbert being able to alter or block shots at the rim. This is effective in half-court situations, but when Hibbert isn’t great at quickly traversing the court, the Pacers’ defense falls apart. And that’s just against Philly. Watch out when the Pacers play Cleveland. Kevin Love is going to complete approximately 68 full-court outlet passes unless this issue is resolved.

Rodney Stuckey for President

Rodney Stuckey had a really good game. The Pacers opened up the game flat and unwatchable with a plethora of turnovers and numerous C.J. Miles bricks. But then, when hope was nearly lost and darkness began to consume all light, Stuckey stepped onto the court in a Pacers uniform for the first time. He opened up with consecutive bullish drives to the basket that resulted in and-one opportunities.

Stuck (is this a Rodney Stuckey nickname? Whatever, I’m going with it) was limited to just 16 minutes. He was still able to finish with an uber-efficient 16 points while dishing out 5 assists. If he’s able to sustain this sort of efficiency as his minutes increase, Rodney will be the team’s leading scorer.

Stuckey made this game bearable. It seems like a real possibility that he could have a career year. I mean, someone has to score the points for this team, right? He could be this year’s Arron Afflalo, a 20-point per game scorer having a borderline All-Star season because he’s on a bad team. If Stuckey turns out to be this type of player, he’s a very tradable asset. He’s only making $1.2 million this year and his contract expires at the end of this season, so he’s very cap friendly.

If the Pacers can somehow get a first rounder for Rodney, Bird needs to pull the trigger on said trade. But as long as Stuckey is in a Pacers jersey, I’m going to sit back and enjoy it, because on opening night, he was a treat. Thanks Stuck!

Damjan Rudez Might Not Have NBA Skills

I was very optimistic about Damjan Rudez coming into the season. I’m a sucker for Europeans and 3-point shooting. But after seeing him play in a real game, he looks slow. At times, the NBA game just seemed too fast for him. There certainly is an adjustment period, and he’s still in it, but Damo seemed sluggish. There was an instance in the first half where he brought the ball across half court while being guarded by just one Sixers defender; he was moving like he was being triple-teamed.

NBA 3-point range seemed challenging for Rudez, too. This can also be lumped into the adjustment-period category, but distance shooting is Rudez’s forte. Through the pre-season and game one, I haven’t seen anything to convince me of this is being true. He’s a below-average defender and doesn’t seem to have any sort of old-man-style trickery on either end of the court. He seems to be a fine passer, though, but if he’s going to be such a defensive liability, he has to score some points. Perhaps things will improve when he isn’t out there playing alongside a back court of Donald Sloan and Chris Copeland.

The Pacers Don’t Have Any “Gravity” Guys

Gravity, in terms of a something measured by Sports Vu, is caused by the respect defenders have for an opposing player’s abilities. A guy like Stephen Curry has a ton of gravity.

Defenders know Curry is an otherworldly shooter, so an entire team’s defense will move and adjust to him as he runs around the court. Curry’s ability to attract defenders and shift the opposition’s positioning opens up outside shots and driving lanes for his teammates.

Paul George provided this last year, ranking very high among the league leaders statististically. And gravity is an incredibly valuable thing that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

I’m not sure this year’s Pacers have much gravity, especially in the lineup that started against the Sixers. Phlly defenders were able to hold steady and sag into driving lanes as the ball moved around. This could improve when George Hill and David West return, but it stuck out