The Pacers in the First Round Part I: 1977-1989

[Note by Cornrows, 06/09/09 10:05 PM EDT  From the FanPosts, goodlucksaturday offers up a trip down memory with a review of past first round draft picks. Well done!]

With the draft looming, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at all the first round picks the Indiana Pacers have selected in their 30+ years of NBA existence. This first part is focused on the 80's (and the 70's), a decade and change that saw a lot of promise in the mid to late 80's and a lot of financial decisions impairing basketball decisions in the late 70's and early 80's, one that cost numerous first round picks, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan.

But alas, history is what it is, and where we are now is because of what we did then. The Pacers are no exception, and they draft 13th in the 2009 draft because of it.

The Indiana Pacers entered the NBA in 1976 after the folding of the ABA. Famously, in the early days of their NBA existence, the Pacers were wrought with financial troubles, doing things like bringing back old ABA favorites like George McGinnis and Billy Knight, while using first round picks to do so. But as the team was able to settle in, the talent came in, the draft picks came in, even though the wins took a little bit longer. We begin with the 1977 Draft.

1977 - No First Round Pick

The Pacers would trade their very first NBA first rounder in 1977 to fellow ABA survivors the New York Nets, now representing New Jersey. The Pacers would trade what would be the seventh overall pick in February 1977 as well as Darnell Hillman to New Jersey for John Williamson. Williamson would play about a full season for the Pacers in half-season increments before going back to New Jersey, where the Nets may not have still had Hillman, but did still have rookie Bernard King, who averaged a modest 24.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG in his rookie year. Not exactly a battle won for Indiana.

1978 - 3rd Overall, Rick Robey (Kentucky)

The Pacers gave up the #1 overall pick in 1978 to Portland for Johnny Davis and the #3 overall pick. The Blazers took unanimous overall #1 Mychal Thompson, and the Pacers drafted University of Kentucky standout Rick Robey. Thanks largely in part to financial worries, the Pacers traded Robey midway through the season for former Pacer Billy Knight. Robey went on to be a consummate role player on a a couple of Celtics championship teams in the 80's.

In addition to drafting Robey (out of Kentucky), the Pacers are noted for having passed on Indiana State and Hoosier legend Larry Bird. Like many decisions in that time, finances influenced more than just the basketball aspect, and the Pacers opted to pass on Larry Bird for fear of not being able to pay him in addition to Robey filling a need for the Pacers. It's a sad story that Larry Bird had a chance to stay at home, and struggles when the franchise decided to move in another direction as Bird would have a Hall of Fame career for the Celtics.

Honors & Achievements

1977-1978 NCAA AP All-American 3rd Team

1979 - 13th Overall, Dudley Bradley (North Carolina)

Receiving compensation for the Hawks' free agent signing of Dan Roundfield, the Pacers acquired the 13th overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. The Pacers had two draft picks for the 1979 draft, but lost their pick due to compensation to Milwaukee for Alex English. Are you confused? Because I am.

In the 1979 Draft, the Pacers drafted Dudley Bradley out of North Carolina. Bradley would have two seasons with the Pacers, before being traded for Phoenix for two second rounders and the relinquishment of swapping 1983 first round picks. Bradley was never a big offensive contributor, but quickly rose to one of the league's premier defensive stoppers in his short time in Indiana, leading the league in steal percentage in both of his first two seasons.

Honors & Achievements

1980-1981 NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team

1980 - No First Round Pick

In November 1976, the Pacres traded their 1980 first round pick to Philadelphia for Mel Bennett, who went on to have two wallowing seasons for Indiana, not even lasting past 1978. A year and a half later, in July 1978, the Pacers acquired a first round pick from Boston for Earl Tatum, which they then relinquished for another former Pacer George McGinnis, along with Alex English to Denver. McGinnis's return to Indiana was far less inspiring than his original stint for the Pacers as an ABA MVP.

The Pacers would draft Louis Orr in the second round, who went on to play two years for the Pacers, having respectable years.

1981 - 14th Overall, Herb Williams (Ohio State)

Lack of draft pick drama propelled the Pacers in 1981, drafting 14th overall, selected Herb Williams from Ohio State. Herb gave his first, and best seven years of his extremely lasting NBA career to the Pacers, where he averaged double figures in all seven seasons. His career year was in 1985-86, averaging 19.9 points and 9.6 boards per game. Unfortunately for Herb, the Pacers were only in the playoffs once in Herb's time in 1987, just beyond his career years, though he did go on to play against the Pacers many times as a member of the New York Knicks in the 90's.

