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Pacers raise expectations for rookie Isaiah Jackson

The Pacers rookie big man may bring something the team needs sooner than later.

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

On NBA draft night, after selecting Chris Duarte at pick 13, then 19-year old, Isaiah Jackson with the 22nd overall pick, general manager Chad Buchanan had this to say about the Pacers draft process.

“We kind of had the philosophy tonight that we had two opportunities to take a swing at the plate,” Buchanan said. “And we wanted to kind of go for what we felt was a pretty sure thing and we wanted to take a swing with the other one (at) a younger, more high-upside potential.”

To extend the baseball metaphor, they wanted to smoke a double in the gap with Duarte as a player who could produce immediately, and then swing for the fences with Jackson, as a developmental player who could mature into an upper deck home run.

The immediate thoughts about Jackson would be that his raw game would take some time to be NBA ready which would mean a few stints with the Mad Ants as he developed his offensive game.

After arriving late to summer league, due to the draft night trade that allowed the Pacers to land the 6-10 big out of Kentucky, his play on the court seemed to back up the notion that he had great defensive potential and needed to improve on offense.

But the work Jackson put in the rest of the summer and showed off while in Indy during team pick up games prior to training camp, certainly changed the tune of some big voices in the Fieldhouse.

“In my opinion, he can guard one through five,” Caris LeVert said of Jackson’s defensive capabilities.

Wait, what? Guard one through five at 6’10? OK.

“His defensive versatility is absolutely breathtaking,” Rick Carlisle said. “I just have not seen a guy move, block shots, change shots, be able to guard any position the way I’ve seen him be able to do it.”

Excuse me? Did this man say ‘breathtaking’?

“I don’t know if we’ve had that kind of a talented athlete in the building since probably Paul George,” Pres Kevin Pritchard said. “I’m not trying to compare him to Paul George right now, but as a pure athlete, he does some things that I’ve not seen in the gym in a long time.”

No doubt KP has Men In Black mind erased the athleticism we saw from pre-injury Victor Oladipo, but the level of hype for Jackson remains. Carlisle also mentioned how Jackson has improved on the offensive end from what we saw in Vegas, which was a screwy situation for the rook considering all of the league red tape that had him in limbo for the first few days.

This is a kid (he’s 19!!!) who delivered the fastest lane agility time of 10.85 seconds before his freshman year at Kentucky 11 months ago. The hype for his athletic ability is well founded.

Still, the bottom line is that the two guys in the organization most prone to prudently managing the expectations of their players, absolutely raised the bar on Jackson’s immediate future with the team.

The revelation that Jackson can switch defensively and still defend guards on the perimeter at a high level is indeed a game changer and also something we haven’t seen in the gym in a long time.

While it would appear, any playing opportunity for Jackson would plunge reserve center Goga Bitadze further down the depth chart, may not necessarily be the case since Jackson may make more sense in a power forward role. The comparisons to Bam Adebayo have started and closing in on being that type of player would certainly be a home run for the Pacers.

On Thursday, Scott Agness posted a clip of Domas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Goga working on their corner three-point shooting. Jackson was not with the trio of bigs, leading one to assume he was working with the forwards (or God forbid in the training room with a yet to be reported injury...hey, you had the same thought, admit it).

Regardless of which front court position Jackson plays, the math makes it hard to imagine he will get much run in the regular season. But even a matchup-friendly reserve role would be impressive in his first year.

One thing is for sure, preseason games will be much more intriguing, seeing how Carlisle mixes and matches his lineups to see who and what emerges to his liking. After the glowing comments on Media Day, it is only fair to expect Isaiah Jakcons will be in that mix.