Best Potential Options for Indiana Pacers to Upgrade Point Guard Position

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2014

Best Potential Options for Indiana Pacers to Upgrade Point Guard Position

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Point guard wanted in Indiana. 

    Strike that: Point guard desperately needed in Indiana.

    Floor generals are the key to offensive survival. The Indiana Pacers have none. Not a real one. Not a talented enough one.

    Their offense was an absolute mess last season—an eye-catching disaster that helped fuel their late-season demise and, ultimately, derail their championship hopes. They ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency, preferring to rely on George Hill, Paul George and Lance Stephenson—all of whom are solid playmakers— to initiate sets.

    It didn't end well. The offense wasn't good enough. And like Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley points out, it will never be good enough as is:

    The potential payoff in filling that void is massive. The Pacers aren't that far away from crashing the championship party.

    But their point guard hurdle is impossible to overcome without action. The ceiling isn't crashing down, but it must be lifted for the Pacers to proceed.

    Another, actual point guard must be brought in. They need an upgrade. A noticeable upgrade.

    Someone who transforms their empty and directionless offensive agenda into something with substance, meaning and, most importantly, a championship-worthy feel to it.

Goran Dragic

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 20.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 50.4 percent shooting, 21.4 PER

    This is totally obligatory. And a little awkward.

    Sources told Marc Stein of ESPN.com the Pacers were trying to "engage" the Phoenix Suns in trade talks for Goran Dragic. The Sporting News' Sean Deveney has since put the kibosh on any talks. 

    “No, no, no,” a source told him. “Nothing to that. The team and Goran, they’re still committed to each other.”

    Dragic should have made the Western Conference All-Star team last season, and he proved he can coexist with restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, so Phoenix's stance is predictable. But it's impossible not to understand the Pacers' interest.

    There isn't anyone on their roster who can match Dragic's skill set. George, Stephenson and Hill aren't true floor generals; Dragic is. He can play off the ball, slither into the paint and create shots for himself or his teammates.

    His off-ball guile is especially valuable within an offense that demands George and Stephenson dominate the ball; Dragic drilled 39.8 percent of his spot-up threes last season, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).

    Insert him into the starting lineup and the Pacers are suddenly—not to mention finally—a dangerous offensive team. That's assuming they can trade for him, which they likely can't. The Pacers aren't teeming with tradeable assets, though Deveney has been told they're "quietly" shopping Roy Hibbert

    Whatever the Pacers are offering—Hibbert, George Hill or a sign-and-trade headlined by Stephenson, perhaps—there's a better than strong chance it isn't enough.

    Still, when it comes to Dragic and all he does, it never hurts to look. 

Rajon Rondo

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 40.3 percent shooting, 15.3 PER

    Keeping in theme with the sensible long shots, we have Rajon Rondo.

    The Boston Celtics point man finds himself entrenched in trade rumors regularly. It's become a weekly thing with him. To this point he's survived them all, but that doesn't mean they're going to stop.

    Leading up to the NBA draft, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald (subscription required) said the Celtics would, in fact, trade the point man if they couldn't land another star like Kevin Love. And, well, they haven't landed Love. 

    Rondo won't help the Pacers' shooting much, but he's the ball-dominant floor general they need. He can get into the paint and is an expert director who will put everyone in optimal position. Like Dragic, he stands to inject life into Indy's broken, oft-stagnant offense.

    Trading for him will be a challenge, though. That's putting it lightly, by the way.

    Former Celtic Cedric Maxwell told Yahoo Sports Radio the point man is angling for a max contract, per WEEI.com's Ben Rohrbach. After drafting Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick in this year's draft and knowing Rondo will be 33 or 34 by the end of his next contract, Celtics president Danny Ainge could cut his losses and move the All-Star point guard.

    “I haven’t talked with anybody for that matter,” Ainge told The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes when asked if he contacted Rondo after drafting Smart.

    Let the trade offer games begin!

    What do the Pacers have to offer? Er...

    Boston isn't going to be interested in Hill or Stephenson after handing Avery Bradley a new contract. If Hibbert is truly available like Deveney says, that's something to watch. Hibbert disappeared for games at a time during the playoffs, but the Celtics need a defense-oriented center to protect the rim. Although Hibbert will cost more than $30 million over the next two years, protecting the rim is one of the few things he does consistently.

    Dangling him in trade talks, even if the Pacers have no assurances of Rondo staying beyond next season, should not be out of the question.

Steve Blake

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 6.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 37.6 percent three-point shooting, 11.0 PER

    Steve Blake isn't going turn the Pacers' woeful offense into a top-10, rim-rocking, point-totaling machine, but he pushes the bill for them in ways no one they currently have can.

