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With certain troublemakers still on the payroll and plenty of questions remaining about his team's basketball acumen, Larry Bird remains entrenched in his efforts to remake both the Indiana Pacers' roster and the team's image. He did pull off two significant draft night deals, which means that coach Jim O'Brien has some remodeling of his own to do on the Pacers' rotation. That starts at the top with the point guard slot.
No matter his contract status, Jamaal Tinsley is all but assured not to be involved at this point. Larry Legend did pick up a point guard in each of those two draft night moves, snagging T.J. Ford along with center Roy Hibbert in the deal that sent Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto and obtaining Jarrett Jack from Portland along with the rights to Brandon Rush in exchange for Ike Diogu and the rights to Jerryd Bayless.
The Indianapolis Star's Mike Wells reported Tuesday that Jim O'Brien has declared an open competition between the new acquisitions for the top spot on the depth chart. We're listing Ford as the favorite.
The Pacers have a pair of floor generals whose skill sets and deficienies complement each other well. Ford is the more explosive of the two. He has the lightning speed and the flair for dynamic play in the open floor. The former Texas Longhorn loves to get up and down the floor and sprint out on the break. He has the quickness to get to the basket and can distribute the basketball, too (6.9 assists per game and 8.4 per 36 minutes for his career).
In contrast, Jack seems more suited for the slower game than is Ford. He doesn't possess Ford's breakaway speed or his ability to get to the rim, but he shoots the ball a bit better from mid-range and the outside. Though he isn't spectacular from long range, his 33.2 career three-point shooting percentage easily tops Ford's 31.0 mark. Jack doesn't rack up quite as many assists (4.0, 5.3) because he doesn't look to penetrate and kick quite as often and seems more comfortable running the offense from the atop the circles. However, he is a bit more careful with the basketball than Ford, turning it over less than twice per game (2.6 per 36 minutes) to Ford's 2.7 giveaways per game (3.3 per 36). Jack has shot the ball more effectively throughout his career (55.6 percent true shooting), but Ford has raised his efficiency in each of his four seasons and wasn't terrible at 53.3 percent true shooting last season, though he is at just 49.7 for his professional tenure.
Defensively, Jack no doubt has the edge. He has a reputation as a scrappy player with a tough streak, and his size is a big help at the point. At 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, Jack dwarfs Ford, who is listed generously at 6 feet and 165 pounds. Small even by point guard standards, Ford tends to be a liability against any guard even remotely comfortable going to the post, and though he is quicker than Jack, he isn't as rugged. When the team needs added defensive intensity, Jack will be in the floor.
But despite Obie's reported claims that defense will be a deciding factor in determining playing time, the coach's system makes Ford the most likely starter. No matter how much he preaches a commitment to defense, O'Brien his shown that he loves to run his freewheeling up-and-down, heave-'em-up system. Ford is simply the better-suited guard for running that offense. His affinity for the fast break will allow the Pacers to keep the tempo up. Ford's ability to get in the lane will lead to plenty of kick-outs to his swingmen for three-point attempts, which is of course a crux of the Obie system. Though Ford isn't as efficient as Jack, he does look to shoot with more regularity, particularly on drives to the rim, and he is a higher volume scorer. The freestyle, always-in-go-mode feel of O'Brien's offense should be a boon for Ford.
Jarrett Jack is one of the league's best fitted players to the role of backup point guard. He isn't spectacular but doesn't take unnecessary risks and doesn't cost his team possessions when he is on the floor. That he will be a defensive presence in addition to providing a bit more shooting range is a bonus. But he doesn't have the dynamic ability that T.J. Ford does in the open floor, and Ford's ability to take this high-octane offense to new heights remains the most likely attribute to catch Jim O'Brien's fancy this fall.