With the change of the century came a change in draft fortunes for Indiana. The Pacers would quickly rebuild themselves into a powerhouse within the NBA, but would do so with little reliance on draft picks from the 2000's, acquiring deep, quality minutes from only one post 1999 draftee en route to the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals.
While much can be attributed to the Pacers selecting deep into the first round for a large part of the decade as the Pacers would draft no higher than eleventh throughout the decade, an equal amount can be attributed to simply not being able to hit the mark. The NBA Draft, as with any professional sports draft, is a hit or miss process, and the Pacers unfortunately missed a lot in the 2000's.
But all of the excuses in the world doesn't change the result of the picks. Of all eight first rounders in the decade thus far, only two have played for the Pacers past their rookie contract, and one of those two is banned from the team for all eternity.
The Pacers first round picks in the 2000's have spent a total of 24 years in Pacers blue & gold, when Reggie Miller and Rik Smits spent 31 years as Pacers by themselves. In fact, three of Indiana's rounders didn't play a minute of NBA basketball in 2008-09, much less for the Pacers.
2000 - 27th Overall, Primoz Brezec (Slovenia)
The Pacers in 2000 drafted international big man Primoz Brezec. The Pacers had luck the last time they drafted a 7 foot plus European, and fresh off the retirement of that one, the Pacers looked to fill the void with another, though it was another year before Brezec would make his way over to play for Indiana.
Brezec's career in Indiana was never able to take off, as he saw very limited time in a very limited number of games. He was seen as a possible value to the Charlotte Bobcats, who drafted him in the 2004 Expansion Draft, where he went on to have two quality years as the Bobcats starter before traveling around and heading back to Europe for the 2008-09 season.
2001 - No First Round Pick (acquired Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State)
The Pacers had no first round pick of their own thanks to the Jeff Foster trade in 1999, but the Indiana Pacers ultimately benefited from the Warriors 2001 Draft Pick, as they selected Troy Murphy from Notre Dame, who would come to Indiana in 2007 as part of a trade for Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson. Troy Murphy would have a career year for the Pacers in 2008-09 as one of the legaue's premier long range threats and rebounders.
But while the Warriors drafted Troy Murphy, the Pacers traded a future first round pick again, this time to the recently relocated Memphis Grizzlies for Jamaal Tinsley of Iowa State. Tinsley was to be a long term point guard replacement, and showed tremendous promise in his rookie season as an immediate starter.
Unfortunately, Tinsley's game never really evolved, and lingering injuries on top of numerous law enforcement run-ins eventually turned Tinsley into a nightmare for the Pacers long term plans. When on the court, Tinsley had the ability to play as an elite level point guard, but struggled to stay on the court and didn't always show the best decisions when on the court.
Ultimately, Tinsley's late night escapades came to a tilt when he was told to stay away from the team indefinitely as they would try and trade him, which lingered throughout the 2008-09 season. Tinsley's future as an NBA player may not be in doubt; he'll likely find work somewhere, but there is no doubt as to his future with the Pacers: there is none.
Honors & Achievements
2000-2001 NCAA AP All-American Second Team
2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
2002 - 14th Overall, Fred Jones (Oregon)
In a rebuilding effort, the Pacers would use their 14th pick to draft Fred Jones from Oregon. Jones, an undersized wing player, stepped into Indiana fresh off an Elite Eight run in college. A pick largely credited to Isiah Thomas, Jones would see limited run in his rookie season, but became a regular fixture off the bench for the Pacers 03-04 season.
Jones's best season as a Pacer came in 04-05 as he became a valuable member of the team following the suspensions in Detroit averaging career highs in all major categories. James provided at times quality, usually inefficient offense (shooting no better than .425 FG% and .380 3P% while a Pacer) with well meaning and intentions on the defense end (hampered by his lack of size).
Jones's claim to fame would be winning the Slam Dunk Contest in 2004 against Jason Richardson. Jones would play out his rookie contract in 2006 before signing with Toronto that summer. He has gone on to play for four teams the past three years.
Honors & Achievements
2004 NBA Slam Dunk Champion
2003 - No First Round Pick
In acquiring Jamaal Tinsley, the Pacers gave up a first round pick, a protected pick (Top-18 for two years, Lottery for four years), that went to the Hawks in 2003 at 21st Overall. The Hawks drafted Boris Diaw, and the Pacers remained without a first pick.
The Pacers did draft James Jones with the 49th overall pick in the draft. Jones would play only two seasons with the Pacers, 26 minutes in his rookie year, and started 24 games in the 2004-05 season. Jones was traded to Phoenix where he had his best season, for a 2008 second rounder, which the Pacers traded to Portland for James White, who didn't play a game for the Pacers.
2004 - 29th Overall, David Harrison (Colorado)
With the 29th pick in 2004, the Pacers drafted David Harrison, a 7' center from Colorado who averaged 17 and 9 in his senior year. Harrison saw opportunity as a rookie and played reasonably well, averaging 6.1 PPG, which would his career high.
Harrison's improvement did not come, and he succumbed to fouls, injuries, and suspensions that kept Harrison from finding a long term home in Indiana. Pacers opted not to sign Harrison beyond his rookie contract, but was picked up by Minnesota before being cut prior to the season beginning.
Harrison went overseas and played in China for the Shougang Beijing Ducks in the 08-09 season where he averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds, showing that he may be back in the NBA someday.
Honors & Achievements
2001 McDonald's All-American
2005 - 17th Overall, Danny Granger (New Mexico)
Despite being a lottery prospect, Danny Granger was falling on draft night. Was it an old knee injury? Was it because there were no major drawbacks? Granger became one of the great cases of over analysis, and the Pacers absolutely reaped the rewards because of it.
