Ranking the Top 25 Players in Indiana Pacers NBA History
Since the team broke into the NBA ranks from the ABA in 1976, it has featured an assortment of players who made an impact in one way or another.
For the purposes of this article, we will limit the scope to the team's NBA history, not the ABA. As much as we love and recognize the stellar play of George McGinnis, Roger Brown and Mel Daniels, they belong primarily to the ABA era, where they made a huge name for themselves.
We will also only consider Indiana Pacers who first played for the franchise in 2008 and earlier.
Additionally, all those with serious on-court and off-court issues won't be included.
That being said, don't expect to see names such as Jamaal Tinsley, Stephen Jackson and the former Ron Artest.
This ranking is simply based on each player's contribution to the team—not necessarily All-Star numbers. Rather, if a Pacer plays to his strengths, helps make Indiana a better team and makes a long-term impact in the process, then he is a shoo-in.
A simple trip down memory lane ought to fire up Pacers fans' love for the NBA franchise that calls Indianapolis home.
Honorable Mention: Micheal Williams (1990-1992)
Yes, his name is spelled "Micheal" and not "Michael."
Williams may have been forgotten by most Pacers fans by now, but he made a sound impact in the two seasons he was with the franchise in the early 1990s.
He came on board at a time when the team had a point guard dilemma, as Vern Fleming was not really a bona fide playmaker.
An article from Nathan S. of Indy Cornrows talks about Williams' potential, referring to his career year of 1991-92 when he averaged 15.1 points, 8.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. In the previous season's playoffs, he averaged 20.6 points in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.
That was also the same series where Chuck Person jawed with Larry Bird all throughout. Williams was matched up against Dee Brown.
Williams was showing flashes of his potential as a Pacer but was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves along with Person in 1992.
25. Austin Croshere (1997-2006)
Austin Croshere had what it took to become a polished player on the offensive end.
He could post up, shoot the three and cut to the basket for an easy dunk.
With that, if he had only had better shot selection, his career field-goal percentage of 41 percent would have been significantly higher.
All he became was a good contributor off the bench at best who could've done better.
24. Byron Scott (1993-1995)
Yes, Byron Scott was predominantly a Los Angeles Laker.
The shot that started it all.
Scott's dagger would eventually set the tone for Indiana's four Eastern Conference Finals appearances in the 1990s.
It's not just that shot that defined his career in Indiana, though.
Bear in mind that the Pacers signed Scott in 1993, as they were in dire need of depth at the 2-spot. He provided that as well as much-needed veteran leadership to a team that was on the brink of making noise in the playoffs.
Thank you, Byron.
23. Al Harrington (1998-2004, 2006-07)
Anybody remember "Baby Al" Harrington during his days with the Indiana Pacers?
Harrington was a little-known draft prospect out of Saint Patrick's High School in Elizabeth, N.J. in 1998. It took him roughly three seasons before he began to reach his full potential as Indiana's sixth man, averaging 13.1 points in the 2001-02 NBA season.
Just makes one wonder how the Pacers would have fared in subsequent years had Harrington stayed on instead of acquiring Jackson.
22. Roy Hibbert (2008-Present)
No other than the Great Wall of Hibbert.
Hibbert wasn't the force in the middle he is now when he first started out in the NBA. He was pretty much a foul waiting to happen in terms of his defensive prowess.
Since then, he's come a long way.
So long, in fact, he's considered one of the best rim protectors in the NBA.
The Pacers have had their share of low-post enforcers in the past, most notably Jermaine O'Neal and the Davis Boys, but they've never really had a true center who has the potential to be the best two-way player Indiana has ever had at that position.
With his best years still ahead of him, the Pacers' $58 million man should be a vital cog in their quest for their first NBA title.
21. Travis Best (1995-2002)
While Don Buse was an NBA All-Star, Travis Best delivered in several clutch situations à la Byron Scott that ultimately helped the Pacers' playoff aspirations.
A one-handed layup over Steve Kerr in Game 6 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals to knot the series at three games apiece.
Best wasn't a big-name Pacer, but he got the job done at the most critical moments.
20. Don Buse (1976-1977, 1980-1982)
Don Buse was the Pacers' first starting point guard in their NBA history.
