Indiana’s rumored exploratory interest in the French big man seemed to be further corroborated by Seraphin himself when he posted a photo of himself next to the John Wooden statue located in Indianapolis on Instagram.
Seraphin, who was buried behind a glut of big men capable of playing center in New York last season including Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, and to a lesser extent Kristaps Porzingis, averaged 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11 minutes per game with the Knicks.
Given that his stats do not exactly jump off the page and the Pacers already have the league-maximum of 15 players under contract for next season, taking even a cursory look at Seraphin seems odd. However, when considering Indiana’s potential lack of frontcourt depth, it could easily be argued that not doing so would have been more strange.
Here’s why the Pacers may still need to seek outside help for a third-string center:
Al Jefferson’s durability:
Unless head coach Nate McMillan unexpectedly opts for the starting lineup to play big, Jefferson will be Indiana’s reserve center. While coming off the bench will present the 31-year-old plodder with the opportunity to unleash his full repertoire of post moves as the focal point of the second unit, roasting less skilled backup centers will only be possible as long as his body allows it.
Big Al has missed an average of 26 games over the last two seasons, sitting out 35 games in 2015-16 due to a left calf strain, suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and having undergone surgery to address a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The prior season he lost 17 games as a result of a left groin strain and knee soreness.
Should this pattern continue, the Pacers won’t have Jordan Hill’s playing experience in their back pocket to use as a stopgap like they did last season when Ian Mahinmi sprained his ankle or Myles Turner was out after undergoing surgery to fix a chip fracture in his left thumb.
If Jefferson misses extended time for a third-consecutive season, then what?
Rakeem Christmas’ foul trouble:
The diciest answer to this question is Rakeem Christmas, who only appeared in the Pacers regular season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks last season.
Beyond inexperience, it is not particularly encouraging that Christmas was routinely plagued by foul trouble during his stay in the NBA D-League. Having racked up five or more fouls in 19 of the 48 games he played with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the undersized center would need to restrain himself from picking up ticky-tacky fouls reaching over the top and from behind in order to be relied upon against bigger bodies in a temporarily larger role.
Lavoy Allen’s comfort zone:
If Christmas proves himself still to be too green (no pun intended) to defend NBA-caliber centers, then the only other option would be to shift Lavoy Allen to the five spot, which the numbers indicate should not even be an option.
According to NBA Wowy, the Pacers gave up a miserable 110.1 points per 100 possessions when Allen was on the floor without Jordan Hill, Myles Turner, or Ian Mahinmi. Granted, this only accounted for around a measly 11 percent of Allen’s total minutes last season; however, if that defensive rating would have held up across the full season, it would have ranked 30th in the league among benches, behind even the likes of New Orleans (107.4), Minnesota (108.3), and Brooklyn (109.1).
When comparing Allen to Seraphin head-to-head, the latter only appears to be a marginal upgrade over the former. But, it begs repeating that the third-year Pacer played 90 percent of his minutes beside a defensive anchor, which means his on/off numbers were likely positively impacted from playing alongside an array of rim protectors, whereas Seraphin, who only appeared in 48 games, may be the victim of sample size.
Because Seraphin only averaged 11 minutes per contest in 48 games with the Knicks, his time with the Wizards may be more telling as to his reliability as a potential reserve center. Below, Ryan Gracia of Bullets Forever discusses the French center’s growth as a rim protector during his last season in Washington:
Rim protection has been another area where Seraphin has shown growth this season. He's learned that referees are calling fouls any time a defender brings their arms downward. Anytime a player drives at Seraphin near the rim, he's been very good at keeping his arms straight up in the air, forcing them into a tough shot and rarely getting called for fouls. Though small for a center, this has been a nice adjustment of reading the way the game is called and helping him stay out of foul trouble.
His use of verticality to compensate for his lack of size carried over, at least in spurts, with the Knicks.
Still, more encouraging is that the Pacers allowed a much-improved 103.3 points per 100 possessions when Lavoy Allen, at power forward, was joined on the floor by Jordan Hill. Rather than dead last, that tandem’s defensive rating would have ranked 12th among benches across a full season, which seems to indicate that Indiana would be in a better position defensively with Seraphin serving as an emergency backup next to Allen than if Allen was tasked with manning the middle without another traditional big.
Because the French center, who converted hook shots at a 70 percent clip during his final season with the Wizards, is still ideally utilized as a third-string center, waiving someone currently under contract or completing a one-for-none or two-for-one trade in order to create a roster spot may seem extreme. After all, it is possible that Al Jefferson will stay healthy and Rakeem Christmas will be ready; however, given Indiana’s tenuous frontcourt depth, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Seraphin also reportedly has interest from Spanish club FC Barcelona.