It was going to be tough sledding any way the Pacers approached it.
Sitting at the 20th overall selection in the 2016 NBA draft was more of a curse than a blessing for Indiana; they were essentially free to take whomever they believed to be the best player available at the time, but much of the big name talent was expected to go well before the Pacers would even hit the clock. In fact, many of the players Indiana had brought in for draft workouts- Thon Maker and Taurean Prince, for example- were gone even before the lottery picks ended.
So instead of staying in the first round, team President Larry Bird decided to upgrade the roster with established veterans and fully transition to a starting lineup that can embrace the up-tempo offense he prefers. Before the NBA draft on Thursday, the Pacers had acquired Indianapolis native Jeff Teague from the Atlanta Hawks and Thaddeus Young from the Brooklyn Nets. Indiana later added Iowa State forward Georges Niang in the second round of the NBA draft.
So let's look at whom the Pacers acquired during the draft process and what it means for the shape of the roster going forward.
Acquiring Jeff Teague: Three team trade; IND receives Jeff Teague, UTA receives George Hill; ATL receives #12 overall pick
On Wednesday, the Pacers, Jazz, and Hawks proposed a three-team deal that wound up sending Pike High School superstar and Indy native Jeff Teague to Indianapolis. Teague will presumably take the place of former Pacers starting point guard George Hill, who now goes to the Utah Jazz. If the Pacers truly want to be a higher-scoring team, then this was a great move to make. Teague is a fastbreak machine and a terrific driver, finisher, and passer. He is an ideal point guard to fit into the up-tempo offense that Bird desires. Last season, Teague averaged over three more points and two more assists than Hill, all while playing nearly 6 fewer minutes. While some Pacers fans may be concerned with missing Hill's three-point shooting, it should be noted that Teague's 3P% was just 0.7 percentage points lower than Hill's for the year.
Teague could finally be that piece the Pacers have been looking for the past several years- a good ball mover who can score when necessary. This trade will most likely take the playmaking duties off of Monta Ellis's shoulders, and give that role firmly to Teague. It remains to be seen what that ultimately means for Ellis, but a move to the bench to be the primary scorer for the second unit seems likely. This would move another shooter like C.J. Miles back into the starting lineup.
Since the trade was proposed, the Pacers have made it clear they want to begin working on a contract extension for Teague, as he only has one year remaining on his current deal. Currently, the Pacer have anywhere from $12-$20M in salary cap space, depending on what happens with Mahinmi. I personally tend to think Mahinmi will sign elsewhere and that money will go towards extending Teague and getting another shooter. Losing Mahinmi will hurt the interior defense short-term, but he has earned the right to get one last big contract after a career season.
Acquiring Young: IND receives Thaddeus Young, BKN receives #20 overall pick and future second round pick
The first shoe that dropped on draft day was Indiana sending two picks to draft-starved Brooklyn in exchange for Thad Young. The 20th pick that would have been used by the Pacers ended up being Michigan star Caris LaVert, but the need for a good ball-mover was addressed with the Teague trade.
With Young, the Pacers get a veteran player who is ideal for the small-ball 4 position which Paul George was so reluctant to play last season. While not a great shooter (career 31% from 3-point territory), Young is a high-energy, athletic forward who can rebound well and finish above the rim. He has never scored fewer than 12.7 points per game, excluding his rookie season, and his production in both Philadelphia and Brooklyn rose when he was given the green light to be among the primary options.
This move cements Myles Turner as the starting center going forward. After hitting the rookie wall near the end of last season, Turner regained his footing in the postseason and made a big impact defensively against Toronto. A frontcourt of Paul George, Young, and Turner has fantastic defensive potential.
Acquiring Georges Niang; IND selects Niang with the #50 overall selection in the 2016 NBA draft
Niang was the icing on the cake on what was a great draft season for Indiana. Niang, a 2016 second-team All-American and first team All-Big 12, finished his final season at Iowa State averaging a stellar 20.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He finished his career as the second leading scorer in school history.
The biggest drawbacks most scouts saw from Niang were his limited speed and athleticism coupled with the fact that his age suggests his potential is almost fully reached. Despite these concerns, Niang is a proven scorer, facilitator, defender, and winner. He is the winningest player in Iowa State's history, and his dedication to the game cannot be understated. Some draft experts have compared him to Boris Diaw or Draymond Green due to their similar size and playmaking abilities. And honestly- with the 50th pick in the draft, if those comparisons are even close to true, shouldn't the pick be viewed as a success?
Overall draft grade: B+/A-