Honors & Achievements

1979-1980 NCAA AP All-American 3rd Team

1982 - 8th Overall, Clark Kellogg (Ohio State)

For 1982, the Pacers drafted eighth and took another Ohio State standout, this time Clark Kellogg. Kellogg is one of the Pacers biggest "what-ifs?" as Kellogg lasted only five years in the NBA, all with the Pacers.

Kellogg averaged a double double in his stellar rookie campaign, the very definition of a 20/10 guy, and the sky seemed the limit before injuries cut his career short. Kellogg finished in 1986-87, playing only four games and scoring only 20 points, far from his 20/10 rookie season.

Kellogg's career may have been cut short, but his legacy lives on as a broadcaster, becoming a color commentator for the NCAA Final Four in 2009, as well as being a broadcaster for CBS and the Indiana Pacers.

Honors & Achievements

1979 McDonald's All-American
1982-1983 NBA All-Rookie First Team

1983 - 2nd Overall, Steve Stipanovich (Missouri); 23rd Overall, Mitchell Wiggins (Florida State)

The Pacers in 1983 had two first round picks. Their own (2nd) and 23rd overall from the 76ers, which they acquired (along with Russ Schoene) for Clemon Johnson. The Pacers had lost a coin toss for the first overall pick with Houston and settled for the consolation prize while Houston was able to take Ralph Sampson, who paid dividends for the Rockets.

For the second pick, the Pacers drafted Missouri standout Steve Stipanovich. Much like Kellogg, his career is defined by knee injury and his full potential never realized, but Stipanovich had a very consistent career in his time despite undergoing multiple operations.

For the 23rd pick, the Pacers selected Mitchell Wiggins out of Florida State, who was traded to Chicago for Sidney Lowe and a 1984 second rounder. Wiggins had a short, up and down career most notably with Houston as a part of the Western Conference Champion Rockets in 1986.

Honors & Achievements

1979 McDonald's All-American
1982-1983 AP All-American 2nd Team
1983-1984 NBA All-Rookie First Team

1984 - 18th Overall, Vern Fleming (Georgia)

The story for 1984 is that the Blazers passed on Michael Jordan (or any number of future Hall of Famers) for Sam Bowie, but why did the Blazers even have the second pick? In June 1981, the Pacers traded their 1984 first rounder for Tom Owens to Portland. The former ABA journeyman spent one season in Indiana before being traded to Detroit for a 1984 second rounder. Not exactly the most ideal trade ever.

The Pacers would go on to acquire a first round pick in 1984 from New York in a three team trade that saw them acquire Brook Steppe, Vince Taylor and the first rounder (18th overall) for Billy Knight and the aforementioned second rounder.

While the Blazers famously passed on Michael Jordan, the Pacers would draft Vern Fleming from Georgia, who would go on to become a fixture for the Pacers in over a decade, spending eleven of his twelve NBA seasons in Pacers blue and gold. Fleming would have a lasting, if not quiet career. Less is said of Fleming than should be as a fixture to a franchise. Fleming does have his place in Pacers history, however, being in the top five in Pacers history in many categories, including games played, minutes played, assists, and steals.

Honors & Achievements

1980 McDonald's All-American
1984 Olympic Gold Medalist

1985 - 2nd Overall, Wayman Tisdale (Oklahoma)

The Pacers were again drafting high in 1985, famously a part of the "1985 NBA Draft Lottery" where many think the Pacers were cheated from drafting Georgetown great Patrick Ewing. The Pacers were awarded with the second pick in the NBA's first Draft Lottery, which they used on the late great Wayman Tisdale.

Tisdale was a great player at Oklahoma, and his game translated well into the NBA, having a tremendous 15/7 rookie season. Tisdale's days in Indiana were short, as he was traded to Sacramento midway through 1988-89, where he went on to have the best years of his career.

Despite being a successful NBA player, Tisdale found even more success as a jazz musician, releasing numerous cds and topping the jazz charts. Tisdale's life was cut short by cancer on May 15, 2009, and he leaves behind a legacy of kindness and friendship that few players can ever hope to achieve.

Honors & Achievements

1982 McDonald's All-American
1982-1983 NCAA AP All-American First Team
1983-1984 NCAA AP All-American First Team
1984-1985 NCAA AP All-American First Team
1984 Olympic Gold Medalist

1986 - 4th Overall, Chuck Person (Auburn)

In 1986, the Pacers were yet again a top five pick team, but in drafting Chuck Person, helped to bridge the gap between the early days of the Pacers in the NBA and what they would eventually become. Few players that don't remain on your team for a decade can make such an impact, but Chuck Person was able to make that impact.