Buse showed how good of a point guard he was in the Pacers' NBA rookie season of 1976-77, averaging eight points, 8.5 assists and 3.5 steals in 81 games he played in.
Those two latter stats (assists and steals) were the best he ever produced in his NBA career, eventually helping him make the 1977 All-Star Game.
Buse returned to the Pacers in 1980 at a time when Indiana was off to its best start in its young history at 12-10.
That year's general manager, Dick Vertlieb, nicely summed up Buse's game, per the Reading Eagle, saying, "He is disciplined, intelligent and defensive-minded. Buse has the ability to get the ball up the court and into our offense quite well."
19. Wayman Tisdale (1985-1989)
Wayman Tisdale would probably go down in Pacers history as the lefty with the most infectious smile.
More than that, he brought his All-America credentials from the University of Oklahoma to the 1985 NBA draft, where he was selected No. 2 overall behind the Georgetown Hoyas' Patrick Ewing.
Then-Indiana GM Wayne Embry predicted Tisdale was capable of making his teammates better, per an April 10, 1988 feature from Sam Smith of The Chicago Tribune.
"His confidence and personality make his talent infectious," Embry said. "Only the great players are capable of making the others around them better. The guy doesn't know how to lose."
For the most part, Tisdale was a power forward who played the role of sixth man, similar to Antonio Davis several years down the road. He averaged around 16 points and seven rebounds for the Pacers from 1985-89.
Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim described Tisdale as someone "who could play with his back to the basket or spot up, and score points in bunches."
Sadly, he passed away in 2009 due to cancer at the age of 44.
Wayman Tisdale's smile will always live in our hearts.
18. Steve Stipanovich (1983-1988)
The man they call "Stipo" was a highly touted big man from the University of Missouri.
Stipo was a big man who had good post moves, could stroke the medium-range jumper and cut well to the basket. He also had decent rebounding numbers.
Unfortunately, his stint with the Pacers was short-lived, as he had a left knee injury that was severe to the point that he couldn't even cut the grass, according to a September 29, 1989 Chicago Tribune report.
That forced him to retire at the young age of 28 after just five seasons with the team.
In spite of that, give Stipo plenty of credit for sticking around despite the Pacers' struggles during his tenure and his injury.
More than anything, he was a picture of consistency who could produce 13 points and eight rebounds every night.
17. Clark Kellogg (1982-1987)
Clark Kellogg would first strike you as a great basketball analyst on television, which he is.
When he played for the Indiana Pacers, he did make the most out of a short tenure. He averaged 18.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in 260 games.
It was just unfortunate his NBA career had to end due to chronic knee problems.
In a sense, he was just like Steve Stipanovich.
However, credit must also be given to Kellogg, who was one of the lone bright spots on an Indiana team that averaged just 27 wins from 1982-87.
The self-declared "student of the game" was eventually awarded for his patience. Not only did he become a great television personality, but he is also now the Pacers' vice president of player relations.
Cheers to a job well done, Clark.
16. Herb Williams (1981-1989)
Herb Williams was another Ohio State Buckeye who became one of the Indiana Pacers' most reliable big men in the early to mid-1980s.
A 6'10" forward-center, Williams joined forces with Clark Kellogg in 1982 to form an impressive frontcourt tandem for Indiana.
In spite of that, Williams went on to average 15 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in seven-and-a-half seasons as a Pacer.
He also wound up in the top 10 in 13 statistical categories for Indiana, which include points (8,637), field goals made (3,606), total rebounds (4,494), blocked shots (1,094) and games (577), per the Pacers' official website.
In his post-playing days, Williams has enjoyed a successful career as an assistant coach of the New York Knicks.
15. Derrick McKey (1993-2001)
If Wayman Tisdale had the most infectious smile, Derrick McKey had the most stoic expression among the Indiana Pacers of old.
Don't let the sleepy-eyed McKey fool you; he was all business on the court.
He wasn't put in the game to score a bunch of points. He took the court because of his lockdown defense.
McKey could shut down anybody from Scottie Pippen to Kevin Garnett. He was that good of a defender.
Derrick can also dish. Check out his inbound pass to Rik Smits in the 1995 "Memorial Day Miracle."
