At week's end the 6'3" Tinsley ranked fourth in the league in assists (7.4 per game) and 16th in steals (1.83)—phenomenal numbers for a 27th draft pick. In a 120-113, double-overtime loss to Minnesota last Friday he scored 12 points, handed out 15 assists, had six steals and blocked five shots. The next night Tinsley scored a game-high 28 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in a 104-98 loss at Detroit. Indiana coach Isiah Thomas, who figured Tinsley would be a lottery pick after watching tape of him last January, believes he would have been a much higher choice 10 years ago, when NBA teams were focused on drafting finished products.
Lackluster performances at the predraft camps also hurt Tinsley's draft position. By the time he came to Indiana for his interview, Thomas and team president Donnie Walsh had heard rumors that he was a bad actor, going all the way back to a run-in with the law Tinsley had as a teenager in Brooklyn. He spent three days in jail when police charged him with armed robbery; the charges were later dropped. Tinsley dropped out of high school, and he needed two years at Mount San Jacinto Community College in California to qualify academically for Iowa State, which he led to a pair of Big 12 titles.
Now Tinsley, 23, finds himself cutting deeply into the playing time of Travis Best, one of the league's top sixth men last season. (Although he'll be a free agent after this season, Best has handled a nine-minute-per-game reduction in playing time without complaint.) Tinsley also finds himself being coached by one of his childhood idols. "He lets me go out and play," Tinsley says of Thomas. "Because he played the position, he understands that some of the mistakes I make are things I need to go through."