The Point Guard Problem in Indiana

Pace MillerCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  T.J. Ford #5 of the Indiana Pacers in action during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on November 30, 2009 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers have a dilemma. They have three point guards in TJ Ford, Earl Watson, and AJ Price, but Coach O'Brien will only play two.  With the playoffs all but out of reach, who should play and who should sit?

This season, the Pacers have tried just about everything at the pivotal point guard spot without much success. 

They began with TJ Ford, who was handed the starting role again after Jarrett Jack fled to the Toronto Raptors during the offseason.  For whatever reason, the speedy Ford turned into a shoot-first point guard that still had major difficulties running the offense.

By January, things had gotten so bad that Ford was pushed out of the rotation completely in favor of the average but steady Earl Watson, while rookie AJ Price moved into the primary backup role.  According to O'Brien, this gave the Pacers their best chance to win.

When Earl Watson left the Pacers for personal reasons in early February, Price was promoted to starter while Ford was called back to the bench.  Ford "flourished" in those two games (11 and 20 points, respectively), and consequently when Watson returned from his short hiatus, it was Price that was ousted from the rotation this time.

Meanwhile, through all of this chopping and changing, Indiana remained at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.  The Pacers' current record is 19-37, placing them second last in the East and fifth last in the league.

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What should Jim O'Brien do from here?  If there can only be two point guards, who should they be? 

To me, the answer is obvious.

It is clear TJ Ford's time with the Pacers is over after this season.  The Pacers made their intentions clear when they almost dealt Ford to the Bobcats for DJ Augustin before the trade deadline.  For the season, Ford is averaging 10.5 points and just 3.6 assists per game, though his numbers since returning in February have been slightly more impressive (13.7 points and 3.4 assists). 

Regardless, expect the Pacers to do everything they can to move him before the commencement of next season.

Earl Watson, as hard as he tries, simply doesn't have the physical tools to be the type of point guard the Pacers need.  Watson is averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 assists.  Solid for a backup but not exactly what a starting PG should be producing.

Lastly, there is second round pick AJ Price.  Price has surprised many by averaging 7.4 points and 1.8 assists this season, hitting some big shots along the way.  Price's numbers are the least impressive on paper, but that is because he plays the least minutes of the three. 

Per 48 minutes, Price's averages (22.9 points, 5 rebounds and 5.7 assists) are comparable to both Ford's (20.6, 6.4 and 7.1) and Watson's (13.1, 5.5 and 7.9).  But the difference, of course, is that Price is a rookie with upside, whereas Ford and Watson are in decline.

Needing nothing less than a miracle to secure a playoff spot, the Pacers ought to be looking towards the future.  This means playing promising rookie AJ Price, as opposed to two veterans who haven't been getting the job done.  The Pacers should start Price every game for the remainder of the season and have Earl Watson come off the bench. 

While Ford may be the best individual player of the three, we have seen enough of him this season to know that he doesn't make the Pacers a better team.

Besides, what is the worse that can happen?  Since the Pacers are heading to the lottery anyway, why not give Price more playing time to boost his confidence and experience, while giving the Pacers a better chance at landing a top draft pick?