The most frustrating player of the Indiana Pacers only got worse. When the Pacers drafted Rush out of Kansas (after winning the 2008 NCAA title) with the 13th overall pick, they knew they had an athletic guard who could shoot, defend and was not afraid to take the big shots. In the NBA, Rush showed flashes of brilliance (remember the big games he had at the end of his first and second seasons?) but also inexplicably disappeared at times. The potential was definitely there but the Pacers knew they had to be patient for Rush to wake up and realize that potential.
This season, the third of Rush’s career, was the year he was supposed to take his game to the next level. Along with Roy Hibbert, Rush was supposed to be the guy that would give Danny Granger the scoring help he needed. But what happened instead? Nothing. If Rush had improved his game, it certainly didn’t show, at least not on paper.
Things got off to a rocky start this season for Rush, when it was discovered that he would be suspended for the first 5 games of the regular season after failing his third drug test (of which the first two were not disclosed to the Pacers). It didn’t come as a huge surprise, considering how he looked out on the court during parts of his first two seasons, that Rush might have liked to smoke a bit of weed every now and then. But failing the test three times? That’s just stupid, irresponsible and unprofessional.
Nonetheless, the Pacers, for whatever reason, picked up the team option on Rush’s rookie contract, meaning unless he gets traded, Rush will be a Pacer until the end of the 2011-2012 season.
Rush started off his 2010-2011 campaign with a bang, scoring 16 points and grabbing 7 boards in his return game against Denver, though everyone had a good game that day (it was THE 144-113 game, the one where they missed only one shot in the third quarter). Great, I remember thinking at the time. If Rush can just remain consistent, something he hadn’t been able to do in his first two years, this could very well be his breakout year.
In the very next game, Rush goes for 2 points in 26 minutes in a loss against Houston. That pretty much summed up Brandon Rush’s third year, or maybe, his entire career. Rush would have a decent stretch (eg, 15, 21, 26) and then a horrible one (eg, 2, 4, 6, 5, 8). He would show flashes of brilliant shooting (he was deadly in catch and shoot situations, especially at the start of the year) and then not take a shot all game. In many ways, he symbolized the Jekyll and Hyde performances of the Pacers all season.
He had one game winning dunk against the Detroit Pistons in February, but for the most part, this was yet another forgettable season for the player everybody expected so much more from. For the season, Rush averaged 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists, all down from the numbers of his sophomore year (9.4, 4.2, 1.4). That said, he did play less minutes (26.2 compared to 30.4) and improved his free throw percentage to a more respectable mark (0.755 compared to 0.629).
As for his first ever playoff performance, Rush was nearly invisible against Chicago. His playing time dwindled down to 11 minutes per game (he couldn’t score and Paul George was doing a better job on Rose than he ever did or could) and only averaged 3.2 points.
Nonetheless, there were no excuses for Rush this time. It’s clear that he’s never going to be much more than he is right now. Blessed with physical talents, a nice shooting touch and solid defensive ability, but without the mental toughness to be more consistent and aggressive and without the discipline and determination to get better.
We can debate whether the Pacers made a mistake in picking up the team option on Rush — yes, he wasn’t very good, but he wasn’t useless and he did come cheap. But one thing is clear — the Pacers would be more than happy to get rid of him if they get the chance. With George Hill entering the mix and a logjam at shooting guard, don’t be surprised if Rush is traded (or given away) before the start of next season (if there is one). And let’s be honest: nobody is going to be too upset when he’s gone.