The Indiana Pacers need a star. They have some good players, maybe even a potential All-Star in point guard Tyrese Haliburton, whom they obtained from Sacramento in a trade for Domantas Sabonis. But there’s no Reggie Miller here, no Paul George, no Victor Oladipo, no dominant alpha who can alter the course of a game and a season.
It’s why this offseason, which will see the Pacers draft in the top seven for the first time since 1989 (George McCloud was the pick back then), ranks as one of the most important in franchise history. Beyond having the No. 6 selection — assuming they don’t trade up, which remains a possibility despite Sacramento’s current prohibitive asking price — the Pacers also have selections at No. 31 and No. 58. As team president Kevin Pritchard said after the draft lottery, there are a lot of moving pieces here, or as he termed it, “optionality.”
The Pacers need to get this one right. Or the playoffs will be a distant goal for several years to come.
The issue is a line of demarcation after the first four expected picks — Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey — with an apparent drop-off coming thereafter. Pritchard is not entirely sure he buys that line of thinking — he thinks No. 6 is a terrific pick to have — but there’s a good reason his team is among those attempting to move into the top four.
“I think there are opportunities to get aggressive in this draft,” Pritchard said after the draft lottery. “Having that (No. 6) pick in hand right now, along with having cap space — we could have up to 25 million, and we could probably generate more — the biggest thing for me is the incredible amount of optionality. We could add a core piece to this group all the way from using our cap space to bring in a player and grab another pick. The gamut of where we can go is wider and a higher beta than any time. We were writing down scenarios the past few weeks and we were at 20 and we were still cooking.”
He added: “We’re excited. We’re going to kick butt. We’re not messing around now.”
The problem there is that everybody near the top of the draft is interested in moving into the top four.
And if the Pacers can’t pull off a deal to get that done, they will stay at No. 6, where the following players could/should be available.
A lot of mock drafts have the Iowa forward going fifth to Detroit, which would be unfortunate for the Pacers. Murray lacks the raw athleticism some teams covet, but he is a terrific scorer and possesses a style of play that should fit perfectly on a young NBA roster.
Murray said recently that he’s visited Indiana and met with the team’s brain trust.
“They’ve had success and been a good team in the Eastern Conference,” Murray said. “Tyrese (Haliburton) is a really good player, makes tough passes, has a good assist-to- turnover (ratio), and it would be cool to play with a guy who went to Iowa State. Really good staff. I think it would be a great fit.”
Of course, they all say that. They’d love to play for every team. They’d fit in perfectly with every team. They had good meetings/workouts with every team. But Murray clearly has done his homework; he was asked about several teams that might be in a position to draft him, and he was quick to name specific players and talk with authority about the teams’ styles of play.
Today’s game is all about versatility and position-less basketball, and Murray fits the bill, especially for a team, like Indiana, that is in desperate need of front-court players. He’ll be 22 when the season begins, and after a massive improvement from his freshman to sophomore year — from 7.2 points per game to 23.5 — he has a lot more room to grow.
Could he move into the top four? That’s possible, assuming Sacramento doesn’t trade out of No. 4. The Kings already have a backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell, and there’s word that ownership there is more enamored with Murray than Ivey. We’ll see.
If by some chance he’s still available at No. 6, he’s my guy.
That said, he won’t be available at No. 6.
The word on the street is that the Aussie guard who played last year in the G League absolutely blew people away with his workouts, with one of those teams being the Pacers.
The issue, if there is one, is that he’s a 6-foot-8 point guard who would give Indiana a duplicate at Haliburton’s position. It’s not like he’s a great shooter — quite the opposite — but there are teams in the league who see him as a wing as well as a point. He could be used in a rotation that includes Haliburton, Chris Duarte and Daniels.
Like Bennedict Mathurin, Daniels is a graduate of the NBA Academy, so he’s shown he can live independently at an early age, similar to Duarte, who moved to the United States early in his basketball life.
Daniels averaged 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals in 15 games playing for the G League Ignite last year and has been especially impressive as a defender. As the season moved on, Daniels ascended, and he’s continued his ascent through this pre-draft period.
“Our coach (at the Ignite) always believed in me and put the ball in my hands from the start; it just took time to adjust from the Australian game to the American game, the pace, flying up and down, a lot more ball screens and playing out of that,” Daniels said. “As the season went on, the game slowed down for me.”
At this point, you’re thinking, well, the Pacers already have Haliburton and Daniels would represent a duplication of efforts, but Daniels says he’s grown his ability to shoot and play off the ball. Most of the teams he’s met during his workout tour already have point guards, so he’s concentrated on showing executives what he can do when the ball isn’t in his hands.
“I’ve come a long way,” he said.
He may be coming from Australia to Indiana. Keep this name in mind.
