Jim O'Brien has brought a new style to Indiana, including a faster pace. How has this helped the Pacers?
Point guard Jamaal Tinsley has basically been unleashed and as a result is playing the best all-around basketball of his career. With Tinsley free to push the tempo and create, the team’s wing players – Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Marquis Daniels – have played much more prominent roles in the offense than the past. As a result, there is less pressure on Jermaine O’Neal to be the focal point of every offensive set because there is a greater diversity of weapons and tactics.
Mike Dunleavy seems to be reaping the benefits of playing under O'Brien. How is his game different this season?
He added some muscle in the offseason and appears much more confident and comfortable. He has said O’Brien’s system is very similar philosophically to that in which he thrived at Duke. Last year, the team didn’t run much and he was mainly viewed as a spot-up or kick-out shooter. This year he’s doing things on the move, has the ball in his hands more and as a result tends to be much more in rhythm when he shoots. He averages 22 points in victories and 11 in losses so it’s clear how important he’s become to the team’s success.
How thankful is everyone in Indiana that Danny Granger inexplicable dropped to the 17th pick in the 2005 Draft?
We’re still trying to figure that one out. He was fifth on the Pacers draft board. He not only is a very talented player who appears in the brink of legitimate stardom, he’s a high-quality person and respected professional who holds himself to high standards on and off the court.
What are the main reasons the Pacers have got off to a strong 2-0 start on this West Coast swing?
They’ve been going through a culture change from a strict halfcourt system of the previous four seasons to a much more free-flowing style this year. Early on, they ran in fits and starts but not for full games. They also didn’t fully comprehend how hard it would be to execute an up-tempo offense while maintaining a commitment to strong defense. Lately, they’re playing much more complete games in terms of maintaining tempo and commitment. They entered this trip having played seven straight games against teams with winning records and went 4-3, so they were confident heading West, and that confidence appears to be growing.
What don't we know but should about the Pacers?
I’d have to say it’s that they’re really one of the younger teams in the league, though they’re rarely perceived as such. Jeff Foster, 30, is the oldest player on the roster and fully 12 of their 15 players are 27 or younger. Key rotation players like Granger, Shawne Williams, Ike Diogu (who’s hurt) and David Harrison are all emerging talents.