It’s been more than three decades since the Indiana Pacers had an opportunity to utilize a single-digit first-round draft pick, but that will likely change on Thursday.
Indiana is slated to pick sixth in the 2022 NBA Draft, the highest selection the franchise has owned since 1988. It’s a massive choice for the front office to make — nailing the pick could push the Pacers back into the playoffs in the future, while whiffing the pick could send the franchise to the NBA’s basement for at least a few more seasons.
From the outside, the sixth overall pick would seem to contain a lot of pressure for decision makers, but internally that isn’t the case. Pacers Vice President of Player Personnel Ryan Carr is ready to help the front office make the best choice possible.
“I don’t,” Carr said when asked if he feels pressure in the draft this year. “Our staff of scouts work hard no matter what pick we’ve had. We’ve had drafts where we didn’t have any picks, and we still work hard because you never know what’s going to happen. And whoever you pick, you want to succeed. So I think the pressure we put on ourselves is pretty consistent. And we always prepare to have the first pick, that’s just part of what we do and how we prepare.”
Indiana is a diligent team ahead of the draft. Carr shared last summer that the front office ranks players one through about 80 on their board regardless of where the team is selecting in the draft. Having a clear picture of every prospect allows Pacers’ decision makers to feel prepared when draft day arrives.
In a typical year, the front office runs through scenario after scenario to see who could be available when the blue and gold are on the clock. This year, that’s an easier task since the franchise is picking higher than they have since 1988. Regardless, it’s an important exercise, and completing it speaks to the Pacers’ prepardness.
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These processes helped guide Indiana to a successful draft in 2021 — they walked away with All-Rookie second team member Chris Duarte, as well as promising big man Isaiah Jackson. Those procedures now have more intensity thanks to the importance of this draft for Indiana.
Carr has been with the Pacers for nearly two decades and has seen many drafts, some successful and some not. He stated that the front office and scouting department try to improve every year. “The process is largely the same every year. Every year we review it, we add stuff to it, we try to get better at it. I think the caliber of player is a higher talent, but I don’t think it affects the process in terms of evaluation and all the different things that go into making a decision on a player,” Carr explained this week. That’s why the team brought in over 50 prospects for in-person evaluations during this pre-draft process — they want as much information as possible to nail the most important draft they’ve had in decades. “You’re still doing a lot of work on them as people, analytics still does their thing. The evaluation, we’re watching everybody, whether they’re going to get picked first or go undrafted. So I don’t know that the process changes a lot, but I think obviously the potential of the players is a higher potential,” he said.
The blue and gold brought in several players who project to be picked in the lottery, including a handful who have been pegged as potential choices with the sixth overall pick in mock drafts. Publicly, prospects such as Bennedict Mathurin, Shaedon Sharpe, A.J. Griffin, Dyson Daniels, and Johnny Davis came into Indianapolis to show off their skills and personalities. Privately, Keegan Murray descended upon Pacers’ facilities for a workout, and Jaden Ivey had a virtual meeting with the team. Building off the success of the 2021 draft is crucial for a team still recovering from a 25-win season, and Indiana has done their homework.
“The good thing is we’ve been able to talk to, be in front of, anybody that we would pick,” Carr said.
At the workouts, dozens of team employees and scouts are present. Nothing goes unnoticed. Even in the portions of the draft workouts that local media observed, executives and coaches alike were talking to the prospects and providing some direction.
“That in itself was kind of crazy,” Villanova wing Jermaine Samuels offered when asked about Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle working with him one-on-one for a few moments. “That’s probably the first time a head coach has done that.”
This is Carlisle’s second pre-draft cycle as the head coach of Indiana, and his attention to detail and one-on-one work is just one more aspect that speaks to the Pacers preparedness.
Those workouts help the Pacers get to know potential draft picks as more than just players. Years of scouting gives every team a sense of what a player can do on the court, but having them in your facilities allows decision makers to become acquainted with the prospects as people. That has a ton of value, and it could come into play at any time during a player’s career if they become available in a trade or as a free agent. Strong draft preparation has a long-term impact.
In the short-term, the Pacers focus is on the draft and the sixth overall pick. Knowing who the potential selections are both as players and people is a requirement for the Pacers as they make one of their most critical roster decisions in decades.
“The sixth pick, we want him to be a foundational piece for us and are looking forward to adding that piece,” Carr said.
A foundational piece is a high bar, but opportunities to pick this high scarcely appear for the franchise, and the Pacers are doing everything they can to make it count. Nailing the selection would put this foundational piece alongside Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte, creating a foundation that ideally means the franchise will not have to pick this high again.
“It’s a lot of fun right now. I would say the season to get here wasn’t a whole lot of fun. But, hopefully, this is a reward for all the players, our guys, going through a tough season and our whole staff and being able to hopefully help us get back to where we want to be,” Carr explained when asked about the emotions of picking in the top-10.
The wrong pick, or a bad draft night, could send the Pacers toward another season that isn’t fun. The right pick could send the Pacers back into the postseason, eventually, and back into NBA relevancy.
Thursday night is the most important draft for the Indiana Pacers in decades. The last time Indiana had a single digit pick, they went on to make the playoffs in 25 of the next 31 seasons. The franchise must nail the 2022 NBA Draft if they want to get back on a similar run of success.