In the 2011-2012 NBA season the Indiana Pacers shed themselves of the underdog label and, in the wake of their strong showing in the NBA Playoffs, earned the title of emerging contender. With that said, they remain a small market team and will look once again to use the draft to strengthen their rotation.
Although often criticized early on in Indiana, Larry Bird now has the full support of the fans in Indiana as well as an NBA Executive of the Year award behind him. Assuming that Bird returns to the team, he will have already started looking at prospective members of his young team.
The Pacers started a lineup in 2011-2012 that featured three draft picks selected under Bird's careful watch. Of those three, (Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Paul George) Granger and Hibbert have already played on all-star teams. Beyond that, the bench in Indiana features several Bird draft picks such as Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, and Lance Stephenson. Not to mention that Bird's pick last year, Kawhi Leonard, was traded to San Antonio for George HIll, a prominent member of the Pacers' run in the playoffs.
If the Pacers want to follow the path of the Oklahoma City Thunder and become a small market team that rises to prominence through the draft, they will, yet again, have to make the right choices. With one pick in this year's draft after the Leandro Barbosa deal cost them a second-round pick, the Pacers will have to make their first-round selection a good one.
Andrew Nicholson may not be a household name, but neither were Danny Granger or Paul George. Nicholson is certainly a player that Larry Bird needs to look at.
A four-year member of the St. Bonaventure's basketball team, Nicholson would bring much needed size to the Indiana bench. At 6'9'', 225 pounds, Nicholson can play either center or power forward and is a legitimate scorer as well as a solid rebounder. In his senior year Nicholson averaged 18.5 points to go along with eight rebounds and two blocks per game.
Indiana fans may be skeptical of Nicholson's competition, coming out of the Atlantic 10, but it is a conference that has produced above-average NBA players such as Jameer Nelson and Lamar Odom.
Nicholson may never be a star, but he would certainly bolster an already solid Indiana bench as both a back to the basket force as well as mid-range threat.
Draymond Green is a name that the Pacers fans may be more familiar with, and for good reasons. One of the best players in the country last year, Green led Michigan State to a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.
Despite one of the best seasons in college basketball this past year, Green is not widely regarded as a legitimate NBA presence. At 6'7'', Green may have played bigger in college than he would be able to in the NBA. However, with room to improve and a variety of intangibles, Green is a prototypical Larry Bird draft selection.
Not only did green average 16 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists per game during his senior year, but he was also widely noticed as one of the best leaders in the country and an outstanding locker room figure. Furthermore, Bird is always quick to notice four-year players. Players like Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, and Brandon Rush are the most noticeable examples.
Green would provide yet another outstanding locker room presence as well as a clutch scoring figure for coach Frank Vogel's rotation. If his strength is enough to make up for his lack of height at the position he plays, that paired with his scoring could make him dangerous off the bench.
Fab Melo's flaws are apparent. Offensively, he does not come anywhere close to solving the Pacers' needs, and for a team that has tried desperately to move away from the image the "Malice at the Palace" left them with, his attitude problems do not bode well.
However, if Vogel is the right coach for Melo, such as Keith Smart was for DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento, his defensive abilities certainly warrant a first-round selection for a team that desperately needs height off the bench.
At 7'0'', 255 pounds, inserting Melo into the lineup to spell Hibbert would help their defense to avoid skipping a beat. At eight and six per game respectively, Melo's rebounding and blocking numbers aren't impressive on paper, but he is certainly an interior presence and was a crucial part of Syracuse's success last year. Without the young Brazilian down low, Syracuse was not the powerhouse in the NCAA tournament that we saw in the regular season.
Against Miami it was extremely evident that once Hibbert and David West left the game Indiana could not handle Lebron James and Dwyane Wade on the interior. However, with someone like Melo manning the paint while Hibbert rests, the Pacers would be defensively intimidating at all points in the game. Beyond that, Bird showed that attitude doesn't scare him if the talent is there in drafting Lance Stephenson.
Ezeli is another potential suitor for the backup role to Roy Hibbert. While he gives up a few inches to Melo he is still 6'11'', 255 pounds and provides a little more offense and a quieter, more responsible personality.
The senior from Vanderbilt fills the paint easily with a monstrous frame and is a very solid interior defender. With a 7'4'' wingspan, the Nigerian-born, former Commodore would probably be a more viable option for Indiana. While they'd like to have a center who could provide more offense than either Melo or Ezeli this is a team built on defense. Vogel's defense-oriented play-calling has worked immensely more than Jim O'Brien's offensive-minded scheme had worked prior.