The good thing about McKey is you could also count on him to score when needed. He knew how to move well without the ball for an easy under-goal stab. He could even shoot from the three-point area.
Derrick McKey. Simple, yet effective.
14. Detlef Schrempf (1988-1993)
Most fans would associate Schrempf with the Seattle SuperSonics, but he did make a tremendous impact as an Indiana Pacer.
How about two Sixth Man of the Year awards in 1991 and 1992?
The pride of Leverkusen, Germany also reveals the Indiana Pacers were one of his favorite stops in his 16-year NBA career.
It was fun. The Pacers were one of my favorite teams to be on. They were all good guys and we all got along. It was never that way in Seattle or Portland. Plus, Indianapolis is a really good city, especially if you have a family.
Schrempf went on to average 17 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 354 games in Indiana—a time when the Pacers were a lower-seed playoff team with the likes of Reggie Miller, Chuck Person and Rik Smits as his teammates.
13. Antonio Davis (1993-1999)
Antonio Davis is the best second-round draft choice in Indiana Pacers history.
During his six-year stint in Indiana, Antonio, together with Dale (no relation), formed the Davis Boys combo that terrorized opposing front lines.
Antonio's play revolved around snagging rebounds, blocking shots, hustling for putbacks and sticking the occasional mid-range jumper.
He will forever be remembered as one of the Indiana Pacers' most reliable shock troopers, as he would normally contribute around 10 points and seven rebounds coming off the bench.
Watching him as a current NBA analyst on ESPN certainly brings back good memories.
12. Jeff Foster (1999-2012)
Make way for "The Feisty One."
Roy Hibbert and the Davis Boys may be the Pacers' most intimidating bruisers ever, but Jeff Foster was arguably the scrappiest.
Known primarily for his rebounding prowess, Foster would probably be Indiana's all-time best when it comes to keeping possessions alive.
When a ball came his way, you could count on him to tap it to one of his teammates if he wasn't in any position to get the rebound.
Him scoring points was really just a bonus for his team and fans alike. He really took the court because of his nonstop hustle.
In the end, Foster wound up in the top 10 of five statistical categories in franchise history: seasons (second), games (fourth), rebounds (fourth), steals (eighth) and field-goal percentage (tied for 10th).
It's just unfortunate chronic back problems forced him to retire in 2012. However, his contributions over the course of his 13-year NBA career won't soon be forgotten.
11. Danny Granger (2005-Present)
How about a little trip down Pacers memory lane?
When Danny Granger, whom many NBA experts believed was a top-10 pick, fell to the Pacers at No. 17 in the 2005 draft, team president Larry Bird couldn't believe it. According to Conrad Brunner of NBA.com, Bird said, "Granger can come in here tomorrow and play. He's very talented. I never dreamed he'd be there...I still can't believe it. I think he's that good of a player."
With the exception of his injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign, Granger has proven he belongs in the NBA. He's shouldered most of the Pacers' scoring load in recent years, scoring at least 20.5 points in three straight seasons.
Granger's shot selection may be just average (his career field-goal and three-point percentages are .437 and .384, respectively), but he is an underrated defender.
Do not also forget the fact that Granger stayed with the Pacers even though they missed the playoffs from 2007-2010.
Plus, he was named the league's Most Improved Player in 2009.
If he comes back in top form in 2013-14 and eventually helps the Pacers win an NBA title, look for his reputation as one of the Pacers' all-time best to soar even higher.
10. Chris Mullin (1997-2000)
Chris Mullin played in only three seasons for the Indiana Pacers.
In spite of him being a Pacer during his twilight years, he still possessed deadly accuracy (he shot almost 94 percent from the free-throw line in 1997-98 and almost 47 percent from the three-point area the season after).
These were the two seasons when the Pacers duked it out with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Mullin provided offense off the bench, a spark who helped take the scoring load off of Reggie Miller.
The bottom line is that Mullin is a Hall of Famer. Any player of that caliber who dons an Indiana Pacers uniform should be considered one of the best in franchise history as long as he made an impact while he was with the team.
Mullin absolutely did.
