Indiana Pacers: Top 5 Defining Draft Day Decisions
The Indiana Pacers are in a state of flux and struggling to regain a competitive edge and a passionate fan base. Although the Pacers are rebuilding, they are a very young team with significant developing talent.
Historically, the Pacers' drafts have been characterized by repeated exclusions. Extensive trading left the team without a first-round pick from either of the two greatest draft classes: 1984 and 2003.
However, the Pacers have also made some great picks and some tough calls since joining the league in the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
The following are the five draft-day decisions that had the biggest impact on the franchise.
5. 1986 : Drafting Chuck Person
The Pacers selected Person with the fourth overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft.
The franchise had been struggling since joining the league, and Chuck "The Rifleman" Person helped turn the team around and generate public interest.
Person made an immediate impact. He led the team in scoring in 1987 and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. The Pacers made only their second playoff appearance as an NBA franchise that season, and won their first-ever playoff game.
Chuck Person was the first true star the Pacers had in the NBA, and he gave the team some much-needed credibility as a competitive force in the league.
4. 2005: Drafting Danny Granger
Danny Granger hasn't done enough yet in his professional career to warrant a "franchise-changing" label, but the draft selection itself is remarkable enough to rank him on this list.
Granger fell to the Pacers at the 17th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft, but if that same draft was repeated today, he would easily go in the top three picks.
Even more extraordinary is that several players at Granger's same position were taken ahead of him, and none of them have made a significant contribution to their team.
In his fourth season, Granger became the new face of the franchise by leading the team in scoring and developing a reputation for tenacious effort on the court. He was named the NBA's Most Improved Player and made his first appearance as an All-Star.
Granger not only has the potential to be the Pacers' leader for years to come, but with further improvement, he could become a superstar in the league.
His selection in the 2005 Draft could turn out to be the best decision the Pacers have ever made.
3. 1988: Drafting Rik Smits
Rik Smits was drafted with the second overall pick in the 1988 draft, and he soon bolstered the center position for a Pacers team that became a perennial contender.
Although he was 7-foot-4, Smits developed a consistent outside jump shot that made him one of the most effective scoring big men of his era.
Indiana made the playoffs 10 out of the 12 seasons following Smits' selection, culminating in the team's only NBA Final's appearance in 2000.
In all, Rik Smits played in 104 playoff games and one All-Star game. He was generally considered the second-best player on the Pacers' roster throughout the franchise's most successful years.
2. 1984: Missing Out on The Greatest Draft of All Time
In 1981, the Pacers traded their 1984 first-round draft pick to the Portland Trailblazers for center Tom Owen.
Indiana finished the 1983 season at 26-56 and would have had the second overall pick in a draft that included Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and, of course, Michael Jordan.
It is entirely possible that this trade saved the Pacers from making the same epic mistake that Portland did by drafting Sam Bowie. However, giving up a chance at drafting the greatest player in the history of the sport for little-used Tom Owens, at least in retrospect, appears to be the biggest draft day mistake in the history of the Pacers' franchise.
1. 1987: Drafting Reggie Miller
No player embodies the soul of the Pacers franchise like Reggie Miller.
Miller made the team consistently competitive, internationally famous, and spectacularly entertaining. His propensity for last-second shots, dramatic comebacks, and trash talking with Spike Lee literally made the Pacers what they are today.
The draft selection itself was as dramatic as Reggie's career.
Indiana's basketball community was hopeful that the Pacers would draft Indiana University star Steve Alford, keeping the beloved guard in-state.
When the team selected Miller, Pacer fans were outraged. Alford never made an impact at the professional level, while Miller is now the NBA's all-time leader in three-point shots, ranks 12th in total points, and is the Pacer's career leader in almost every meaningful statistical category.
Reggie Miller never turned his back on the small-market franchise, remaining with the team for 18 years. He played more games for one team than anyone in NBA history except Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Despite my abundance of testosterone, I cried harder when his last game ended than I did when my parents ran over my cat in the third grade. And I loved that cat.
1996: Pacers draft Erick Dampier three spots ahead of Kobe Bryant. This didn't make my top five because a lot of teams made the same mistake.
1999: Pacers trade Antonio Davis for Jonathan Bender. Bender turned out to be a monumental bust and a huge waste of money. However, the Pacers were somewhat forced to make this trade due to rumors surrounding Antonio Davis and Al Harrington which may have caused tremendous team chemistry issues.
1978: Pacers select Rick Robey three spots ahead of Indiana native and future legend Larry Bird. This occurred partially because of a technicality that allowed players to return to college after being drafted. Teams that needed immediate help, such as the Pacers, passed on Bird because they assumed that Bird would return to Indiana State for his senior season.
2001: Pacers trade for Jamal Tinsley. Although Tinsley enjoyed some success in his early career, he has been a financial pox on the Pacers for several years now. The trade sent the teams 2003 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks, leaving the Pacers without a pick in arguably one of the best drafts in league history. However, because of the Pacers' success the preceding season, the team did not trade away a particularly valuable pick in that draft.