In the first part of our Q&A with Tom from Indiana Pacers blog Indy Cornrows we covered how former Warriors Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, and Ike Diogu are doing on the Pacers as well as Stephen Jackson's tenure in the midwest. Some thoughts on Al Harrington's progression, the role race played in the Pacers making the trade, and a look inside the Pacers' improved scoring this season are all on tap in this second part.
Make the jump for the interview!
Golden State of Mind: Al Harrington was originally drafted by the Pacers out of high school. You've seen him grow from his rookie year to now. Did you expect his game to grow into what it's become? Are there any areas in his game that you're surprised he isn't better in?
Indy Cornrows: Al has come a long way since Kendra Davis was pinning chore lists to his shirt, although his game never developed as much as I hoped it would. There's no shame in being a solid NBA role player, but I always hoped Al would compile the flashes of greatness into a consistent game, combine it with his exuberant personality and become a next gen Charles Barkley. Don't get me wrong, Al's game has continually improved and he has plenty of savvy vet years ahead of him to keep improving. One nice surprise is how he's developed the range on his shot. I can't believe how well he's shot the 3-ball over the past two years. On the other hand, his interior game has always been disappointing. He's so sturdy, yet his rebounding and ability to finish around the hoop are streaky at best.
I love Al's attitude and work ethic. He's always longed to be THE man, counted on in crunch time to deliver the big buckets. He often tried with the Pacers, but could never deliver. I always felt Al would've benefited from playing in college because he spent those formative years on the bench observing how to finish a game, but in college he could've played in pressure packed games and actually experienced what it takes to deliver in front of a hostile crowd.
Golden State of Mind: There have been some allegations from both fans and media critics alike that the Pacers made the 8 player deal with the Warriors last season simply to get "whiter" and get more red state appeal. How much do you buy into that theory, if any at all? What role if any do you think race played in the Pacers' decision to pull the trigger on this trade?
Indy Cornrows: I don't think race played any part in the trade going down. As I mentioned above, Jack under Carlisle was not working out and his off-court problems eroded his support from fans. Instead of firing Carlisle, they tried to move Jack and there weren't many takers. Al Harrington was beloved here. His game didn't fit well with J.O., but no one was happy to see Al leave. Golden State didn't want to trade for Jack alone, so Al was the value added to the trade in order to move Jack. This topic came up when Jim O'Brien was used for preseason advertising instead of the players and a local article mentioned fans not identifying with "hip hop" culture. Never mind the fact that the face of the franchise, Jermaine O'Neal, was trade fodder throughout the offseason. I let my feelings be known at the time because talk of the ad was combined with the trade raised the issue.
I've lived on both the West and East Coasts and after living in Indiana for some time now, I sometimes think people on both coasts don't realize there are actually a few African-Americans in the Midwest. Indiana has a vibrant African-American community that host some of the biggest annual events in the country, let alone Indy. Are there racist people in Indiana? Of course, just as there are in every place in America. But with everything that happened to the franchise since the Brawl, there was a lengthy list of factors that contributed to the trade with the Warriors, so to point toward race, in my mind, requires a simple and shallow thought process.
Golden State of Mind: Holy cow! The Pacers are a high scoring team. Right now they're scoring 103/game, good for 7th in the league. My theory: Dunleavy, Murphy, and Diogu took Nellie's teaching from Golden State and they in turn taught their teammates in Indiana. Or maybe it was new coach, Jim O'Brien's new up-tempo schemes. Obviously, the emergence of Granger and improved scoring efficiency from Dunleavy help quite a bit, but given the personnel I wouldn't have expected them to be a high scoring team. Has O'Brien's new offense really made that big of a difference? What changes has he made from Rick Carlisle's team? Is the scoring something that's surprised you? And lastly, are they going to keep this up?
Indy Cornrows: Jim O'Brien was hell bent on increasing the Pacers' offensive pace from the time he took the job. I am surprised he was able to much such an immediate impact on the style of play. There are differences from Nellie's system because of the motion principles O'B preaches. The key though is the emphasis on pushing the ball and having Jamaal Tinsley around to run it. Tinsley is a different player and person this year under O'B. He couldn't stand Carlisle holding him up to call a set play all the time. O'B gets upset if the players don't run and Tins doesn't push it up court.
Danny Granger and Dunleavy have both shot better which also helps the offense, but the running and motion have also created far more easy buckets around the hoop. When the team can run consistently they often get behind the defense leading to quick, easy dueces, so I don't see any reason they can't keep it up. The problem now is stopping the opponent at the other end.
Golden State of Mind: The Pacers are hovering right around .500 and it looks like they'll stay that way the entire year. With the struggles at the end of last year and missing the playoffs, did you expect this team to be playing at the level they are? What has been the biggest difference between the end of last year and the start of this year? What or who has been surprising to you? What do the Pacers need to do to improve?
Indy Cornrows: I thought I was being pretty optimistic to predict 41 to 43 wins this year. I couldn't believe how well the team started the year and how much more entertaining the style of play has been. O'B was able to completely change the attitude of the team and they have bought into all of his expectation. But, now some old issues are popping up, namely nagging injuries to J.O. and Tinsley. Plus, overall the defense has been horrible. The perimeter defense can't guard anyone one-on-one which leads to a lot of reaching fouls or fouls by the bigs coming over to help in the lane. Opponents have shot nearly 300 more free throws than the Pacers this year and that differential in some games has been staggering. O'B has stressed defense in order to earn playing time, but it sounds like now he's going small and trying to keep the pace up. Might as well, the defense can't get any worse.
As for the players, the disappointments have been Diogu, David Harrison, and Travis Diener. Diener's shown signs of turning it around but now he's hurt. The pleasant surprises have been Dunleavy, Tinsley, and Kareem Rush. Rush has really taken advantage of his opportunity with the Pacers. His once maligned defense has drastically improved to the point where he is the Pacers best perimeter defender right now.
Unfortunately, the Pacers' best case scenario is making the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed which wouldn't be much fun this year. Their stuck in NBA no man's land where the cap makes it hard to move players and they aren't losing enough to expect a high impact player in the draft. At least with O'B in charge, the team will continue to grind and at least give us an entertaining effort. Well, most of the time.
The entire GSoM crew wanted to thank Tom for providing such in-depth responses to our questions! Definitely head on over to Indy Cornrows anytime you're curious about how our former Warriors or the Pacers are doing.