Can Dunleavy Keep This Up?
The list of disappointments from the 2002 NBA Draft is longer than Beyonce's weave. Yeah, Yao Ming, Amare Stoudemire, Caron Butler and Carlos Boozer (a second-round pick) have become all-stars, but it's pretty pitiful when three of the top six picks are already out of the league after just five years - Jay Williams (No.2) and Dajuan Wagner (No. 6) both had unfortunate health problems; Nickoloz Tskitishvili (No. 5) was just plain terrible.
Some people probably thought the No. 3 pick from that draft was out of the league, too, since Mike Dunleavy Jr. had done little to distinguish himself as any more than the son of the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. Dunleavy wasn't worthless his first five seasons in the NBA, spent mostly at Golden State, just not somebody worthy of such a high draft pick.
This season, his first full season with the Indiana Pacers, Dunleavy is averaging career highs in points (16.6), rebounds (6.1), field goal percentage (48) and three-point percentage (39.3). He is shooting with confidence, attacking the basket with aggression. Who is this guy?
Not the trembly-kneed guy who often looked afraid to shoot. Not the tentative guy Baron Davis sometimes ignored when he was handing out assists. And certainly not the confused guy who had no sense of who he was as a player. That guy is gone - at least through the first month of the regular season.
Dunleavy still isn't putting up the numbers you'd expect from the franchise players typically selected at the third slot - he never will, and there is no guarantee that he will be able to keep up this pace for the rest of the season. But Dunleavy is serviceable. And, he is finally showing what he is capable of when he's in a system that complements his strengths, and for a coach (Jim O'Brien) who has confidence in his abilities.
"The stuff he brings to the table," Dunleavy recently said about O'Brien, "fits well for me, for this group of players and this team. We're not just standing around and watching one or two guys play."
The Pacers (8-8) appear to be in the process of phasing out Jermaine O'Neal, whose back-to-the-basket game doesn't fit with O'Brien's Rick Pitino-influenced, see-the-three-be-the-three offense. Dunleavy, Danny Granger (career-high 18.4 points) and point guard Jamaal Tinsley (13.9 points, career-high 8.3 assists) are thriving. It might not be a coincidence that Indiana is 5-1 without O'Neal this season. It is 3-7 with him. (You get the feeling that O'Neal will have to turn into an overdribbling, gunslinging Antoine Walker to blend in better).
O'Neal has missed the past five games, and the Pacers have lost once. They've pulled off back-to-back road wins against the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers this week, with Dunleavy combining for 50 points and 15 rebounds in those victories.
He had 20 points and 11 rebounds in Portland. His 30-point game on Tuesday in Denver - where he outscored Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson - was just two points shy of his career high. He's already had five games with at least 20 points this season. He never had more than 13 in any season with the Warriors.
Over his past five games, Dunleavy is averaging 18.6 points, 6 rebounds, shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 (9 for 19) percent from beyond the three-point line. It's the kind of production that Warriors general manager Chris Mullin thought he'd get out of Dunleavy when he handed him a ridiculous (at the time) five-year, $44-million extension in 2005.
When you look at Dunleavy's history in Golden State, it's easy to understand how he often looked defeated and depressed. The Warriors had three different coaches - Eric Musselman, Mike Montgomery and Don Nelson - his first five seasons. Each coach had his own style and suggestion on what kind of player Dunleavy should be. He's 6-foot-9 with a decent skill set, but Dunleavy has always been known as player who can do a number of things okay, but nothing exceptionally well. He was tried out as a point forward, a slashing swingman, and a designated shooter. He could never find a role that fit him.
"There wasn't a set system year in, year out that I could get used to," Dunleavy said. "There was so much change. That made it real tough. Every coach was different, from what position I was going to play, to how to shoot a jump shot. Maybe that was my fault for listening. I want to be a coachable player. I always did what they asked of me."
It got him nowhere and nothing but grief. Fans in the Bay Area had turned on him completely. He would routinely get booed at home games and his body language cried out for a change of scenery. Then, he finally got his wish when he was shipped to Indiana as part of an eight-player trade in January. "For whatever reason, it wasn't the right fit for me out there. I felt that way from Day One," Dunleavy said about Golden State. "When the trade happened, [Pacers CEO] Donnie [Walsh] gave me the call and I just felt relieved. I was just happy to move on."
The Warriors were glad to move on as well. Especially after Golden State's new acquisitions, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, helped the organization end a 13-year playoff drought and sparked an improbable run that included a first-round upset of the 67-win Dallas Mavericks. The Pacers, however, finished the season 15-29 - including an 11-game losing streak - after the trade and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
O'Brien said Dunleavy was one of the main reasons he took the job in Indiana. "[Troy] Murphy, Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, people looked at what happened with the trade last year - the Pacers went down and I think they kind of pinned it on them. I think that was a mistake," O'Brien said. "I think when all is said and done, people that have an interest in the Indiana Pacers are going to be real happy with that trade."
Dunleavy already is. "All in all, where I'm at right now, I'm happy," Dunleavy said. "I think as a professional athlete, I never lost confidence. I may have been uncomfortable or unsure in situations. But in terms of my abilities, I never lost confidence. I always knew that if I was in the right situation, the right scenario, everything would be great."
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