SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
|Marc Stein ESPN.com
||Jermaine O'Neal said it and I can't deny it: "We all know that the media is waiting [for a Ron Artest slip-up]." But we also want to see whether the team lives up to how good it looks on paper.|
|Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
||In the eyes of the Pacers, the league office treated them unfairly last season when the Palace brawl penalties were handed out. So it isn't just Ron Artest who is out to exact some revenge. The entire roster has a collective chip on its shoulders.|
|Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
||Larry Bird and Rick Carlisle have the team poised to challenge in the East. They will miss Reggie Miller's leadership but they have shown the type of toughness and resiliency that can get a team to the finals.|
|Eric Neel ESPN
|I would love this team if I didn't think at some point, in a big game, in a key moment, Jamaal Tinsley was going to cost them.|
|Tim Legler ESPN Insider
See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Indiana Pacers.
|Scoop Jackson ESPN
|Sarunas Jasikevicius is going to be the next Jimmy Chitwood in Hoosierville.|
|Will Perdue ESPN Insider
||This team can be a force in the East, but they must stay healthy both physically and mentally. Need more production from the bench.|
|John Hollinger ESPN Insider
||Amazingly deep even without Reggie, and they'll need to be since their bigs can't stop getting injured. Rookies Danny Granger and Jasikevicius only add to the stable.|
|Chad Ford ESPN Insider
||The Pacers looked like the best team in the league before Ron Artest blew up. If he behaves, they'll be as good as anyone in the league. And no one has a bigger chip on their shoulder.|
|John Carroll Scouts Inc.
||We all know the season comes down to one thing: Can Ron Artest play 82 games with focus, and make his team's success his major priority? If he stays on task, the Pacers may be the NBA champs in June.|
|Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
||They have all the makings -- talent, balance, motivation -- to be the East's best, but two things have to happen: Ron Artest has to be their best player and Sarunas Jasikevicius has to play defense well enough to be their crunch-time point guard.|
|Chris Broussard ESPN Insider
||Regular season will be great; playoff success depends on Jermaine's toughness.|
|Starters: Last year proved the Pacers are no two-man show.|
|20 and 10 are not enough. Must be a leader, too.||
|Was playing like an MVP before all that. Will again.||
|20 boards against Wallace and Wallace in playoff game. 'Nuff said.||
|Will make fans forget Reg for 46 minutes. Last two? Uh-oh.||
|Better bring it because his Lithuanian backup can go.||
|Bench: Size in Scot Pollard and David Harrison, skill in Austin Croshere and Sarunas Jasikevicius, athleticism in Fred Jones. Jonathan Bender? Never mind.||
ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hit newsstands Wednesday.
Player Efficiency Rating
vs. NBA Avg.: +7.85
Jermaine O'Neal was a more potent offensive force last season because he settled for fewer jumpers and drove to the rim, especially with his improved left hand. As a result, he averaged about one free-throw attempt for every two field-goal attempts, compared to last year's ratio of 1-to-3. This accounts for the improvement in his true shooting percentage.
Plus, O'Neal was more aggressive about going for his shots, leading to another big spike in his usage rate. As a result, he scored 27.9 points per 40 minutes, but he might want to tone it down a bit. While O'Neal can create shots from the post at will, his true shooting percentage shows he's not a high-percentage player. He's also a poor passer, leaving him vulnerable to double-teams. Indiana averaged a tenth of a point more when O'Neal was off the court than when he was on it, supporting the view that he should focus more on quality than on quantity.
With the return of Artest and the rest of Indiana's walking wounded, reducing O'Neal's shot attempts shouldn't be a problem. Last year the Pacers didn't have as much of a choice -- O'Neal was one of their few consistent offensive weapons. With more options this season, force-feeding O'Neal should become a lower priority.
Despite my misgivings about his shot frequency, O'Neal's defense, rebounding and post game make him one of the best big men in basketball. Having him for 82 games instead of the 44 he played a year ago improves the Pacers' outlook considerably.
We asked SportsNation who the Pacers' biggest spark plug would be and it turns out the Nation is most impressed by the international guy:
Most valuable Pacer role player this year?
32.1% Sarunas Jasikevicius
20.4% Danny Granger
15.9% Jeff Foster
15.5% Jonathan Bender
10.0% Fred Jones
6.1% Austin Croshere
Legs on Pacers: Guiding the Pacers to the playoffs last season was nothing short of a miracle, accomplished by Rick Carlisle. Remember, he lost 120 games of his best three players (Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, and Stephen Jackson) to suspensions.
Now, Artest is back, hopefully to stay, and the Pacers will challenge once again for the Eastern crown.
With Jamaal Tinsley healthy and the addition of former Maryland Terrapin and Lithuanian superstar Sarunas Jasikevicius backing him up at the point, the Pacers believe they can get to the promised land, despite losing certain future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller to retirement.
Tim Legler, ESPN Insider
Experience: 4 years
Reg. season record: 205-123
Playoff record: 28-28
In a dysfunctional year, Rick Carlisle found a way to get his team into the playoffs. A remarkable job!
Indiana will challenge Detroit and Miami for Eastern Conference supremacy if Carlisle can keep Ron Artest and crew focused and on task.
Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider
Although Indiana's depth helps it withstand injuries better than most, it needs its three star players -- Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley -- to be fully functional in order to challenge for the title. Two years ago, Tinsley limped through the playoffs on a bad hamstring while O'Neal tweaked his knee; last year O'Neal hurt his shoulder and Tinsley had a foot problem. Artest, of course, disqualified himself with his antics last season and might do so again.
This also presents Carlisle with an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. He can keep his reserves happy and his studs healthier by limiting the minutes Tinsley and O'Neal play until the playoffs begin. This is especially true in Tinsley's case, since Carlisle has three point guards to share the load. With Tinsley missing 72 games over the past two seasons, in addition to several playoff contests, limiting him to 25 minutes a night while keeping him fresh for the postseason is imperative.
If this is the year the Pacers break through and win the East, they'll need to avoid crippling injuries in April and May.
Sleeper: Stephen Jackson knows that this is his chance to shine, now that Reggie Miller has retired. Jackson is the Pacers' top long-range option now. With two 3s per game and a scoring average in the high teens, fantasy owners get what Miller used to provide, plus decent rebounding and steals totals.
Bust: Jamaal Tinsley doesn't get recognized as a top fantasy point guard, because he can't stay on the court. He's missed nearly half of Indy's games the last two seasons. Although he did average more than 18 points per game last December and January, the Pacers won't need him to be as proficient with Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal back.
Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index