Ezeli will rarely create his own scoring but is a quiet hustler with solid defensive ability and great size. If not a long-term solution alongside Hibbert, he would certainly provide a solid stop-gap for the team until they can find a true solution for their lack of size off the bench. However, Indiana fans may want a player who can impact the team fairly quickly and for a long period of time, such as Paul George.
Another Vanderbilt senior, bringing on Jefferey Taylor would add to the Pacers' impressive collection of long, tall wing guards. A 6'7'' small forward, Taylor was the leader of a Vanderbilt team that had a very solid 2011-12 season.
Looking at his averages of 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists per game you can't help but notice the similarities he has with Danny Granger. And while many fans have sought a Granger-centered trade, it is doubtful you will find many fans skeptical of having two players of that caliber.
Pacers fans are clamoring for a guy who can take the last shot when the game is on the line, and Taylor may not be that guy. But then again, with the 26th pick this won't be the year they find that player. While they search for their superstar they would be wise to keep adding solid, above-average players to their core, such as Jeffery Taylor.
If the Pacers fans are looking to steal a star in this draft, Royce White is probably their best shot at doing so. At 6'8'', 270 pounds, White is an underrated blend of speed, strength, and size. The small forward from Iowa State could very easily be a difference maker in the NBA at some point in his career.
A sophomore, White averaged 13 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. Although those numbers look low for a kid who could be a superstar, he is only a sophomore and has plenty of room to grow. While being large and capable enough to cover power forwards, scouts say that White can also handle the ball like a point guard and has the ability to score in a lot of ways.
As a freshman, White led his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. With that kind of arsenal at his disposal White has to be very intriguing to Larry Bird and a city that is looking for their next big star.
Lamb is a scorer. Plain and simple. Assuming Indiana lets Barbosa go to free agency to cash in on the money coming off the books with his salary, Lamb would provide the same services at a higher level. At 6'4'', Lamb is stuck in between two positions but is unquestionably talented.
On a team with a lot of options, Lamb still managed to score 13 points a game and he was only a sophomore. He doesn't bring a lot else to the stat sheet except for points but he is an athletic hustle player who can drive and score as well as draw fouls.
Indiana's starting lineup is comprised of two big men and three jump shooters. Bringing into the fold a guy who can slash to the bucket and score would be incredibly helpful in helping them generate offense and stay in games when the starters are out. Between Lamb and Collison, the Pacers would have a hard backcourt to stay in front of off the bench.
Dion Waiters, physically, is about as close to James Harden as you can get. And, watching the NBA Playoffs this year, that sentence has to intrigue a lot of teams. At just an inch smaller, and five pounds lighter, Waiters is a Harden clone.
Waiters is primarily a scorer, which the Pacers need, but can also create off the dribble for his teammates. Beyond that, he is a fantastic finisher at the rim and has a solid shooting stroke. It's not just on the offensive side of the ball that Waiters creates problems, however. The shooting guard from Syracuse is also a very good defender.
Waiters may never be James Harden, but that is hard to ask of a player. He will, however, bring a spark off the bench for the Pacers as well as good hustle and solid defense.
Miller is a high-risk, high-reward kind of player. On one hand, a basketball fan has to see a freshman with a 6'9'', 210-pound frame and see potential for stardom. On the other hand, against the toughest competition in the NCAA tournament Miller faded, averaging just six points per game, and has had a major knee surgery.
Miller's potential is what has to lure Bird into looking at him. Miller is unbelievably lengthy, much like Paul George, and has the natural ability to score and create his own shot. He really isn't a three-point threat but is still a good shooter and can get to the basket in a variety of ways.
Miller averaged 11 points per game in his freshman year and if things go right, he can only get bigger and better. It is hard to tell whether Bird will go for the lottery and try and find himself a diamond in the rough late in the draft or be cautious. But if he wants another potential star to go along with Paul George, Quincy Miller is a good risk to take.
If Terrence Jones falls this far to the Pacers they would be foolish not to take him. He didn't follow up his stellar freshman year with as good of a sophomore year as many people would have liked to see, but the variety of tools he possesses are undeniably enticing. Not to mention, he did win a championship.
Jones averaged just 13 points per game in his last year at Kentucky but is capable of scoring in a variety of ways. A point guard in his freshman year of high school, Jones still carries solid ball-handling skills and can also play in the post at 6'8''. Furthermore, his huge wing span is a big reason why he averaged seven rebounds per game to go along with two blocks per game.
Jones is strong, fast, smart, and can only get better with all the skills he brings to a team. Jones may not be a superstar in the NBA, but he certainly will be a very good player for a long time. Bird would be adding an essential piece to his young core by drafting Jones.