9. Jalen Rose (1996-2002)
Along with Wayman Tisdale and Chris Mullin, Jalen Rose is one of the best southpaws in Indiana Pacers history.
Rose was an NBA journeyman, but he arguably spent his best years as a pro with the Pacers.
Aside from an Indiana career-best 20.5 points in 2000-01, hard evidence of this was when he won the NBA's Most Improved Player award in 2000.
That same year when Indiana barged into the NBA Finals, Reggie Miller spoke about Rose winning the award in a May 25, 2000 article from the Los Angeles Times' Mark Heisler.
I'm happy for Jalen. He's done a lot of hard work. He's been through a lot here when Coach (Larry) Brown was here. We all know the scuffles they had between the two of them.
Then Bird came in and he became one of the top sixth men in the game. Now for him to be most improved, that's something special.
Even though he had some issues off the court (most notably his arrest for DUI in 2011), he makes up for this by being a philanthropist who established the Jalen Rose Charitable Fund and the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.
Jalen Rose is still one of the best Pacers of all time.
8. Billy Knight (1976-1977, 1979-1983)
Billy Knight, with his average of 26.6 points per game in 1976-77, is the first leading scorer for the Indiana Pacers in their NBA history.
Knight was part of the deal that sent Adrian Dantley and Mike Bantom to Indiana, but he eventually came back to the Pacers in 1979, where he played until 1983.
He suffered a knee injury that somewhat hampered his play upon his return to Indiana. However, he still produced within the 12-17-point range during that span.
Knight, during that four-year stretch, was the anti-Granger in terms of shot selection. He shot between .522 and .533 in three of them.
In a nutshell, Brunner sums up Knight's contribution to the Indiana Pacers, saying, "But he did help prove the talent level of players that joined the NBA from the ABA, helping the Pacers establish needed credibility."
7. Vern Fleming (1984-95)
Steady and unspectacular: These are the words that best describe Vern Fleming's style of play.
Then-Pacers coach George Irvine shared his first impressions of the 18th overall pick of the 1984 NBA draft via a Rome News-Tribune news feature from June of that year.
"He is an open-court player, and, frankly, we feel he is one of the best defensive players in the draft," Irvine said.
The 1984 Olympic gold medalist's on-court performance went largely under the radar. In 11 seasons with Indiana, he placed in the top 10 of 14 statistical categories in team history, including total rebounds, assists, steals and points.
Fleming was one of former Pacers head coach Isiah Thomas' assistants in the 2000-01 season.
6. Chuck Person (1986-1992)
If you think about the NBA's most famous trash-talkers, you'd think of names such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Gary Payton and of course, Reggie Miller.
And then there is Chuck Person.
"The Rifleman" may not be in the same class as that Hall of Fame group, but when it comes to trash talk, the 1987 NBA Rookie of the Year can sure give anyone a run for his money.
The Boston Celtics' Larry Bird aptly sums up Person's game in a 2004 interview with Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com.
The thing about Chuck, no matter if it was the regular season or the playoffs, he came to play. I think he played harder against me than anybody else, but it was good. In this league, a lot of times the players don't give you any resistance. But when you played against Chuck, you knew you had to play and you had to play hard—and if you didn't play well, they'd probably beat you.
The bottom line is this: Person was more than just a trash-talker. He was a great outside shooter and scorer who earned the respect of other big-name players.
5. Mark Jackson (1994-1996, 1997-2000)
The nifty assists.
The trademark one-handed floater in the lane.
And of course, there is his shimmy shake, otherwise known as the "Jackson Jiggle."
These are what former Indiana Pacers point guard Mark Jackson is all about and more.
To sum up Jackson's value to Indiana, the team acquired him from the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994 and then traded him to the Denver Nuggets in 1996 as part of the deal that put Jalen Rose in a Pacers uniform.
Getting Rose proved to be great. But losing Jackson?
Antonio Davis put it best when he said, "All I can think about is, why did we get rid of him in the first place?"
When the Pacers reacquired him on February 20, 1997, they were just 24-27. In the years leading up to 2000, Jackson's last year in Indiana, the Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals thrice and the NBA Finals once.
That should be hard evidence as to why Mark Jackson is one of the Indiana Pacers' best players ever.
