Friday, September 29 2023

CHICAGO — After the first three lottery balls were pulled Tuesday, the Indiana Pacers still had a chance of acquiring a player that Kevin Pritchard believes is so special that he won’t ever play in front of an empty seat.

The NBA Draft Lottery operates sort of like a four-number daily state lottery, but it’s just slightly more random. There are 14 balls placed in a lottery machine and numbered 1-14 and four of them are pulled out to determine each pick. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, and 1,000 of those are assigned to the 14 teams in the lottery with each team getting a number of combinations based on the reverse standings.

The Pacers entered Tuesday with just a 6.8% chance of landing the No. 1 pick — and certainly using it on French phenom Victor Wembanyama — but when the first three numbers were spit out, the Pacers had a combination with all three.

“My heart was racing, man,” said Pritchard, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations and the team’s representative in the drawing room. “I was super-excited. Washington was next to us. It was us, Washington and a couple of other teams left. We were close.”

Determining exactly how close would require more information to do the math. It certainly wasn’t a coin flip, but even if it was 1 in 14, that’s a lot better than 1 in 1,000. Still, when the fourth number came out, the Pacers didn’t have it and the San Antonio Spurs did. The Pacers didn’t have the combinations for picks 2, 3 or 4 either as those went to Charlotte, Portland and Houston respectively. Instead, the Pacers will pick seventh, exactly where they would have picked if there was no lottery and they got their selection on the basis of where they finished in the reverse standings. They haven’t picked in the top four since they chose Rik Smits No. 2 overall in the 1988 draft.

But Pritchard still considered holding on to the No. 7 pick to be, on-balance, a win. The Pacers could have moved back if teams behind them in the reverse standings had moved ahead of them to get a pick in the top four. He refused to mention names of players, but said he believes the talent pool in the draft is plenty deep enough for them still to get a player at No. 7 that can make their already young and talented core better.

“We like where we’re picking,” Pritchard said. “Would we have liked No. 1? Sure. That pick is going to be transformational. But I still think whether we move from 7, we have to decide what tier that is in the draft yet. We haven’t really got there. There’s Tier 1, which everyone feels pretty good about. Then there’s probably a tier next to it that’s probably a couple players. It feels like the next tier is a bigger tier. The need to move around probably isn’t as big. But we like 7.”

To translate that by actually naming names, Pritchard was saying that he considers Wembanyama a tier all by himself and believes he could be a phenomenon that’s rarely been matched in NBA history.

“Fortunes are won and lost in that lottery,” Pritchard said. “The first pick in this year’s draft is no joke. That kid will probably never play in a game that’s not sold out will be my guess. Whoever that player may be. I can’t say who it is.”

He also thinks there’s a difference between the likely No. 2 and No. 3 pick in the draft and everybody else. Presumably, he was talking about G League Ignite lead guard Scoot Henderson and Alabama forward Brandon Miller, an All-American and the SEC Player of the Year.

But after that he sees a number of interesting pieces a notch lower. Among the players who appear to fit in that tier would seem to be Amen and Ausar Thompson, twin 6-7 wings who spent the last year in the Atlanta-based league Overtime Elite. Villanova’s Cam Whitmore, Houston’s Jarace Walker, Arkansas’ Anthony Black, Central Florida’s Taylor Hendricks, Kansas’ Grady Dick and Connecticut’s Jordan Hawkins would also seem to be in that tier and several of them will obviously still be around when the Pacers pick seventh. The Pacers’ most glaring positional need is at power forward and several players could fit into that spot, including Walker and Hendricks and possibly including Whitmore and Ausar Thompson.

“I think there’s a couple of players that are a tier and then it really flattens out,” Pritchard said. “We’re in a really good tier. We like the tier we’re in. There’s some flexibility in that tier. We like some players where we’re going to be.”

Pritchard was even more pleased because the Spurs winning the lottery led to the Pacers getting the No. 32 pick, the second pick in the second round. The Pacers acquired that pick from the Rockets, but it was conditional on it being the No. 31 or 32 pick. The Rockets won a coin flip with the Spurs that would have given them the higher first-round pick if neither got one of the top four picks, so the only way the Pacers would get Rockets’ second-round pick was if the Spurs finished ahead of them in the lottery.

The Pacers already had their lottery pick as well as the No. 26 and No. 29 picks in the first round, which they received in trades with the Cavaliers and Celtics respectively. Now they also pick No. 7 and No. 32 and they also have the No. 55 pick. Pritchard has said repeatedly that he has no intention of bringing five rookies on to what is already a very young roster, but having that many assets gives him a lot of opportunities to make moves. The No. 32 pick is also particularly valuable because the Pacers can use it on a two-way player who can also spend time in the G League. The new collective bargaining agreement adds another spot for a two-way player, increasing the limit from two to three.

“I just talked with (owner) Herb Simon and told him we were close but no cigar,” Pritchard said. “His first question was, did we get the 31st or 32nd pick. I think that tells you how important that potential pick is. The way they’ve done the league in terms having three two-ways, second-round picks become very valuable. We’re not going to keep all five picks, but there’s just a lot of things we can do. My guess is we’ll get a lot of offers for those picks too.”

Pritchard said defense will weigh heavily in his draft decisions and all of his offseason talent acquisitions. Led by All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, All-Rookie guard Bennedict Mathurin, sharpshooter Buddy Hield and center Myles Turner, the Pacers finished 10th in the NBA in scoring, fifth in pace and first in fast-break points. However, they also finished 29th in the league in points allowed, giving up 119.5 points per game, and 30th in defensive rebounding percentage.

Pritchard acknowledged that bringing in one rookie with a good defensive track record in hopes that he could make an immediate impact as an NBA defender is a shaky proposition because it takes a while for them to get an understanding of the quality of players they’re guarding as well as the officiating. But he also said defense has to be a consideration.

“There are guys we’re going to be looking at on the defensive end and we’re going to value that more at every pick, not just at seven or 26,” Pritchard said. “We know we have to get better. That’s in part by getting the right players but it’s also about how we hold our players accountable (on defense). I went to dinner with Ty and Benn and (Andrew Nembhard) and the whole conversation at dinner was how we can hold each other accountable on that side. I think we’re going to score points. I think with Tyrese and Myles and Benn, we’re going to put some numbers up. You can’t go from 29th to 5, but we have to stop moving up that pecking order on the defensive end. I think it’s more of a mindset person and then player accumulation second.”

But getting better defenders is still part of the process and the No. 7 overall pick isn’t a bad place to start.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers still happy to have No. 7 pick in draft

Source: Yahoo Sports


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