For those of us who can’t stay up much past 11 pm, the University of Arizona star is a bit of a mystery.
But the 6-6, 210-pound wing has a lot going for him, having been a consensus second-team All-American and the Pac-12 Player of the Year last season as a sophomore. He averaged 17.7 points per game and 5.8 rebounds. He looks like the prototypical NBA wing, a solid defender and an explosive scorer.
He also has a compelling personal backstory, having grown up, and survived, in one of Montreal’s toughest neighborhoods.
“Where I’m from, a lot of people took the wrong path when they had an opportunity to be a success in life,” Mathurin said recently. “It really shaped me; I wanted to be different. I wanted to do great things in life and inspire kids where I’m from. I want to give back.”
Assuming Murray doesn’t somehow move back and become available at No. 6, I sense the Pacers would be inclined to select Daniels or Mathurin.
There are red flags everywhere, but he is said to be undeniably talented, as evidenced by the fact he was among the top prospects coming out of high school. But he chose not to play at the University of Kentucky after enrolling in Lexington, so scouts don’t have much to go on in terms of watching him against elite talent.
The size and athleticism are there, but those are just raw materials. What does he provide when the lights come on?
Sharpe attended the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago but didn’t compete in five-on-fives. He performed basic drills against air, which only added to the mystery that surrounds him. He’s an enormous risk, a guy with obvious physical talent, but … who is he, exactly?
The Pacers hope to find out Monday when he works out for the team in Indianapolis.
“Yeah, I feel like there is mystery because I haven’t played in college, so yeah, there is curiosity and mystery,” he said recently. “But I’m just in the gym getting ready.”
He was asked the other day about his goals.
“I see myself being one of the greatest players ever to play the game,” he said. “Coming in as a rookie, I want to be Rookie of the Year. Then being an All-Star and making the Hall of Fame.”
Did you read anything there about winning championships, or am I just being a curmudgeon?
As The Athletic‘s Sam Vecenie wrote, “Sharpe represents a high-upside gamble because of his potential as a wing shot creator. He looks every bit like a future NBA star wing, combining elite length with terrific hops… He has all the tools to be great, but it’ll take a team willing to dive in and take a risk.”
I feel like he played a cynical game with Kentucky — “It was my decision (to sit out in college),” he said. “I’m working out now for NBA teams, so I must have done something right.” — and that makes me very leery. Scouts say he has a massive upside, but honestly, how does anybody really know? I wouldn’t touch him. I want guys who will compete, in college, in the combine, wherever. That’s just me.
The young former Duke star can shoot. Man, can he shoot.
“I think I’d fit perfectly,” Griffin said after his workout with the Pacers.
Griffin, who is 6-6, shot almost 45 percent from 3 and nearly 55 percent from the field. As a team that finished near the bottom in three-point field-goal percentage, the Pacers could desperately use an outside threat.
His game, he says, goes beyond that.
“I definitely have playmaking skills, creating off the dribble, and my ability to play defense,” Griffin said. “That’s something I’ve taken pride in. Whoever my assignment is, I’ll be able to lock them down.”
If there’s a concern, it’s that he’s dealt with several injuries during his developmental years, and that’s something Pritchard experienced during his previous tenure in Portland (see: Greg Oden) and more recently with TJ Warren and Malcolm Brogdon. Not sure he wants to take that risk again.
“I feel the best I’ve ever felt,” Griffin said after a workout in Indiana.
Maybe so, but Griffin is still a long shot to become a Pacer.
Like Keegan Murray, Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis took an enormous leap from his freshman season (7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game to 19.7 and 8.2). His bravura performance at Purdue’s Mackey Arena last year, in which he had 37 points and 14 rebounds, was eye-popping. If he can grow that much from his freshman to sophomore year, it’s fair to wonder what his ultimate potential might be.
Not that personality and self-awareness are on top of teams’ list of priorities, but it was refreshing to hear Davis talk about his Pacers workout.
“I just got my ass kicked in the defensive drills, so I definitely have to pay more attention to detail on that and concentrate on getting my lower body stronger. I haven’t been playing live since the season ended and group workout in Detroit,” he said. “I should have been playing live just to get used to it.”
Davis is generally viewed as a two-guard, but his height (6-5, almost 6-6 in shoes) has scouts thinking he can play the three in a small-ball lineup.
“There’s a lot more there,” he said in Indianapolis. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I think I’ve got a lot of upside and potential.”
It wouldn’t break my heart if the Pacers selected Davis, but I see them moving more in the direction of Daniels and Mathurin.
It’s time to find a star. Can you find one at No. 6 in this draft? The Pacers, who are full-on into their multiyear rebuild, will find out soon enough.
(Top photo of Keegan Murray: Zach Bolinger / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)