4. Dale Davis (1991-2000, 2005)
Dale Davis' game revolved around rebounding as well as blocking or altering shots, which is quite similar to Antonio's, the other half of the Davis Boys.
However, Dale was more comfortable with close range shots, dunks and putbacks. His mid-range game was nonexistent, and he was also a poor free-throw shooter (.562 for his career).
However, Davis was never meant to be a scorer. One of the things that really set him apart was his heart.
As a refresher, Davis dislocated his right shoulder in Game 4 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. That was the third time it happened that season.
In spite of that, he didn't miss a single start for Indiana.
He took off the protective vest in Game 7, the same game when Patrick Ewing's uncontested layup attempt bounced off the rim. Davis (14 points, seven boards) emphatically snared the game's final rebound.
Then-Pacers head coach Larry Brown explained why Dale Davis is one of Indiana's best ever in a May 24, 1995 article from Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel. "He's the guts of this team," Brown said. "A lot of guys wouldn't have played the games that he did. That meant a lot to our team."
3. Rik Smits (1988-2000)
It's always good to reminisce about "The Dunking Dutchman."
At 7-4, Rik Smits was a decent rebounder and shot-blocker. However, he was more known for his sweet mid-range jumpers and semi-hook shots.
Jim Weber of Ball Don't Lie explained why Smits was such a great center for Indiana in a November 30, 2011 article.
Smits has come a long way from being an unknown drafted No. 2 overall out of Marist in the 1988 NBA Draft behind Danny Manning. He lived up to the selection during a very solid career with the Pacers in which he battled through constant injuries to average 14.8 PPG over 12 seasons as Reggie Miller's sidekick.
Smits' low-post duels with the likes of Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O'Neal will forever go down in Pacers history.
His defining moment came in May 1995, when he drilled a 13-foot jumper at the buzzer to beat Shaq and the Orlando Magic 94-93 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
In essence, what made Smits truly special was him being the man in the middle for Indiana during a 12-season span that saw the Pacers emerge from mere pretenders to legitimate championship contenders.
2. Jermaine O'Neal (2000-2008)
Some fans thought the Pacers were crazy to trade Dale Davis to the Portland Trail Blazers for Jermaine O'Neal in 2000.
It turns out O'Neal was an NBA superstar waiting to happen.
He blossomed on all fronts when he became an Indiana Pacer: He was a low-post threat who could score in the post and block shots with either hand.
O'Neal can also be relied upon to get it going from mid-range.
Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star recalls his contributions to the Pacers during his eight-year stint in a December 2012 featured story.
Jermaine O'Neal spent eight seasons for the Indiana Pacers. He made the playoffs six times in those eight seasons. He was selected to five All-Star games and was a Most Valuable Player candidate one year.
In addition, O'Neal also won the league's Most Improved Player award in 2001-02.
A Detroit Free Press article said O'Neal wasn't liable "because he was defending his teammates during the brawl."
The bottom line is that Jermaine O'Neal was mostly a good guy whose all-around play prevented the Pacers from hitting rock bottom after prominent members of the 1999-2000 NBA Finals team (Smits, Dale Davis and Jackson) left.
And that's says a lot about what he meant to Indiana.
1. Reggie Miller (1987-2005)
Miller Time finds its way to No. 1.
Reggie Miller, who played on emotion with his trash talk, is one of the NBA's best ever at moving without the ball and shooting long-range jumpers.
He can also drive and dunk given the opportunity.
NBA fans really had no idea who the Indiana Pacers were prior to his arrival. It was Miller who put the Pacers on the NBA map and took the franchise to places it had never been before.
Take it from then-Pacers president Donnie Walsh, who had this to say in 2005, Miller's last year:
But his career was a lot more than numbers. His competitive spirit, professionalism, class and leadership by example helped elevate this franchise to a whole new level in the NBA. Before he got here, the Pacers had been to the NBA playoffs twice in 12 seasons, eliminated in the first round both times. He leaves here not only with 15 playoff trips in his 18 seasons, but six trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and our only NBA Finals berth ever.
Eighteen seasons of greatness from a bona fide Hall of Famer.
Reggie Miller is the best Indiana Pacer of all time.
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