    Substantial free-agent signings aren't realistic. The Pacers have no cap space; they cannot make a significant financial commitment to anyone else without shedding heaps of salary first.

    While basically a career backup, Blake knows how to run an offense. He helped keep the tanking Los Angeles Lakers interesting for 27 games, averaging 7.6 assists a night before being shipped off to the Golden State Warriors.

    He's another off-ball threat, too. During his time with the Warriors, he drilled 40.9 percent of his spot-up three-pointers. Yet if the Pacers are interested, they aren't alone.

    Chris Haynes of the CSNNW.com says the Portland Trail Blazers have taken a flyer on Blake, as have the Miami Heat, according to Deveney. Per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, the Lakers also haven't closed the door on bringing Blake back next season.

    Though the Pacers offer the opportunity to chase a title, Blake's decision may come down to playing time. If they're willing to guarantee him plenty of minutes—even if it's not as a starter—that's something he'll have to consider.

    No, he isn't Rondo or Dragic. And yes, at 34, he's a temporary fix. But he's someone the Pacers can afford, and he's a better option than anyone else they have right now.

Jameer Nelson

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 12.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 39.4 percent shooting, 13.9 PER

    Bargain-bin shopping has its advantages.

    This year, Jameer Nelson is one of those advantages.

    Nelson has officially become collateral damage of the Orlando Magic's rebuild. They waived him at the start of free agency, which allows him to join up with a contender. 

    Indy should want to be that contender.

    In Nelson, the Pacers would instantly have their best playmaker. Hands down, no contest. He still keeps himself in tip-top shape, can run the floor and split defenders off the dribble. Put him in the rotation, and the Pacers will finally understand the value of frequent drive-and-kicks.

    Unlike other point men his size, Nelson can contribute on defense, as Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney explains:

    It helps, too, that Nelson is one of the few guards of his size (he's listed generously at 6-0) who isn't a defensive liability. He's strong enough to fight through screens and heady enough to challenge opponents in one-on-one situations, the value of which is clear in a market filled with one-dimensional players. 

    Shooting has been an issue for him since Dwight Howard left. After converting 40.2 percent of his long balls between 2007 and 2012, he's shooting just 34.5 percent from deep over the last two seasons.

    But the Magic haven't helped things. They've lacked a No. 2 scorer for the last two seasons and the offensive weapons they had weren't drawing double-teams. Plug Nelson next to some combination of George, (possibly) Stephenson and David West, and things open up. Even Hibbert's presence helps if he tones down the offensive clumsiness. 

    The Pacers won't ride Nelson's ball control to offensive greatness, but he does enough on his own to provide them with a semblance of direction—something they didn't boast last season.

Brandon Jennings

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 15.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 37.3 percent shooting, 15.6 PER

    Targeting Brandon Jennings is just crazy enough to work.

    Acquiring Jennings will take a serious asset or two. That asset could be Hill, Stephenson or someone else. Whatever the price might be, the Pacers need to lodge an inquiry, because Jennings could be available. 

    Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling maintains that the Detroit Pistons are hot on restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas' trail, which is weird. Unless president and head coach Stan Van Gundy isn't high on Jennings. Then it makes total sense.

    Jennings is notoriously inefficient and immature, and he's by no means a superstar floor general. But he still joined Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, John Wall and Chris Paul as the only five NBA players to average at least 15 points, three rebounds, seven assists and 1.3 steals per game last season. 

    In Jennings' defense, he's never been in the ideal situation either, like Bleacher Report's Michael Pina details:

    But to counter the belief that he’s a lost cause, Jennings is only 24 years old and has never experienced stability as an NBA player. The first four years of his career were with perhaps the most hapless franchise in NBA history, and his debut in Detroit was doomed to fail from the start, more so because none of the roster’s major pieces fit all that well.

    This is still a developing 24-year-old kid who has yet to play within the right culture. The Pacers helped turn the controversial Stephenson into an every night contributor with traces of an offensive conscience. Head coach Frank Vogel could do the same for Jennings.

    The Pacers could also use a little offensive recklessness. Jennings knows how to push the pace; the Pacers do not. Too often, their offense is a clock-draining, time-sucking fiasco. They also don't have someone who can eclipse seven assists on a regular basis like Jennings.

    Defensively, the Pacers would have to veil his blatant unawareness. They'll also have to eradicate his frequent disinterest. But if Jennings is available and the Pacers have enough to land him, they need to give this a shot.

    They have no choice. They need an upgrade. Jennings, for all his flaws and underdeveloped skills, is an improvement over every other internal option they have.

     

    *Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and Synergy Sports (subscription required) unless otherwise noted. Salary information via ShamSports.