“Our draft room will be nuts,” Pritchard said in April after the season ended. “We get 50 calls in the second after the first. It will be nuts. We’re going to have to really focus.”
How many calls the Pacers actually got is unknown at this point outside of the people who were in the draft room, but it’s hard to look at the Pacers’ draft and imagine they were at the center of much of any of the draft movement. After the lottery, Pritchard had picks No. 7, No. 26, No. 29, No. 32 and No. 55, and he hoped to consolidate several of them into some kind of splashy acquisition, either a higher pick or an established player. Instead, he traded down in the days leading up to the draft for picks that he could use to put players on two-way deals and for future picks. He smartly picked up two other 2028 rounders on draft night, just to allow the Wizards to jump up a spot from No. 8 to No. 7 to take French wing Bilal Coulibaly — a player the Pacers weren’t particularly fond of interested in as seventh. – but there has never been any headline-grabbing deal.
Doyle:The Pacers won’t get off the mediocre treadmill of nickel-and-dime moves from the draft
Despite that, the Pacers’ brass left their Ascension St. Vincent Center boardroom across the street from Gainbridge Fieldhouse sometime in the wee hours of Friday morning after making picks that make a lot of sense for their roster. They’ll have some PR work to do, because if Twitter is any indication, the fanbase certainly wasn’t happy with the fact that the Pacers passed on the former Indiana All-American, Center Grove High School star and IndyStar Mr. Basketball Trayce Jackson- Davis at picks No. 47 and No. 55, allowing him to be nabbed at No. 57 by the Golden State Warriors. However, the Pacers mostly got the assets they wanted from the draft without creating any kind of roster crisis.
The most important thing for the Pacers to do Thursday night was get the right guy with their lottery pick. The Pacers moved back from No. 7 to No. 8, but got the player many analysts pegged as the best fit for them months ago. They needed a power forward with some size after forcing 6-5, 215-pound Aaron Nesmith into that role last season, and they needed someone who could help improve their defense. Houston’s Jarace Walker has all the size they need, measuring 6-6 1/2 with a 7-2 1/2 wingspan and weighing 248.5 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, all of which appears to be chiseled muscle . He prides himself on being a great cross-lane defender, guarding man-to-man on the perimeter, making smart rotations, wreaking havoc in passing lanes, protecting the rim and rebounding. He also has a multidimensional offensive game on a team that already has some established scorers and playmakers in point guard Tyrese Haliburton, wings Bennedict Mathurin and Buddy Hield and center Myles Turner.
“We think Walker is a really unique prospect because of his ability to handle, see the floor, pass, make plays,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of those rare young big guys who really has a great feel for the game.”
And he can do a lot of things that the Pacers struggled with last year, when they finished 29th in the league in scoring defense and 30th in defensive rebounding percentage. Walker averaged 6.8 rebounds per game. match and showed the ability to grab the boards at an even higher level. He also posted 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. match.
“He’s a guy it’s almost impossible not to like when you watch him play,” Carlisle said. “His defense is good, his rebounding is very good. Those are areas where we need to improve.”
The Pacers had several other lottery-level players for individual workouts, including Central Florida’s Taylor Hendricks, Villanova’s Cam Whitmore and Kansas’ Gradey Dick, and they all appeared to be doing well, at least on the surface. But Carlisle said he felt he and the rest of the staff developed a closer chemistry with Walker than any of the others.
“We had a great visit with him,” Carlisle said. “It started the night before. We took him to dinner at Iaria’s (Italian restaurant) around the corner. Me (assistant general manager Kelly Krauskopf) and (vice president of basketball operations Ted Wu). We just had one of the most entertaining dinners. He’s just a really engaging guy. He has a strong intellectual curiosity for the game. He’s upbeat, he’s happy, loves to compete. … I just had a feeling that night that he could be our guy. “
Carlisle had the same with Belmont guard Ben Sheppard, the Pacers’ No. 26 pick, though his path to selection was different. Walker was expected to be a lottery pick as soon as he entered the draft, so he tested out at the NBA Draft Combine but didn’t shoot, and all of his workouts with teams were individual, as is typically the case with prospects of his caliber.
Although Sheppard was a two-time all-conference player and an All-Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Team member this season, he had to do a lot more to get teams to notice him, and he did. He had one of the best performances in games at the combine and stood out at a six-player workout at the Pacers’ facility earlier this month, catching Carlisle’s eye.
“His training here was great,” Carlisle said. “… He was everywhere in practice. There was one instance where we were all sitting over here (on the sideline) and a ball came flying and he flew from the other side of the court, somehow saved it, traveled again, get into the play and get up and get a rebound or something. He’s just by nature a multi-effort guy.”
Sheppard has a tougher path to playing time than Walker, but he has the tools to help him earn it. He averaged 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals as a senior at Belmont, knocking down 41.5% of his 3-pointers and hitting 80 of 193 attempts. The Pacers need more perimeter defense and could find themselves needing outside shooting if they decide to move sharpshooter Buddy Hield or Chris Duarte later this summer. Sheppard has the skills and personality that should fit with an energetic and generally unselfish Pacers locker room.
“I think with what we’re doing here and the kind of people we’re bringing on board,” Carlisle said, “he’s right in our wheelhouse.”
The Pacers could have picked up more players of Sheppard’s caliber, who were also right in their wheelhouse, if they had kept Nos. 29 and No. 32. They focused on 3-and-D wings throughout the draft process, and several of them were still available at the time, including Gonzaga wing Julian Strawther, whom the Nuggets selected at 29 with the pick the Pacers gave them Wednesday.
But the Pacers only have three free agents in guard George Hill and forwards Oshae Brissett and James Johnson Jr., so taking on more than two rookies would mean parting ways with all three. The No. 29 pick would have had a guaranteed contract, and the No. 32 pick would have been unlikely to accept a two-way deal. Instead, they selected high-flying G-League Ignite guard Mojave King at No. 47 and high-scoring Miami guard Isaiah Wong at No. 55. With the new CBA allowing for three two-way deals, the Pacers can keep both players hidden away. with the Mad Ants, while also keeping wing Kendall Brown with the team.
Now that the draft is over, the Pacers have less capital to work with and may find it difficult to make a trade that drastically changes their trajectory at any point this summer. Hield, whose contract expires at the end of next season, can only bring in so much on his own. Turner could fetch more, but replacing a top-10 center isn’t easy, and the Pacers won’t rush to move on from him after giving him a two-year contract extension in January. The Pacers are likely to make more moves, but they’re unlikely to be a big part of any blockbuster like the ones that moved Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Chris Paul earlier this week.
So there may not end up being anything about this Pacers’ offseason that is “emergency,” but they did bring in two pieces Thursday night that could help continue to build organically on their way back to being a playoff team. Although they didn’t make big waves on Thursday night, it still looks like they got better.