Drafted 4th overall in 1986, Chuck Person came in, was an immediate starter, and an immediate contributor, helping to lead the Pacers to their second ever NBA Playoffs appearance, and their first since 1981. Chuck averaged 18.8 PPG and 8.2 RPG in his rookie year to become the Pacers' first and only NBA Rookie of the Year. Person was somehow even more amazing in the playoffs in 1987, averaging 27 points in four games against Atlanta. He was also a catalyst in the Pacers legendary 1991 series against Boston.

Person's career at Indiana lasted up until 1992 before he was traded to Minnesota. His 19.0 PPG average while in Indiana is still the highest ever among NBA Pacers players.

Honors & Achievements

1986-87 NBA Rookie of the Year
1986-87 NBA All-Rookie First Team

1987 - 11th Overall, Reggie Miller (UCLA)

The 1987 Draft was deceptively deep and pretty underrated when you consider how many solid contributors came from that class. For Indiana, it was the first time they'd stepped out of the NBA's Lottery, and for that they were awarded with their greatest pick ever; a skinny kid with an ugly jump shot out of UCLA named Reggie Miller.

Obviously, mentioning Reggie's name in regards to the Pacers is that of a sacred omen and for all the right reasons. While many Pacer fans wanted Hoosier legend Steve Alford, Reggie Miller was a pick that ultimately vindicated the Pacers for not drafting Larry Bird, for trading the pick to draft Michael Jordan, for having misfortunes with Clark Kellogg and Steve Stipanovich. It was Reggie Miller.

Reggie Miller would play all 18 of his NBA seasons with the Pacers, a rarity in its own regard, much less in an era of free agency. Miller would be the face of the Pacers through their greatest NBA days, their darkest hour, their greatest triumphs and their most painful disappointments.

For career achievements, Miller was one of the league's biggest primetime players, always hitting the big shot. Miller is the NBA record holder for three point baskets and holds the franchise record in no less than 17 categories. He played almost 1400 games and scored over 25,000 points. That's Reggie Miller.

Honors & Achievements

5-Time NBA All Star (1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000)
1994-1995 All-NBA Third Team
1995-1996 All-NBA Third Team
1997-1998 All-NBA Third Team
2-Time NBA League Leader (Three Pointers Made; 1992-93, 1996-97)
5-Time NBA League Leader (Free Throw Percentage; 1990-91, 1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2004-05)
NBA Record Holder (Three Pointers Made)
1996 Olympic Gold Medalist

1988 - 2nd Overall, Rik Smits (Marist)

There's no denying the NBA Draft Lottery was kind to the Pacers in their short time there. In the first four years of its existence, the Pacers had picked in the top five all three years they was involved. In 1988, the Pacers would use the second overall pick to draft a 7'4" center from the Netherlands named Rik Smits.

Though the pick was highly questioned in its early years thanks to Smits's thrusting into the starting lineup as an essential project and wildly inconsistent performance, he would eventually pay dividends. The Dunking Duchman would go on to cement his Pacers legacy as one of the greatest Pacers ever.

Smits spent all twelve of his seasons in Pacers blue & gold, showcasing himself as one of the league's best offensive centers. Smits is one of four Pacers to have scored more than 10,000 points  Smits's career would be cut short, though twelve years in the NBA is a long time, by foot injuries, but his mark in Pacers history is solidified. If Reggie is #1, then Rik was a fine #2.

Honors & Achievements

1998 NBA All-Star
1988-1989 NBA All-Rookie First Team

1989 - 7th Overall, George McCloud (Florida State)

For all the right picks the Pacers had made in the mid to late-80's, there was bound to be a misstep, and in all honesty, McCloud was only a misstep for the Pacers, certainly not where he was a valued contributor for his other NBA stops.

The Pacers were still in the lottery in 1989 and looked to shore up the team by drafting George McCloud out of Florida State. McCloud averaged 2.7 PPG in 9.4 minutes of action in his rookie season, and things were only marginally improved in his next three seasons with the Pacers, never getting more than 19 minutes a game and never putting up more than 7 points.

McCloud was out of the NBA after the 92-93 season, but returned in 94-95 on a ten day contract for the Mavericks. He closed out the season well, and went on to average 19 points a game for the Mavericks the following year. McCloud's NBA career from there was far brighter than his days in Indiana, settling into a contributing bench role for Phoenix and Denver. It's nice that a high draft pick can showcase why they deserve to be drafted as high as they were, but it's always nicer when they can be that player for your team.

Honors & Achievements

1988-89 NCAA AP All-American Third Team

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