The free agency period starts just six days from now, July 1st, but that has not kept Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers from keeping busy. Last Wednesday, June 22nd, the Pacers were part of a three-team deal that sent George Hill to the Utah Jazz in return for Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks. Just one day later, the Pacers made another move by trading their first round pick and a future second round pick to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for forward Thaddeus Young. The Indy Cornrows writers dive into these two acquisitions along with the 50th overall draft pick, Georges Niang.
The Indiana Pacers were part of a three-team deal that ultimately sent George Hill to the Utah Jazz in return for Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks. What do you like/dislike about this trade and how does it affect the Pacers going forward?
Evan Morris: First and foremost, I like the trade. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its negatives. George Hill is a better defender – something that the Pacers pride themselves on. Hill is also a slightly better shooter – something Bird wants in order to space the floor. With that being said, the Pacers get a better scorer, playmaker and aggressor in Teague. He’s a former All-Star, and he WANTS to play for Indiana. Hill was on his way out next summer, so it was good to get something for him while he was here. An All-Star caliber point guard for roughly $8M in today’s market? Well done, Bird. Well done.
C. Cooper: Larry Bird’s acquisition of Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young should be interpreted as another clear signal that the Pacers are not going to let playing with pace go by the wayside for a second consecutive season. As much as Teague can be crafty in the paint off the bounce, his game is largely predicated upon speed. However, attempting only one catch-and-shoot three per game last season and shooting a woeful 25 percent from long-range in the playoffs, the Pike product’s return to Indiana will mean there are three guards on the Blue & Gold’s roster who require the basketball to be most effective. Teague may be more dynamically daring where George Hill was sometimes detrimentally deliberate, but that does not guarantee he will be a better fit next to Monta Ellis or Rodney Stuckey. After all, there is only one basketball.
Tom Lewis: I really like the idea of acquiring a point guard like Jeff Teague, the type of player the Pacers have been starved for the past few seasons. There are a few layers to the reasoning behind this deal, but if the team had to move either George Hill or Monta Ellis to alter the backcourt, GHill was the only option. So the Pacers gain on the offensive end and lose on the defensive end without Hill. Although, Teague did play on a Hawks team that had the second best defense in the NBA last season. Plus, the Pacers play a team defensive scheme that had Monta Ellis post his best defensive numbers in, well probably ever, but certainly the past few seasons. There's an emotional and organizational element to the deal, as well. Hill was far from expected to re-sign after next season had he stayed in Indiana. Plus, much like changing the coaching dynamic, moving Hill changes the leadership dynamic on a team that has often frustrated fans and the front office alike by playing well with their backs against the wall or against better teams, while not going for the kill against lesser opponents or when they had some margin for error.
Nathan S: The abilities of George Hill, namely in his length, defense, and ability to play away from the ball leave a hole on the Pacers roster, but there's plenty of upside in Teague with the Pacers. Teague gives the Pacers an accomplished point guard and an All-Star, something they didn't have with Hill or Monta Ellis. The Pacers are sure to benefit from Teague's abilities in the pick and roll and his ability to attack the rim. He knocked down 110 three pointers on 40% shooting last season as well and at this point, Teague's ability to knock down three pointers will be a key part of his success. More than anything, however, getting an All-Star who wants to play for your team seems invaluable. While there are bound to be successes and failures along the way, there almost has to be a renewed sense of drive with Teague as a Pacer.
Matt Andreason: There's a lot I like about this deal. I like Teague's speed. I like his ability to break down a defense and get to the rim. Most importantly, I like his playmaking ability. For the first time since maybe the Tinsley era, the Pacers have a point guard who can set up teammates for some easy buckets/shots. But it did come at a price. While I'm of the popular opinion that George Hill too often settled for a basketball-pacifist role, there's no denying he was the Pacers' best 3-and-D player on the roster. What the Pacers have to hope for is that they can find a player/collection of players in free agency who can fill his role. They do that + Teague spits upon the Pacers' point-guard curse, and this trade potentially turns into landslide win.
The Indiana Pacers traded the 2016 20th overall pick and a future protected second round pick for forward Thaddeus Young. What do you like/dislike about this acquisition? How does Thaddeus Young fit the roster and what impact does he make next season?
