In an ideal world, this would be a summer of transition for Indiana. After a difficult season that felt like three steps back from their goal of competing for a championship, the Pacers need to remake the roster with a focus on flexibility and spacing.
The reality is that there are few options available to the Pacers for dramatic personnel changes. With Indiana's hands tied in different ways, the 11th pick in this year's draft is the one obvious avenue for the club to both add talent and push its style of play in a new direction.
The Recent Past
Over the past few seasons, the Pacers have made a steady march toward championship contention with a bruising, suffocating defense and an offense that was usually just good enough. They consistently ran into the playoff buzz saw of the LeBron James-led Miami Heat, but there was more than enough success to think that the formula was workable and sustainable going forward.
Then, last summer, Indiana lost Lance Stephenson to free agency and Paul George to a catastrophic broken leg. As other injuries mounted through the 2014-15 season, it became clear that only an exquisite iteration of the defense was capable of carrying the flaccid offense.
That exquisite iteration was harder and harder to sustain, and the whole thing came crashing down.
Relying on historically great defense and perfect health no longer feels like a sustainable solution. This means tweaking an offense that was often repetitively drab and ineffective. The graph below reflects four elements of offensive style—pace, ball movement, people movement and shot selection.
The Pacers were roughly league average with regard to ball movement. They had a far less efficient shot distribution than most teams and were near the bottom of the league in both pace and player movement. This graph is painting a picture of a fairly static offense, relying on post ups and vanilla drive-and-kick pick-and-rolls to eke out a meager level of efficiency.
At the end of this season, both head coach Frank Vogel and team president Larry Bird specifically addressed their intention to push the pace and tweak the team's style.
We'll have to see how it all plays out and what the roster ultimately looks like, but there's a possibility that Roy's role will be diminished, if we're trying to play faster and trying to play smaller, but a lot of stuff is going to happen this summer. We'll see how the roster shapes out coming into next season.
And here is Bird, echoing similar aspirations (from the same Buckner piece):
I was talking to coach earlier; we'd like to play a little faster tempo, and that means we've got to run a little faster, maybe at times play a little smaller. We just got into it, so I don't know what style, but we'd like to change it a little bit. … But I would like to score more points, and to do that, you've got to run.
Intentions are all well and good, but making this roster into the kind of team Bird and Vogel are envisioning is not easy. Both Roy Hibbert and David West, who would seem to be the two biggest impediments to smaller lineups and a faster pace, have enormous player options for next season—just over $15 million and $12 million, respectively.
It's hard to see either player leaving that money on the table.
Neither is likely to be an enticing trade chip either despite being expiring contracts. Even at just one season, their relatively high salaries limit the possibilities. West is becoming increasingly limited as he ages, and after another poor offensive season, Hibbert's stock is possibly as low as it has ever been.
Bird also specifically mentioned wanting to re-sign Rodney Stuckey and Luis Scola this summer, which would theoretically eat up any remaining cap space around Hibbert and West. That means the Pacers' first-round pick in the draft is the only thing standing between them and running it back next season with a functionally identical roster.
With the No. 11 pick, the Pacers fall right at the point where mock drafts get messy. Often the top few picks are easy to project, but variables increase the deeper you get into the selection process. To get an idea of who might be available, we can look at some of the more popular mock drafts cutting things off a few picks above and below Indiana.
|Bleacher Report||ESPN Insider||Draft Express||NBADraft.Net|
|No. 8 (Pistons)||Mario Hezonja||Justise Winslow||Justise Winslow||Trey Lyles|
|No. 9 (Hornets)||Stanley Johnson||Devin Booker||Devin Booker||Willie Cauley-Stein|
|No. 10 (Heat)||Frank Kaminsky||Kelly Oubre||Stanley Johnson||Stanley Johnson|
|No. 11 (Pacers)||Jerian Grant||Cameron Payne||Myles Turner||Cameron Payne|
|No. 12 (Jazz)||Myles Turner||Stanley Johnson||Frank Kaminsky||Sam Dekker|
|No. 13 (Suns||Cameron Payne||Sam Dekker||Trey Lyles||Myles Turner|
|No. 14 (Thunder)||Sam Dekker||Frank Kaminsky||Cameron Payne||Devin Booker|
Three of these predictions have the Pacers selecting a backcourt player—Jerian Grant of Notre Dame or Cameron Payne of Murray State. This strikes me as curious given that George Hill just played the best season of his career. Myles Turner is too physically similar to Hibbert to effect the kind of changes Vogel and Bird talked about, so that projection also raises an eyebrow.
