Indiana Pacers, No. 6 in NBA lottery, will take aggressive approach to draft

Indiana Pacers scouts were nervous on the morning of the draft lottery for good reason — there’s a chance the team could see them drop in the NBA draft order during the lottery. This is exactly what happened.

The good news for the Pacers is that they will finally have a single-digit pick in 2022. They haven’t done so since 1989, which makes this an important moment.

Indiana had the fifth-best odds in the lottery, but they ended up losing and will be selected sixth in the June draft. It’s still the team’s top pick in more than three decades, but that fact was overshadowed by bad luck that night.

Even so, when Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard spoke to the media after the lottery, his tone was confident. As the primary decision maker, he would love to see the Pacers in the lottery, but he remains optimistic about the team’s ability to have a strong draft cycle and pick an impact player.

“It could be great to get the No. 1 pick. But let’s get to work and make the best picks,” Pritchard said. “Because the best option is more important than having the No. 1 pick.”

Indeed, choice matters. This draft means a lot to the Pacers, not only because they haven’t had such a high draft pick in more than 30 years, but because the team is at a pivotal moment in their roster change. Missing out on this pick could hamper their rapid rebuild that began with their acquisition of guard Tyrese Haliburton at the 2022 trade deadline.

To maximize their chances of success this draft cycle, Pritchard explained that the organization is taking an aggressive approach to the process. That’s similar to the wording used by front-office heads around the February trade deadline — Indiana doesn’t want to go through a lengthy roster shuffle.

Aggressiveness can mean many things. That could mean the Pacers will target a specific player and do everything possible to get them — trade, move, etc. That could mean teams will try to trade their draft picks for players they love who are already in the NBA. The team may actively seek to acquire more assets. Boldness can mean a lot of things, but it does fit the way the Pacers are revamped.

“I think there’s an opportunity to be aggressive in this draft,” Pritchard said. “Where you start in the draft today is sometimes where you end and sometimes not.”

Most mock drafts expect similar players to be picked around the sixth overall pick. ESPN Indiana took Shaedon Sharpe from Kentucky, sports Make Iowa forward Keegan Murray a pick for the Pacers, and fox sports Purdue linebacker Jaden Ivey in blue and gold. Most projections so far have the Pacers selecting one of those three players, though things can always change before the actual draft, and mock drafts don’t necessarily reflect the Pacers’ thinking.

If Indiana likes one of these guys more than the others, their aggressive path could go up in the draft to ensure they can pick him. Pritchard noted that the team kept an open mind and went through a lot of scenarios in what he called a “crucial” draft.

“We can go wider than I’ve ever been, and the beta is higher,” he said after the draw. “We have a lot of ways to tackle this, but we’re delighted to have a great opportunity to bring in a real core young player [Haliburton] and [Chris Duarte]. “

Pritchard has encountered this situation before. In 2006, he served as assistant general manager for the Portland Trail Blazers, and in the same year’s draft, Portland made a series of trades that saw them use lottery picks with All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Bran. Den Roy left together. After just one season, he was promoted to general manager.

Since then, his lottery draft history has been up and down. He drafted Greg Oden in the first round in 2007, and though injuries derailed Oden’s career, it was widely thought to be easy at the time. In 2008, Pritchard traded the lottery for Jared Bayless, who was No. 11 overall with a career spanning more than 10 years. Last season, Indiana’s front office selected Duarte with the 13th overall pick. Duarte was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team earlier this week, but it’s too early in his career to make any claims about Pritchard’s selection — that is, His first season is promising.

This year, the Pacers are looking to do better than any of those three draft picks. In more than 30 years, this team has never been in this position with a draft pick below 10. They need to identify this option to push the rebuilding roster forward, rather than risk a long period of time without playoff success.

“We’re definitely going to do our best,” Pritchard said. Given the current state of the team, their best performance needs to be impressive. Indiana is rarely a bad team — but they’ve been so lately. Success in the 2022 NBA Draft is the first step if they want to avoid a streak of campaigns that end in the lottery.


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