Evan Morris: I like the Jeff Teague trade. I love the Thaddeus Young trade. You can check my Twitter (and give me a follow while you’re at it), @EvanOnSBNation, I didn’t think there was anyway the Pacers could swing Thad Young for the 20th pick and a future second round pick. I had pondered the idea but thought it would take at least a bench player or two in addition to the no. 20 pick. To be honest, I’m still shocked. Did I mention that I love this trade? He will be playing on the best team in his career and be a huge addition to the PF position on this roster. Though he lacks a consistent outside shot, Young brings hard work, athleticism and an inside presence on the offensive end to the Pacers.
C. Cooper: The Pacers were 35.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Lavoy Allen on the floor compared to when he was on the bench in the playoffs, and he is the only forward currently on the roster with NBA-level experience. Struggling to keep pace with speedier guards, Thaddeus Young’s mobility and athleticism will allow Allen to return to the bench where he is better suited to produce. Still, the arrival of the final three years of his $50 million extension as well as his sketchy defense puts a lot of pressure on Myles Turner to be ready to hold down the paint as a starter. Young’s potential insertion into the first unit also does not do much for the team’s suddenly shrinking floor spacing. His proven record and experience may be worth passing on the draft’s question marks in the short-term, but whether it will warrant sacrificing shooting or banking on Turner’s defensive development in the long-term is still up in the air.
Tom Lewis: The Pacers are fighting to win now and found a power forward they desperately needed with the expected departure of Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi. Thad Young is a starter ready to step in immediately and contribute. He's exactly the type of player the Pacers would have hoped to draft at No. 20 but without having to wait for a rookie to develop into a productive starter. Plus, with two years left on his contract, Young will be on a very reasonable contract by the end of the summer.
Nathan S: I'm excited for Thad Young! I've always admired him as a player since his early days with Philadelphia and it feels exciting to bring in a guy of his caliber to a team that's making a real effort to take a step forward this offseason. While it's risky to mortage your future on a 10-year vet, the Pacers got great value for their #20 pick, especially considering Charlotte received Marco Belinelli with their 22nd overall pick. If there's one pause with the trade, however, it's not so much with Young as how he may fit with the team. The Pacers seem committed to moving up-tempo next season, but with Teague an inferior three point shooter to Hill and Young, a career 32% three point shooter who has moved away from three pointers this past season (7-30), it's curious in how the Pacers will master the "space" part of the "pace and space" equation without many three point threats. It shouldn't affect Young, who appears to be the right type of power forward to pair with Myles Turner, who is clearly eager to extend his range beyond the arc.
Matt Andreason: I confess: know-nothing me has never loved Thaddeus Young's game. I've mostly viewed him as a good bench piece because of his jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none profile, but he's going to have ample opportunity in Indiana to change my mind. He seems bred for the Pacers' desired pace attack, and I'm not sure he's ever played on a team more suited to his strengths. I expect him to make a notable impact as long as the Pacers stick to the run-and-gun plan.
Given the fact that the Thaddeus Young trade was made before the draft, the Pacers organization and fans were not completely sure who would be available at the time of the 20th selection. Looking back, were there any players available at no. 20 that you would have rather had than making the trade for Thaddeus Young?
Evan Morris: The Pacers are win-now mode. With Paul George’s player option coming in two years, Bird knows he must surround Paul with talent if he wants to re-sign the superstar. None of the players that were available at 20 are going to make the immediate impact that Young will, and I can say that with confidence.
C. Cooper: Paul George only has two seasons left before he can, and likely will, opt out at the end of the 2017-18 season due to financial considerations, which means the Pacers may not have the luxury to potentially wait a few years for Brice Johnson’s frame to fill out, Cheick Diallo’s raw talent to develop, Juan Hernangomez to get a handle on NBA defensive rotations, or for Thon Maker to pull back his shroud of mystery. There’s no way to know in the immediate if any of these names will end up having a higher ceiling than Thaddeus Young in the long-term; however, with the 20th pick, the Pacers ultimately decided readiness and experience were priorities in the short-term. Given their franchise player’s timeline as well as the bizarre nature of Thursday’s draft, it is difficult to argue otherwise.
