The Top 5 Best and Worst Indiana Pacers Draft Picks Since 2000

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IJune 23, 2014

The Top 5 Best and Worst Indiana Pacers Draft Picks Since 2000

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    When the 2014 NBA draft starts up Thursday night, the Indiana Pacers—who finished with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference—will be waiting awhile before they hear their name on the podium.

    Fifty-seven picks, to be exact.

    Without a first-rounder, the Pacers will instead be focusing their efforts on getting the biggest bang for their second-round buck. And while history proves you can cull considerable value late in the draft, 57 hasn't exactly been a lucky number in recent years.

    In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2005 to find a No. 57 pick that wound up sticking around (Marcin Gortat).

    The Pacers might be saving their draft-day hopes for the future, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a trip down memory lane.

    Follow us along as we look at Indiana’s five best and worst picks since 2000. Some of them might seem obvious, but we bet there will be one or two surprises along the way.

Good Pick: Lance Stephenson (No. 40, 2010)

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    If you’re looking for perfect example for how teams should approach the second round, Indiana’s 2010 selection of Lance Stephenson—a New York City legend and University of Cincinnati product as renowned for his game as he was infamous for his off-the-court troubles—would certainly be up there.

    In his excellent examination of the relationship between Stephenson and Pacers president Larry Bird, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski recounts how the mercurial shooting guard wound up falling into Indiana’s lap:

    With the 10th overall pick, Indiana selected a future All-Star – George. For the rest of the night, the Pacers were offering $2 million to purchase a pick to move into the late first round. They desperately wanted Stephenson, but felt convinced he'd never be there for them in the second round. When the Knicks had the 38th and 39th picks, the Pacers believed they would use one of those picks on the wildly talented kid out of Lincoln High School in one of the city's boroughs – only the Knicks selected Andy Rautins and Landry Fields. At No. 40, the Pacers executives cheered: Somehow, a lottery-level talent had dropped to them.

    Four years later, Stephenson’s reputation as a loose cannon hasn’t exactly been buried. His antics in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals prove as much.

    On the court, however, has been a much happier story. Following two straight breakout seasons, Stephenson is poised to enter the 2014 free-agency period as one of the hottest commodities on the market—and one of the riskiest, to be sure.

    Were Stephenson’s shenanigans enough to prevent the Pacers from matching an offer for his services? We’ll soon find out.

    But even if Born Ready rears his hot head under some other name, he’s already done more than enough to convince every team that, when it comes to where a particular player gets plucked, the round ain't nothing but a number.

Bad Pick: Fred Jones (No. 14, 2002)

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    CHRIS CARLSON/Associated Press

    To be fair, the 2002 draft is destined to go down as one of the worst in NBA history. Which is why even Indiana’s late lottery pick was probably never going to be the good gamble it might’ve otherwise.

    In Fred Jones, the Pacers were getting one of the most exciting athletes in college basketball—a high-flying dynamo with exceptional abilities around the rim.

    Sadly, Jones’ game never quite translated to the next level; in seven NBA seasons, he registered just 7.5 points and 2.3 assists on 41 percent shooting.

    In hindsight, there’s certainly merit to the idea that Indiana—at that point a perennial conference contender—was doing what a lot of teams in its situation would do: taking a flier on a raw, but potentially potent, basketball product.

    Still, even in a historically weak class, the list of players taken after Jones goes to show just how badly they whiffed: Tayshaun Prince, Nenad Krstic, John Salmons and—most notably—Carlos Boozer.

    Not the most egregious draft-day whiff by any means. But for a team with an uncommonly solid draft history, the bar has to be set a little higher.

Good Pick: Danny Granger (No. 17, 2005)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    When the Pacers picked New Mexico standout Danny Granger with the No. 17 pick in 2005, they probably weren't banking on him being a franchise cornerstone.

    But within three short years, Granger had become exactly that. And while Indiana had fallen on hard times in the Eastern Conference standings, Granger’s game—punctuated as it was by the silkiest of jumpers—gave Pacers fans a graceful, welcome respite.

    By the 2012-13 season, however—a campaign in which Granger was severely limited due to chronic knee pain—a changing of the guard was well underway in Indianapolis. Behind Roy Hibbert and Paul George, the Pacers were quietly reasserting themselves as a power in the East.

    Sadly, Indiana’s positional logjam eventually became untenable. The result: a deadline deal that sent Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers (he was summarily waived, only to be scooped up by the L.A. Clippers) in exchange for Evan Turner.

    Granger’s Pacers tenure may not have ended on the happiest of notes, but his selection—in another somewhat lackluster draft, no less—undoubtedly helped set the stage for Indiana’s current crop of up-and-comers.

Bad Pick: Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13, 2009)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The 2009 draft has become somewhat notorious—not for how shallow it was (it wasn't), but for how many teams swung and missed on early picks, only to find out just how much talent there was farther down the pike.

    The Pacers were no exception, selecting Tyler Hansbrough—a player whose career at the University of North Carolina netted him endless accolades—with the No. 13 pick.

    Hansbrough was never a bad player, per se. But when you see your role steadily diminish while the team as a whole gets steadily better—which is exactly what happened—you start to see the writing on the wall.

    Some of the players the Pacers passed up: Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, just to name a few.

    Hansbrough stands to have a lengthy career in the NBA, owing in no small part to the very brand of bombastic hustle that made him a household name in Chapel Hill. It might just be the Pacers took him 20 picks too early.

Good Pick: Paul George (No. 10, 2010)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    In a November 2013 interview with USA Today’s Phil Richards, Larry Bird had this to say about the decision he faced on the night of the 2010 draft:

    It was between Ed Davis and Paul George. I liked Paul George because of his length ... and all I heard was how great a kid he is and what he really wanted to be was a professional basketball player and everything was so positive. I liked Davis. He was a double-double guy but we needed more than that. We needed a guy, who if he really worked at it, could be special, and we got lucky. I knew we were going to catch hell, but that was all right.

    The Pacers might've caught hell the night of the draft, but it hasn't taken George long to wreak the same on the rest of the NBA.

    If there was a prototype for high-upside projects, George fit the bill: long and super athletic, yes, but with a jumper that left, shall we say, quite a bit to the imagination.

    George remains something of a streaky shooter, but his two-way prowess, combined with his steadily improving overall efficiency, paints the picture of a player for whom All-Star games and stellar playoff performances are likely to remain par for the course.