SI Vault
Ian Thomsen
October 30, 2000
Last year's East champs sure look different. It will be interesting to see how well they play
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October 30, 2000

8 Indiana Pacers

Last year's East champs sure look different. It will be interesting to see how well they play

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Projected Lineup



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Austin Croshere


10.3 ppg

6.4 rpg

1.1 apg

44.1 FG%

36.2 3FG%


Jermaine O'Neal


3.9 ppg

3.3 rpg

0.79 bpg

48.6 FG%

58.2 FT%


Sam Perkins


6.6 ppg

3.6 rpg

41.7 FG%

48.8 3FG%

82.5 FT%


Reggie Miller


18.1 ppg

1.05 spg

44.8 FG%

40.8 3FG%

91.9 FT%


Jalen Rose


18.2 ppg

4.0 apg

4.8 rpg

1.05 spg

47.1 FG%



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Travis Best


8.9 ppg

3.3 apg

1.7 rpg

0.93 spg

48.3 FG%


Al Harrington


6.6 ppg

3.2 rpg

0.8 apg

45.8 FG%

23.5 3FG%


Jonathan Bender


2.7 ppg

0.9 rpg

32.9 FG%

16.7 3FG%

66.7 FT%


Derrick McKey


4.3 ppg

4.2 rpg

1.1 apg

0.91 spg

39.8 FG%


Zan Tabak


2.1 ppg

1.8 rpg

0.50 bpg

47.1 FG%

62.5 FT%

New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

No one would blame Jermaine O'Neal for feeling a little apprehensive as he drove to Conseco Fieldhouse for his first week on the new job. He realized he probably wasn't the most popular Pacers employee. "I wouldn't be surprised if every guy was upset that they had traded Dale," says O'Neal, the 22-year-old that Indiana received from Portland in exchange for All-Star power forward Dale Davis. "Isiah did a really good job of putting it out in the open. In front of the team he said, 'Jermaine, we're putting a lot on your shoulders. You've got to show you can play.' "

Considering that they came within two games of winning last year's title, the Pacers have undergone an inordinate number of changes. Larry Bird retired and was replaced on the sideline by his former rival, Isiah Thomas, and elderly point guard Mark Jackson departed for more money and playing time in Toronto. But the most unsettling move was the trade of Davis, Indiana's only intimidating interior presence. Without Jackson, Davis and retired center Rik Smits, the East's oldest team suddenly became one of the youngest. Three players—O'Neal and forwards Jonathan Bender and Al Harrington—are under 23 and made the jump from high school straight to the NBA. "We'll use them a lot in the beginning," Thomas says of the trio, none of whom has played more than 18 minutes a game in a season. "The goal is to get them ready for the end."

Thomas has installed a passing game in which, ideally, the players will read and react to the defense rather than running set plays. During the preseason he conducted a series of unusual experiments with his youngsters; the 6'11" Bender, for instance, was stationed at point guard in an effort to strengthen his ball handling, and he and Harrington were prohibited from posting up smaller opponents. "I want them to exercise and use the other parts of their game, to play other positions, to learn to use their teammates," says Thomas.

Thomas has even done some experimenting with Jalen Rose, whose move from the three to the point has been delayed by the broken wrist he suffered during the team's first exhibition game. Rose, however, continued to practice with a cast on his left hand, his shooting hand, forcing him to use his right. "Hopefully I can become ambidextrous," says Rose, who expects to be back within the season's first two weeks.

Though he was unhappy that management let Jackson leave, Reggie Miller has bought into the youth movement and appears to be enjoying his new role of on-the-floor coach. Miller, who is as dangerous a threat as ever, will get plenty of scoring help from guard Travis Best and versatile forward Austin Croshere—whose breakout performance in last year's postseason landed him a seven-year $51 million contract—and center Sam Perkins, who changed his mind about retiring this summer. Despite his 39 years, Perkins is a reliable shooter and amazingly durable, having missed only nine games over the past eight seasons.

The swing player is O'Neal, who languished on Portland's bench for the last four years but will be expected to quickly fill the considerable void left by the departed Davis. O'Neal isn't as muscular or fearsome, but he is gifted with a shot blocker's timing, and he's very versatile.

"Remember how quick Moses Malone was around the basket?" says Thomas, who has indicated that he will try O'Neal at every position. "Jermaine has that same quickness. He can handle the ball as well as a guard. He's very old-school in his thinking and in the way he was taught the game. You take Al and Jonathan, they think the only success they can have is by scoring two points. Jermaine understands there are other things."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]