Tom Lewis: Two players stick out for me, starting with Brice Johnson. Johnson would have been the most likely power forward to help next season, albeit not ready for a huge role. Still, he has the potential to fill that need now covered by Thad Young. The other player was guard Dejounte Murray who has great size and talent at point guard. Murray would likely had little to no impact on the Pacers next year, but his long-term upside would've made him a fun piece to watch develop over the next couple of years.
Nathan S: This was a very strange draft for a number of reasons, but not the least of which was the way numerous guys fell right into the Pacers' range at #20. In some sense, being there to "steal" a falling lottery level talent would've been a nice reward, but the risk/reward with a guy like Young seems like a no-brainer. The Pacers can't scorch earth trying to field a potential contender, but given they're effectively working on a two-year window, taking advantage of the opportunities to acquire quality veteran talent can't take a backseat to the mystique of Skal Labissiere's potential.
Matt Andreason: Looking back, it would've been fun to land a talented project like Labissiere, Davis, or Murray at 20. High-ceiling, bust-heavy prospects tend to be Bird's finest work, and, in time, any one of those three could've been his latest draft success story. But in the interest of keeping Paul George in Indy, the Pacers clearly want to build a roster that's ready to win now, and it's hard to envision any pick in the 20s helping accomplish that goal to the extent needed. So... Thad Young it is.
With the 50th overall pick, the Indiana Pacers selected Georges Niang from Iowa State. Comment on Niang's fit with the team, Indiana's expectations from the rookie, and how he can make an impact in his first NBA season.
Evan Morris: Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard has stated that he sees Niang coming in right away to compete for minutes. I hope he’s right. Based off his size, Niang is looking at the 3 or stretch 4 position, which the Pacers could use. However, his defense concerns me. Offensively, he’s talented. Very talented. I’ve heard comparisons to Draymond Green, but he isn’t Draymond Green on the defensive end. And Pacers fans should not expect him to be Draymond Green. I’d say he’s more of a Luis Scola – but a tad more athletic. I believe that Niang brings an ability to space the floor on the offensive end, and frankly, I don’t expect much at all in his rookie season assuming he makes the team. With that being said, I wouldn’t mind a nice little surprise from Georges.
C. Cooper: Niang’s name was overshadowed at the Blue & Gold’s seventh and final pre-draft workout by Brice Johnson, Cheick Diallo, and Ante Zizic, all of whom were projected by numerous draft experts to be in range for Indiana at No. 20. That Niang’s potential as a point forward stuck with the Pacers up against Johnson and Diallo’s superior athleticism as well as Zizic’s more imposing frame should communicate to those outside the war room exactly how much they valued the tweener’s potential versatility as a playmaker and pick-and-pop shooter. Since General Manager Kevin Pritchard said he thinks the former Iowa State Cyclone can "get in our rotation" and "compete for minutes," it is possible he battles Shayne Whittington, who improved his three-point conversion rate to 38 percent by the final full month of the D-League season, to become the team’s bench stretch-four option.
Tom Lewis: Niang's fully developed game should offer him a chance to crack the Pacers playing rotation next season, although I don't know him to have any discernible impact on the team in his rookie year. Niang's best projection is a quality reserve capable of knocking down shots and giving the reserve unit an additional offensive threat.
Nathan S: Niang's lack of position could be a problem, maybe more so than his overall lack of athelticism. Where he fits as a "combo forward" unlikely to be quick enough to keep up with 3's, but also too small against larger 4's could be a make or break in whether he makes the Pacers roster at all. I'll look forward to seeing Niang's play in the Summer League next week to get a better grasp on what things he excels at, but there's no question he's a crafty and quality college player that benefited from playing under Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State and "ready made" guys is what Indiana needed out of this draft. If he does make the roster, it will either spell out a lot of time in the Summit City or a lot of time earning his stripes in garbage time. At this point, I'd be surprised if the Pacers find much use for him this season.
Matt Andreason: My initial reaction to drafting Niang was unfavorable. Surely, they could've done better at 50 than a guy with a paper-thin vertical who moves with about as much grace as Big Bird. But let's be honest, the NBA's never valued skilled players lacking in elite physical tools more than it does right now, which gives Niang - a skilled, bball-IQ savant - a chance to stick. That being said, my expectations for him are still quite low, and despite Kevin Pritchard's glowing review of him, I suspect he'll start the season in Fort Wayne or overseas.
Would you have liked to see the Pacers select another player at no. 50 or were you hoping for Niang's name to be called?
