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The Brightest Spot of Obie's Year In Indy

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At 30-43, it certainly hasn't been the smoothest first-year experience for former Celtics coach Jim O'Brien in Indianapolis this season.

Granted, in the Eastern Conference, that record puts Obie's Pacers right in the thick of the playoff picture.  But for a guy who has made a career out of doing more with less, it's hard to imagine that it hasn't been frustrating.

Earlier this season, I wrote an ode to Obie, praising the man for his ability to provide something that goes far beyond X's and O's.  His ability to get his players to bust their guts for him on a night-in and night-out basis is one of the most underrated coaching assets in this league.  The freewheeling style he espouses might make observers crazy, but in both of his prior stops, he got his players to buy in, and that is far more than half the battle in the Association.

The results haven't been there in the won-loss column this season.  But for one particular Pacer, Obie's first season in Indiana has brought a career resurrection with it.

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It has been a renaissance season for Mike Dunleavy.  For the first time in six seasons in his professional career, Junior Dunleavy has begun to truly show signs of why he was a high lottery pick coming out of Duke in the 2002 draft.

Part of it has probably been the simple fact that Dunleavy needed to be liberated from Golden State, where he had fallen into the hole of not living up to the expectations that come with being the third selection in the NBA draft.  Dunleavy has averaged just 12.2 points on sub-45 percent shooting for his career, with just 4.9 boards and 2.6 assists per game.  Hard to get too excited about those figures.

But another part of it has undoubtedly the way in which Obie's tutelage has allowed Dunleavy to flourish.  The 6-foot-9 shooting guard is having a blast doing exactly what Obie asks his players to do: Go hard, shoot the three, keep moving and perhaps most of all, relax.

For what seems like the first time in his career, Mike Dunleavy isn't pressing.  He knows that his coach has full confidence in him and that he doesn't have to worry about his minutes getting jerked around.  Instead, he is just doing what he the scouts always knew he could do.  They knew Dunleavy could shoot the ball, and they knew he was a heady offensive player who moves off the ball and uses screens well.  In Obie's high-octane, get-open-get-the-ball-throw-it-up system, Dunleavy has been able to do all that with the greatest efficacy of his career.

As one of the featured players in a fast-paced offense, Dunleavy is getting more opportunities than ever before, which is giving him more of a chance to get comfortable.  He is also getting better opportunities than ever before, largely because of his movement.  Dunleavy isn't the world's quickest player, but he is more than happy to run back-cuts and 'V'-cuts down the baseline and through the lane all day, which forces opponents to make a choice between letting him shoot from deep or go back-door.  Too often, they have done both.  Dunleavy is shooting 48 percent from the field and an absurd 41.5 percent from behind the arc (his previous career high was 38.8).  Combine that with a career-high 84.4 percent from the foul line, and Dunleavy ends up with a true shooting percentage of 60.6, good for 23rd in basketball and sixth among two-guards.

More opportunities plus more efficiency equals lots more production.  Dunleavy is going for 18.7 points per game -- five more than his previous career high -- and 3.5 assists (another career high) to go with 5.3 rebounds per game.  And he has looked good doing it, too.  Treys, pull-up jumpers, goofy, off-balance lay-ups, you name it: Dunleavy has done it all at times this season, and he has even put up nine 30-plus-point efforts along the way to boot.

This hasn't been the most enjoyable of seasons for the Indiana Pacers.   But if nothing else, Mike Dunleavy has shown that he is ready to be a big part of a team for the long haul.  For a man many had given up on in the six seasons prior -- and for the coach who helped his cause -- that's something to be proud of.