Indiana Pacers Finish Sixth In NBA Draft Lottery, Will Take Aggressive Approach To Draft
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Indiana Pacers scouts were nervous on the morning of the draft lottery for good reason — there was a chance that the franchise would see their spot in the NBA draft order fall during the lottery proceedings. And that’s exactly what happened.

The good news for the Pacers is that they will finally select a player with a single-digit draft pick in 2022. They haven’t done that since 1989, making this a momentous occasion.

Indiana had the fifth best odds in the drawing, but they ultimately fell and will pick sixth during the draft in June. It’s still the team’s highest pick in over three decades, but the poor luck of the night put a wet blanket on that fact.

Even so, when Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard spoke to the media after the lottery, he had a confident tone. As the lead decision maker, he would have loved to see the Pacers move up in the draft lottery, but he is still optimistic about the team’s ability to have a strong draft cycle and come away with an impactful player.

“It may be great to get the number one pick. But let’s get to work and make the best choices,” Pritchard said. “Because the best choices are more important than having the number one pick.”

Indeed, the choices are important. Not only is this draft immense for the Pacers because they haven’t had a draft pick this high for over 30 years, but also because the team is at a critical point of their roster alterations. Missing on this draft pick could set back their rapid rebuild, which began when they acquired guard Tyrese Haliburton at the 2022 trade deadline.

In order to maximize their chances of success in this draft cycle, Pritchard explained that the organization is taking an aggressive approach to the process. That’s similar verbiage to what the head of the front office used around the trade deadline back in February — Indiana does not want to labor through a long roster shuffle.

Aggressive could mean a number of things. It could mean that the Pacers will target one specific player and do whatever it takes to get them — trades, moves, whatever. It could mean that the team will try to acquire a player they love who is already in the NBA by trading their pick. The team could be aggressive in a pursuit to acquire more assets. Being bold could mean any number of things, but it does match the Pacers modus operandi for their retool.

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

Most mock drafts project similar players to be taken around the sixth overall pick. ESPN has Indiana taking Shaedon Sharpe from Kentucky, The Athletic pegged Iowa forward Keegan Murray as the Pacers pick, and Fox Sports has the blue and gold taking Purdue guard Jaden Ivey. Most projections, as of now, 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 thoughts of the Pacers.

If Indiana likes one of those guys more than the others, perhaps their aggressive path is moving up in the draft to ensure they get to pick him. Pritchard noted that the team is keeping an open mind and running through a lot of scenarios in what he called a “critical” draft.

“The gamut of where we can go is wider and a higher beta than any time I’ve ever been around,” he said just after the lottery. “There’s a lot of ways we can take this, but we feel comfortable that there’s a great chance to get one really core young player to add to [Haliburton] and [Chris Duarte].”

Pritchard has been in these situations before. In 2006, he was the Assistant General Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers, and in the draft that same year, Portland made a string of trades that allowed them to walk away with All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy with lottery picks. Just one season later, he was promoted to General Manager.

Since then, his draft history with lottery picks has been up-and-down. He picked Greg Oden first overall in 2007, which was mostly considered a no-brainer at the time despite injuries derailing Oden’s career. Pritchard traded up in the lottery for Jerryd Bayless, who went 11th overall and had a solid career that spanned more than a decade, in 2008. This past season, Indiana’s front office took Duarte with the 13th selection. Duarte was named to the NBA All-Rookie second team earlier this week, but it’s too early in his career to make any declarations about that choice by Pritchard — that said, his first season was very promising.

This year, the Pacers will hope to do better than any of those three picks. The franchise hasn’t been in this position, with a draft pick lower than ten, for over 30 years. They need to nail this selection to push the rebuilding roster forward and not risk a long stretch without postseason success.

“We’re going to certainly give it our best,” Pritchard said. Their best needs to be impressive, given the current state of the team. Indiana is rarely a bad squad — yet they have been recently. If they want to avoid consecutive campaigns that end in the lottery, nailing the 2022 NBA draft is step one.

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