Evan Morris: I’d be lying if I said I wanted Georges Niang. I wanted Ben Bentil without a doubt. But now that I’ve slept on it, the Pacers added one of the best offensive players in the country. Bird was looking for a guy who can make an immediate impact, which is tough to do late in the second round, and he may have done just that.
C. Cooper: As was elaborated to above, the Pacers had Niang in for a pre-draft workout, and they apparently liked what they saw, and that is more than to which any of us were privy. If the former Iowa State Cyclone’s ability to shoot out of the pick-and-pop and make quick decisions can translate to the NBA, then the Blue & Gold will have addressed an area of obvious weakness without surrendering a huge chunk of their salary cap space competing for a few such high in-demand options in free agency. If not, then it was a low-risk second-round gamble in a difficult to figure draft.
Tom Lewis: Before the Pacers picked, I was calling out Ben Bentil's name and honestly didn't have Niang on my radar. As it turns out, Bentil went one pick later but the Pacers selected a player they feel is a better fit and after digging into Niang's game more since the pick, that much is obvious. His ability to shoot, pass, work out of a pick n' roll and make good decisions with the ball certainly make Niang an intriguing prospect to follow.
Nathan S: I wasn't hoping for Niang to be called, but that's generally to do with the uncertainty surrounding the second round. There's talent to be found, but it's not as clear-cut as it is with lottery level talent. But given Indiana's reasonable success in the second round, there's enough reason to hold some level of optimism regarding Niang's chances within the league.
Matt Andreason: I probably would've preferred Bentil, Payton II, or Barber, but all three of'em have question marks of their own (Bentil: Ball IQ and defense; Payton II: will he ever be able to score beyond six feet and in?; Barber: is he capable of being a team player?). Ultimately, I'm not going to judge the Pacers too harshly for who they selected that deep in the draft. I mean, it's the 50th pick in the draft... where D-League specials reign.
With the recent acquisitions of Young, Niang and Teague, where do you think the Pacers are headed in free agency? Are there any specific free agents that you see fit well with the Pacers' current roster? Do you think Larry Bird has one more trade up his sleeve?
Evan Morris: Bird wants to spread the floor. To spread the floor, you need shooters. Teague, Ellis, and Young aren’t the most reliable shooters, so I’d be surprised if Bird didn’t go after a, um, shooting guard. A guy like Courtney Lee, Kent Bazemore, or even Aaron Afflalo would be able to spread the floor. This could allow Ellis to come off the bench and run the second unit. If Bird would want to do something crazy and have Paul George play the two, he could add another big man such as Marvin Williams or Ryan Anderson. The Pacers have options, which is great, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bird pull one more trade out of his sleeve.
C. Cooper: One way or another, the Pacers need to address the team’s lack of shooting. With Rodney Stckey (24.1%) regressing to the mean beyond the arc, Ty Lawson reluctant to pull the trigger, and C.J. Miles being caught in the crosshairs of Frank Vogel’s execution of Larry Bird’s vision, Indiana’s bench shot a league-worst 29 percent from three. Teague (40% on one catch-and-shoot 3PA per game) and Young’s (23.3%) potential insertion into the starting lineup alongside Monta Ellis (30.9%), is not going to do much in the way to spread the floor, especially if Myles Turner struggles to extend his shooting range. All of which either means the Pacers are going to need to invest in long-range marksmen in free agency, preferably capable of defending the perimeter (i.e. Courtney Lee), or get extra creative with their playing rotations.
Tom Lewis: With such a goofy free agency period about to begin, the Pacers will likely be involved in bringing in at least one player. Dealing another player currently on the roster may be needed to make a bigger free agent splash. With so much money and cap space in the mix across the league, trading any player is not out of the question. Rodney Stuckey and Monta Ellis would be the most-likely trade options, but regardless, the Pacers need to add a wing player, preferably one that can shoot. Assuming an extension for Teague, the Pacers may only have $12-15 million to spend which should be plenty to land a player like Courtney Lee or Arron Afflalo. Personally, I'd prefer Afflalo. If more space is available, reuniting Nicolas Batum with Nate McMillan would be fantastic.
