Observation Deck (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday April 10, 2007 5:53PM; Updated: Tuesday April 10, 2007 6:23PM
Indiana did well in dumping Jackson and Jasikevicius in January, but it was far too late. And though the trade with Golden State did bring in solid low-post scorer Ike Diogu (who continues to play well in far-too-limited minutes), the Pacers had to take on Troy Murphy (who, and we're not joking, has never looked slower), and Mike Dunleavy (a purported shooter who has made 29.4 percent of his long-range looks as a Pacer). By now you have a team that is running more than ever (ninth most possessions in the NBA, up from 30th two seasons ago), but is also the league's least efficient offense.
Which brings us back to O'Neal. He is a good post player who can consistently get you 20 and 10, but he has to shoot a lot to break the 20-point barrier on most nights (he's hitting 44 percent this season, 46 percent for his career). O'Neal just doesn't convert enough to make it worth a good team's while to keep going to him offensively. And don't think coach Rick Carlisle hasn't tried: O'Neal was an inefficient shooter when he paced the league's slowest offense with non-scorer Jeff Foster at his side, and he's struggled in the newly up-tempo turn with Murphy spreading the floor within the frontcourt.
O'Neal is still a monster defensively (2.7 blocks per game), but things have to change. If the Pacers don't blow up things this summer, or if they aren't able to unload O'Neal, they at least need to develop an offense that isn't based solely around O'Neal holding the ball for 10 seconds at a time in the triple-threat position. It's a damn near impossible situation: The team has proved that it can't win, even in the East, but the only way it'll probably be able to unload Tinsley, Daniels, Dunleavy or Murphy at this point is to include O'Neal in any blockbuster deal.
The Pacers probably don't have enough to make the playoffs -- through Monday they were 1½ games behind eighth-seeded Orlando with six to play -- and they might miss out on a lower-rung lottery pick. Currently slated to draft 12th, if Indiana's pick strays below 10, it goes to Atlanta as part of the Harrington sign-and-trade from last August.
Those plucky Toronto Raptors keep winning (13 out of 17, actually), and are just a game out of the East's second seed despite having rookie sharpshooters Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa on the injured list for the bulk of the streak. Though Sam Mitchell's team is the league's worst in offensive rebounding per the percentage of offensive caroms available (something about all those long misses), it makes up for that failing by rarely turning the ball over and playing ever-improving defense.
As it stands today and probably next week, Toronto will face the reeling Wizards in the first round, and either Chicago (the East's second-hottest team, which Toronto dismissed by 14 on Sunday) or New Jersey in the second round. The Raptors split the season series with each team, both times losing the first two contests before taking the second pair.
Though I've already suggested that Utah trade Andrei Kirilenko to a team more suited to utilize his strengths -- i.e., one with available minutes at power forward -- I also fully submit that this upcoming bit of trivia and the small sample size inherent doesn't go very far in supporting my claim that Kirilenko isn't fitting in well with the current Jazz rotation.
That said, keep on eye on how Utah finishes the season. AK-47 could miss two weeks with a broken thumb, and solid rookie Ronnie Brewer will start in his absence. And though Brewer is still a raw 22-year-old talent who will make some defensive miscues, the Jazz (trivia alert!) have won six of nine in games that Kirilenko has missed thus far this season. He might be expendable, and if his versatility and youth could bring in a scoring option on the wing, the Jazz need to pull the trigger.
Would Phoenix be comfortable sending the 2007 lottery pick it acquired from the Hawks in 2005 (provided it doesn't fall in the top three, where Atlanta would be able to keep it), plus Kurt Thomas' and Eric Piatkowski's expiring contracts, to Utah for Kirilenko? The Suns hardly need another scorer -- even someone like Al Horford, Jeff Green or Corey Brewer -- and Kirilenko's outside shooting and defensive brilliance would work wonders in an up-tempo offense. Joakim Noah would seem like a lovely fit on the Suns, but with Steve Nash in his 30s, why not go for the more refined shot-blocker? Meanwhile, the Jazz could secure the rights to a young shooting guard or a more orthodox scoring small forward.
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