It had been announced earlier this week that the Indiana Pacers had lost their draft-pick tiebreaker to the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to the 17th overall selection in the upcoming NBA draft — where Indiana will now begin the process of evaluating their options for pick No. 18 come June.
That much has been known for the last few days. What isn’t known, however, is exactly who team president Larry Bird will select in what has been regarded as a guard-heavy draft class that includes the likes of Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz and De’Aaron Fox, just to name a few.
It is very unlikely that the Pacers will see any of the players mentioned above fall into their lap, as they are all projected to be top-10 talents. But luckily for Bird, there should still be many reliable players to choose from when Indiana is on the clock come draft night.
CBS Sports released their latest mock draft Wednesday afternoon, showing the Pacers selecting South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell at No. 18. Here was their reasoning for Indiana making the selection:
“Nate McMillan's team aspires to be better defensively than they are (16th in the league this year in defensive efficiency), and Thornwell will help bridge that gap.”
When the Pacers fired then-head coach Frank Vogel at the end of last season, Bird promoted Nate McMillan from the team’s assistant coaching staff to be Indiana’s head coach moving forward — with a vision that McMillan’s style of coaching would better accommodate the Pacers to today’s run-and-gun NBA. But playing a fast-paced, small-balled offense can come with a cost.
The Pacers ranked in as the 14th-best defense in the NBA, giving up an average of 105.3 points per-game throughout the 2016-17 season — down from their defensive ranking in the previous year under Vogel (7th in the NBA). Last summer, Bird traded George Hill’s defense for Jeff Teague’s offense, and lost Ian Mahinmi’s rim protection when he signed with the Washington Wizards as a free agent. The Thaddeus Young/Myles Turner front-court combination helps the Pacers space the floor and create more offense, but is nowhere near the defensive presence that the Turner/Mahinmi duo provided for the team in 2015-16.
As a guard, Thornwell obviously isn’t going to solve Indiana’s deficiencies in the front-court, but his defensive ability at the two could benefit the team’s overall defense — also helping resolve the defensive burden left behind by Monta Ellis and a still-developing Glenn Robinson III.
Whoever the Pacers end up taking with their first-round selection in this year’s draft, Bird will have plenty of time to heavily evaluate all possible options with the draft being two months away (June 22). And luckily for Indiana, this year’s class has been touted by many experts as being very deep and talented. It should be interesting to see how things shape up as draft night approaches in the coming weeks.