Nathan S: The Pacers need to be in the market for a true two who can play off of the ball and shoot. A starting backcourt of Teague and Ellis or Rodney Stuckey seems destined to struggle. Hill worked with both because he was a dead-eye corner three shooter and played well off the ball, but that's not the case with Teague, Ellis, or Stuckey. That also makes one of Ellis or Stuckey expendable. Ideally, moving forward with Ellis in a reserve role gives Indiana the better chance of success, but whether Ellis is ready to move into that type of role may be a determining factor in how that plays out. Eric Gordon is an easy, affordable answer for that role, but health is a real concern, forcing more expensive names like Chandler Parsons into the mix. Or even a combination of injuries and cost, such as Bradley Beal (restricted). The need for shooting is obvious however, which can extend beyond the guard spot, making Ryan Anderson an interesting name should he be in the affordable range as well. But Indiana will need to round out the roster regardless of larger names. The Pacers have the perfect backup center in Ian Mahinmi, but it will be hard to retain him under the assumed contract he'll demand, and a failure to address depth beyond guys like Rakeem Christmas and Lavoy Allen will make things difficult should injuries crop up to either Young or Turner. The Pacers don't need a home run in free agency this year since the big catch almost certainly isn't happening, but setting themselves up to make a catch in the stacked 2017 free agency class could go a long way in securing the long term stability of the franchise with George.
Matt Andreason: I try not to play the free-agency/trade game because, quite frankly, it's a migraine-inducer, so I'll keep this answer pretty simple. The Pacers need shooting at every position. Therefore, the Pacers should focus their free-agency efforts on finding shooters at every position. See how easy that was? Call me anytime, Larry. Mr. Simple will be here all week... year... and decade.
What would you grade the Pacers' offseason thus far? Why?
Evan Morris: Given the fact that free agency has not even started yet, I think you have to give the Pacers an A to this point. How could you not? They turned George Hill and the 20th pick in a weak draft into Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young. Add Georges Niang, a great scorer, in the late second round, and they’ve exceeded expectations. Think about this: it could have been Brice Johnson and Georges Niang – along with George Hill. Now, it’s Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Georges Niang. With free agency coming up, Pacers fans could not be more excited. Let’s hope they can keep the A they’ve earned thus far.
C. Cooper: Assessing them with an "I" for incomplete seems fair. There are certainly reasons to be concerned about the starting lineup’s potential for erraticism next season, given that their ability to outrun opponents may not always be enough to compensate for what could end up being leaky defense (although Dan Burke may have something to say about that) and lack of off-ball threats. Still, the list of dynamic names should definitely instill a heightened sense of excitement. After all, the Pacers did just net an All-Star caliber point guard and cost-effective mobile big (given the rising salary cap) for the final year of George Hill’s contract and the 20th pick in a bizarre draft. However, without advanced knowledge of Bird’s July 1 plans, it is impossible to know whether the infusion of talent will outweigh any concerns regarding fit and function. Stay tuned.
Tom Lewis: I'd give the Pacers a B grade so far this offseason. Certainly above average considering they added two veteran starters to the lineup at positions of need. They still need to find scoring to fill out the reserve playing rotation which could raise that grade. Of course, the final mark could slip, if the team doesn't take to the changes but those final marks will be measured in wins and losses.
Nathan S: So far, I'd give this offseason a letter grade of a B. The additions of Teague and Young are solid pick-ups that establish Indiana as a team capable of jumping up the Eastern Conference standings next season. The road for home court is wide open at this point even if the chance of successfully matching wits with Cleveland remains a pipe dream. However, whatever perceived improvements Indiana has or will continue to make this offseason will need to be validated by the coaching change. With Frank Vogel, these improvements would see their way to a clear level, but with Nate McMillan, there's an uncertainty, a pause, and an uneasiness that will need to be sorted out before we can get a clear picture to how good Indiana can be.
Matt Andreason: I'm gonna give their offseason thus far a B+. Truth serum: last summer, the Pacers failed miserably to put together a pace-and-space roster. You can try to justify it a million different ways: it was a "transition year," PG wouldn't play the 4, they didn't try small-ball long enough, they discovered Solomon Hill too late, yada, yada, yada. Bottom line: they didn't have the right pieces, and a good coach likely lost his job because of it. This time around, they seem much more precise in targeting who/what they want in order to integrate Larry's up-tempo system. If they can upgrade the spacing in free-agency, this grade could easily turn in to an A.