The Pacers have to operate under the optimistic assumption that this will be their last appearance in the draft lottery for a while. Given that West and Hibbert are the obvious barriers to stylistic change and will be locked into the roster for just one more season if they exercise their player options, this draft pick is the opportunity to start building the frontcourt of the future.
If that is the goal, it seems that Stanley Johnson, Sam Dekker or Frank Kaminsky would be a more ideal fit than Turner.
Dekker and Johnson are both forwards with the ability to defend multiple positions, including sliding between defending wings and interior players, depending on the matchup. Defensive activity and versatility are their primary offerings right now, as neither is developed offensively.
As an athletic slasher who can also hit from the outside, Johnson probably has a much higher ceiling than Dekker. He was impressive at times carrying the offensive load for the University of Arizona this season, but the question is how much he'll be able to translate to the NBA and how soon.
Dekker, who helped lead the University of Wisconsin to the national title game, needs to become a more reliable outside shooter. In his three collegiate seasons, he made just 34.8 percent of his three-pointers. However, he is a smart player who knows how to move the ball and pick his spots in an offense.
However, the real appeal to both players is that they would allow the kind of lineup flexibility and uptempo attack Vogel and Bird seem to be after. For example, according to Basketball-Reference's position estimates, Paul George has never played more than 1 percent of his season minutes at power forward. His size and versatility make him an obvious option as a small-ball 4, but the Pacers have never really experimented with these sorts of lineups.
Slotting either Johnson or Dekker beside George next season would give the Pacers interchangeable forwards who can help push the pace and spread the floor on offense. With Hibbert playing behind the two of them, they could still be disruptive defensively, switching screens and swarming ball-handlers.
While Johnson or Dekker may appear to be the most obvious matches for Vogel and Bird's stated vision of the future, Kaminsky is the player who offers the most potential for change.
He was the National Player of the Year at the University of Wisconsin. A 7'1" frontcourt player, he is passably athletic, but not in ways that would allow the Pacers to push the pace or play with more versatile lineup combinations.
He is, however, skilled and versatile offensively in a way that could open a world of half-court options. Kaminsky is a great shooter, having made 41.6 percent of his three-pointers last season. He is a great passer and mobile enough to attack closeouts. Although more matchup-dependent than in college, he will also display his polished post game.
The concern with Kaminsky is that his athletic and defensive limitations will counteract his offensive skill and make him a marginal NBA player. The numbers imply that this possibility is smaller than it may seem.
Layne Vashro of Nylon Calculus has a statistical draft model that projects the probability of each prospect reaching different levels of performance. By his calculations, Kaminsky's odds of NBA success compare well to Johnson's and Dekker's.
Performance Level Probability
By Vasho's calculations, Kaminsky is one of just nine players in this draft with a combined 25 percent or higher probability of becoming a stud or a star. For reference, by Vashro's numbers, Kelly Olynyk (whom Kaminsky has been frequently compared to) had just a 5 percent probability of becoming a stud or a star, with a 57 percent chance of busting.
Johnson also looks great by these numbers, but he gives the Pacers an opportunity to improve by doubling down on strength—replicating a lot of what George offers.
Kaminsky offers something entirely different. He may not single-handedly increase the pace, but he can alleviate much more pressure on the half-court offense with his shooting, passing and post scoring. He also provides an insurance policy of sorts if West and or Hibbert end up somewhere else next season.
Kaminsky seems excited about joining the Pacers and reshaping their offense, talking about the possibility after meeting with the team at the draft combine, per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star.
"They kind of alluded to the fact that they want to get up and down more, get out and run a little bit more but at the same time under control," Kaminsky said. "That's kind of how it was for me my last year in Wisconsin, so I think it'll be a good fit."
The attraction appears to be mutual, as Bird had some complimentary things to say about Kaminsky in a recent conversation with Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times.
"We have seen him play a number of times; we followed his career," Bird said. "He’s a hell of a player. He’s come a long way in two years. ... He has a good, all-around game. He doesn’t play at a fast pace, but he can get what he wants to get."
Every draft pick is a risk to some degree. The Pacers need to improve their offense this year, and stylistic shifts aside, the best way to do that is by grabbing the best offensive player available.
If Kaminsky is available at No. 11, he's the right gamble for Indiana to make.