Indiana Pacers: Preparing for the NBA Draft

The Indiana Pacers are at a critical juncture.  The future of the franchise, and the state of basketball in tradition-rich Indiana hang in the balance.  Sitting in the captain’s chair, charged with calling the shots, is an Indiana legend.  Says so right in his nickname.  Larry Bird, aka “Larry Legend” aka “The Basketball Jesus,” has been at solely at the helm of a sinking ship for two seasons now, and his future employment hinges on what he’s able to accomplish this offseason.

He’s already made the decision to stick with Jim O’Brien as the head coach, a puzzling decision to many Indianapolis sports fans who follow the Pacers considering O’Brien’s extensive track record of mediocrity and increasingly frequent bouts of incompetence.  We’ll see how that plays out, but I’m not optimistic.

With the coach in place, Bird’s second order of business is finding a point guard.  A point guard who can run O’Brien’s offense and doesn’t wildly drive under the basket before either tossing up an ill-advised shot or turning it over.  A point guard not named T.J. Ford.

A.J. Price is out at least four months (if not more) after tearing up his knee in a charity game a few weeks back, and it doesn’t appear the Pacers are willing to pay Earl Watson enough money to retain him.  So that leaves Ford and a heaping pile of nobody.  At this point, give me nobody.  Ford is one of, if not the primary reason, for the Pacers putrid play over the past two seasons.  He doesn’t get it, and he never will.  I’d rather call 45-year old Mark Jackson out of retirement and have him run the offense than see Ford brick another three in a Pacers uniform.  Bird is definitely shopping him, the problem is, at $8 million, who’s buying?

Just behind the point guard issue is finding a banging front court player who can take defensive pressure off Roy Hibbert and (hopefully) Tyler Hansbrough.  Basically, we need a new version of Jeff Foster or Dale Davis.

With free agency looming at the end of June, and the NBA Draft set for June 24, the next three weeks will be ripe with juicy trade rumors, and speculative draft posturing.  Bird is notoriously tight-lipped regarding trade discussions, so don’t expect much news on that front.  Although, a rumored deal involving Troy Murphy, Brandon Rush, and the 10th overall pick, for the San Antonio Spurs Tony Park has been floating around the internet for awhile now.  It doesn’t appear to have any legs though, so we’ll avoid dissecting it for the time being.  The draft , on the other hand, that we can discuss.  To a degree.  As Chad Ford of said:

“The Pacers are one of the most difficult teams to peg right now. They have so many needs and are talking to everyone about moving up, moving down, or maybe even moving out of the draft.”

So Bird’s busy, let’s hope that’s a good thing.  For the time being, we’ll pretend the Pacers stand pat and decide to draft in the 10 spot.  Who’ll be available?  Who’s been in for workouts?  What are the scouts saying?  Who are the Mock Drafts projecting?  Let’s find out.

(Reader Note: With the announcement that Dallas would be sending its 2nd Round pick to the Pacers to complete the Shawne Williams trade, Indiana currently possesses the 10th, 40th, and 57th picks in the draft).

Mock Drafts: A look at four of the more reliable mock drafts on the interweb.  Gordon Hayward, SF Butler University

NBA Comparison:  Luke Jackson/Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Gordon Hayward NBA Draft Combine interview

Scout’s Take “While he has excellent size for a NBA small forward, he spent a great deal of time at the power forward spot last season and lacks the prototypical athleticism that would allow him to seamlessly transition his game to the next level. He’s not terribly explosive and will have to answer some questions about his lateral quickness and defensive ability. But he also has positive attributes. He displays good speed and shows tremendous body control. His ability to use those tools to effectively complement his outstanding basketball IQ and perimeter stroke remains a subject of debate.”  Cole Aldrich, C Kansas University

NBA Comparison:  Joel Pryzbilla/Eric Montross

Cole Aldrich highlights

Scout’s Take“He’s not a great athlete and he tends to go quiet for long stretches of games. The biggest hurdle that Aldrich has to overcome is improving his lateral quickness and overall post skills…His ability to read shots as they’re released and time his jumps for blocks was unparalleled at the collegiate level. Aldrich understands driving lanes and knows precisely how to close them with his sheer size.”  Ed Davis, PF University North Carolina

NBA Comparison:  P.J. Brown/Alan Henderson

Ed Davis highlights against Michigan State

Scout’s Take: “One of the best defenders in the ACC when healthy, he projects as a quality defensive power forward who will disrupt with his length and commitment to stopping scorers…While still very raw, he relies mostly on his leaping ability and natural gifts to control the paint. But right now, he doesn’t have an offensive game and isn’t comfortable stepping away from the hoop.”  Avery Bradley, PG/SG Texas University

NBA Comparison:  Monta Ellis

Avery Bradley high school highlights

Scout’s Take “Bradley’s an awesome athlete with the long wingspan scouts desire from the lead guard spot. Bradley combines his great feet, strong hands, and ability to play the passing lanes as the full defensive package (both on and off the ball)…The most glaring concern with Bradley is whether or not he is a true point guard.  His mentality as a playmaker is primarily focused on creating for himself — not for others — where he seems to drive with the sole intention of finding space for his own scoring.”

My Take:  With the point guard position dropping off significantly after top prospect John Wall goes off the board, most are predicting the Pacers bolster their front court with one of the bevy of underwhelming big men in the draft. I’m not sold. Count me out on Aldridge and Davis.

The Bradley pick is very intriguing, as he’s just 19 years old and has the physical attributes and defensive prowess of Russell Westbrook.  Not so appealing is the thought of acquiring another shoot-first point guard out of Texas.  Tried that, hated it.  Indy‘s own Gordon Hayward would certainly excite the local fan base, but he’s at least two years of contributing on the NBA level and Bird doesn’t have that kind of time.  If they reach for the former Brownsburg Bulldog, there won’t be enough cologne to mask the scent of desperation coming from Bird’s Conseco Fieldhouse office.

Other players who the Pacers have worked out and could figure into their first round plans include:

Guards – Eric Bledsoe, Jordan Crawford, Sherron Collins, A.J. Slaughter, Willie Warren

Forwards/Centers – Ekpe Udoh, Hassan Whiteside, Daniel Orton

That’s about all we know for now, but expect things to change drastically over the next few weeks.  As always, we’ll keep you updated as they do.