While the pick was originally seen as the Pacers getting richer, team issues eventually caused a turn for the worse for the franchise and before it was clear what was happening, Danny Granger had become the face of the franchise.
Granger's rookie season showed tremendous promise, and he lived up to that promise with a sharp incline of improvement through his career. Ample in limited minutes as a rookie, showcasing potential as a starter following Al Harrington's second departure in 2007, a breakout campaign the following year, and a cold blooded All-Star in his most recent season, where his 25.8 PPG put him just behind three league MVPs and a Finals MVP (well, two Finals MVPs) among the league's scoring elite.
What makes Danny Granger so important for the Pacers isn't just his incredible worth to the franchise as a talent, but for his demeanor off the court. As Granger came to Indiana, the Pacers were becoming little more than the Jail Blazers reincarnate, few players anyone could get behind, and certainly no one you'd want your children to look up to. But Granger became what the franchise needed: an on the court superhero, but more importantly, a community superhero, fitting for a player who dreams of his own Batcave.
Honors & Achievements
2009 NBA All-Star
2008-09 NBA Most Improved Player
2006 - 17th Overall, Shawne Williams (Memphis)
In 2006, Indiana would be drafting 17th again, hoping again that lightning would strike. The team took Memphis freshman standout Shawne Williams, an athletic forward who possessed tremendous potential as a scorer.
Williams saw limited minutes in 2006-07, dealing with lingering injuries, and averaging under four points for 12 minutes of action. His second season showed slight improvement, but while he was showing minimal improvement, that wasn't what had caught the team's attention.
Shawne's rap sheet grew and grew, apologies came and went, and his on the court abilities were not seen as irreplaceable, so the Pacers did what they had to do in replacing him. Indiana traded Williams to the Mavericks for essentially two second round picks, one in 2009, the other in 2010 or 2011. Williams saw limited time in Dallas, showing regression and a season ending injury.
2007 - No First Round Pick
In reacquiring Al Harrington from Atlanta, the Pacers traded a first round pick to the Hawks, which would go to the Hawks in 2007. In addition, the Pacers didn't even have a second rounder to look forward to, when they traded it to the Trailblazers for James White. Instead, it was a night that maybe something would happen.
Indiana did make a move in the second round, trading a 2009 second round pick to Miami for the rights to Stanko Barac. Barac signed a five year contract with Tau Cerámica, and had a rough season in 08-09, ending with a knee injury. Whether Barac ever plays for the Pacers is yet to be seen, but he is the team's tie to the 2007 NBA Draft.
2008 - Jerryd Bayless (Arizona) (traded for Brandon Rush, Kansas) (acquired Roy Hibbert, Georgetown)
Following the 2007 NBA Draft, the Indiana Pacers went all out the following year. The team was drafting eleventh in the 2008 draft, their highest since acquiring the tenth pick in 1996, but according to rumors, that wasn't going to be the only pick the team would have in the first round.
Though not official until July, the Pacers had agreed to terms that would send All-Star big man Jermaine O'Neal to the Raptors in exchange for T.J. Ford and a first round pick, again, the 17th pick. Before that pick was to be taken, the Pacers would have the eleventh pick to look forward to.
Highly regarded freshman out of Arizona named Jerryd Bayless was falling down the draft boards, and fell to Indiana at the eleventh pick, who the Pacers quickly grabbed. It wasn't much longer than it took Portland to make the 13th pick that Bayless was in fact off to the Blazers, as Indiana acquired Kansas leader Brandon Rush (and PG Jarrett Jack) for Bayless. And with the seventeenth pick, the Raptors would draft Georgetown center Roy Hibbert for the Pacers.
Bayless would spend his rookie season glued to the bench for a very talented Blazer team. So while Bayless may in fact eclipse Rush, it's no doubt that Rush had the better rookie season, but not by much for most of the year.
While most rookies hit the dreaded "Rookie Wall" towards the end of the season, Rush would seemingly hit it from the very start of the season, showcasing potential, but also showcasing poor decision making and lack of confidence in his game. Rush would break out of his shell for the end of the regular season, becoming a starting fixture for the Pacers in the final stretch of games. Rush averaged 17.4 PPG to close out the season as the Pacers went 8-4 with him as a full time starter.
Roy Hibbert would also find himself as a starter by the end of the year, but his road was different. Roy as a Pacer was questioned as many wondered whether the big man could get up and down the court in the Pacers uptempo offense. While Roy showed he was able to keep pace, his minutes were limited even as a starter, and he was in foul trouble nightly.
Hibbert did improve his foul situation towards the end of the season, and like Brandon, finished strong as the Pacers closed out the season on a high note. For both rookies, their improvement for the 2009-10 season will help define them as long term pieces for Indiana, but there's plenty of reason to be excited for what they can accomplish as the Pacers move forward.
Brandon Rush Honors & Achievements
2007-2008 NCAA National Champion
Roy Hibbert Honors & Achievements
2007-2008 AP All-American Second Team
2009 - 13th Overall Pick
And so comes 2009. The Pacers will draft 13th in the 2009 draft on June 25th, and will have a second round pick as well thanks to the Dallas Mavericks. Where the team goes is anyone's guess, as the pick could be used to move up, move down, trade for talent, draft the talent, find the next great Pacer, or whiff entirely (we'll all hope otherwise).
The Indiana Pacers haven't had the most illustrious first round fortunes, but since joining the NBA have drafted a future Hall of Famer, an actor, a Rookie of the Year, an NCAA National Champion, a high schooler, a vintage motocross racer, a handful of All-Stars, guys who made it, guys who didn't, an NBA first, an eighty-one point scorer, the freakishly athletic, the questionably athletic, a few broadcasters, and even a jazz musician. That's certainly a history worth looking back on.