The Indiana Pacers have the 23rd pick in this year’s NBA Draft. A spot much later in the draft than almost everyone would have predicted they be in at this time last year when their former star player advised the franchise that he would not be re-signing with the Pacers.
Last year’s draft pick, TJ Leaf, struggled in his rookie season on the defensive end of the floor which caused him to see little playing time and eventually the Pacers added Trevor Booker and took away any chance of Leaf seeing more meaningful minutes. Leaf showed some promise on the offensive end with a large repertoire of moves but was unable to contribute much in his first season with the team.
Can the Pacers find someone to be an immediate contributor this season? It doesn’t happen all that often this late in the draft, but pick 23 has actually been a good spot historically for finding role players with more hits than misses in the last decade (23rd pick from 2017 back to 2007: OG Anunoby, Ante Zizic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Rodney Hood, Solomon Hill, John Jenkins, Nikola Mirotic, Trevor Booker, Omri Casspi, Kosta Koufos, Wilson Chandler).
Here are a three prospects that are expected to go somewhere in range of the Pacers selection that may provide some hope of becoming a rotation player from day one. Based on Leaf’s rookie season, I’d put the emphasis on finding someone that can play defense right away. Defense seems to translate to minutes at the next level a little faster than offense. With Pacers coach Nate McMillan unlikely to give a rookie much to do on offense anyway, defense is the only way for a young player to really earn a spot in the rotation for a playoff team and stay there.
Melvin Frazier – Tulane
Frazier’s measurables are drool-inducing for scouts. 6’6″ guard/forward with a 7’2″ wingspan. Defense is his calling card and he’s versatile on that end. His hands are huge for a wing as he had the largest hands for any non-center at the NBA Draft Combine this year.
Something that stands out in the Draft Express video is his defense against the ball handler in a pick and roll, one of the most important skills for a player to have in the NBA. He seems to check all the boxes on that end of the floor. He gets his hand on the ball, averaging 2.2 steals per game; he closes out well on shooters when he’s off the ball. He has great athleticism that should allow him to translate his defensive skillset in the pros as well.
Offensively, Frazier shows some promise but this is where his weaknesses show up. The good is that he shot 38.5% from 3-point range in his Junior season, but this was a large improvement over his first two seasons. He could be someone that can stand in the corner and hit an occasional three when open while doing the dirty work on defense.
He doesn’t seem to be ready to do much else at the next level yet, though he does have some tremendous, high-flying highlights. He turns the ball over too much as he struggles to control his dribble at times, but the late bloomer has improved every season at Tulane and has plenty of room left to grow. He could contribute with his defense right away and has tremendous upside.
Frazier is currently projected to go late in the first round or early second, so he should be available when the Pacers pick.
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati
Evans is a confident player that told Hoops Hype that he “can be one of the best two-way players in the game” in a recent Q&A. He hopes to be the next Jimmy Butler as a guy that can drafted late in the first round before becoming an All-Star caliber player.
Currently, many expect Evans to go as high as the late teens so the Pacers may not get the chance to snatch up the 6’6″ wing from Lance Stephenson’s alma mater, but he’s another player that could possibly step in right away and help Indiana if he drops to 23.
If the Pacers are looking for another gym rat like their leader Victor Oladipo (and recently Myles Turner this summer), look at this transformation in Evan’s body.
Evans, like the others on this list, is well known for their defense. Evans seems to have tremendous shot-block timing for a wing and makes some impressive blocks near the basket. His calling guard is defense and in the Hoops Hype interview, he noted how much teams like his basketball IQ and his defensive abilities:
“A lot of teams like my intelligence. They know the things that I can do because they have seen me play in college. They know I’ve been a winner at Cincinnati. It’s been great getting positive feedback from teams that I have grown up watching and teams that I just watched in the playoffs. I know I can be a great defender. Teams think that’s my elite part of my game as a guard. Hopefully, I’m guarding the best player. That was my job at Cincinnati and I take pride in it.”
On the offensive end, he struggled to score around the rim and many seem to note an inability to play above the rim on that end. He does have a solid shooting stroke and has shown the ability to stretch it far beyond the college 3-point line. 33% of his offense came from spot-up opportunities so he’s used to contributing from an off-ball perspective on offense, which would likely be his role early in his career. Unlike Frazier, Evans does seem to take good care of the ball with very limited turnovers.
Khyri Thomas – Creighton
Thomas, unlike the other two on this list, is more of a combo guard rather than a wing. His 6’3″ height probably limits his positional versatility but he is long with a 6’10” wingspan. With those measurables and some aspects of how he plays, he reminds me at times of former Pacer George Hill: a steady, solid approach on offense, with good defensive attributes as well. Like Hill, he’s not going to wow you with his athleticism or elite leaping ability, but he’s got enough to compete in the league.
Thomas is easily the most polished offensively among this trio, showing a wide range of ways to score, 3-point shooting, drives to the rim, mid-range, cutting, even a little bit of a post game. He also is a capable and willing passer, though he struggles with turnovers at this point. If he shares the floor with Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson off the bench, he wouldn’t have much ball-handling duties early in his career and would primarily be a spot-up shooter. He shot 41% from deep last season at Creighton.
He’s not lacking on the defensive end either and his wingspan helps him get his hands in passing lanes often and he challenges shots well. He was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East last season.
There are many possible selections at the 23rd pick for the Pacers as certain players always slip down farther than expected on draft night and who knows how many will be able to contribute meaningful minutes right away in their rookie seasons. We’ll see if the Pacers can continue the overall relative success that the league has with the 23rd pick and finds someone rotation ready.