Indiana Pacers have Lots of Options, Cap Space this Offseason

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With nearly $34 million coming off the books and a head coaching vacancy that has yet to be filled, there are certainly questions surrounding the Indiana Pacers and more questions will arise over the next week as the 2011 NBA Draft approaches. Despite finishing with a record below .500, the Pacers made their first postseason appearance since 2006. Indiana’s starting five will remain the same next season: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert.

However, even with money available to spend during the offseason, a weak free agent class may force the Pacers to look to the draft to fill any voids.

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It’s no secret to fans or management that the Pacers, who ranked 21st in field goal percentage this season, desperately need to improve their perimeter offense and strengthen their frontcourt.

Indiana owns the 15th pick and, with what many consider to be a lackluster draft class, the Pacers are unlikely to find a game-changing rookie. Instead, the team will look to add depth to its bench by adding a scoring guard or a big man to lessen the load placed upon Hansborough and Hibbert.

Over the past few weeks, Indiana has invited several players to Conseco Fieldhouse for pre-draft workouts, including the nation’s top two collegiate scorers, Jimmer Fredette and Marshon Brooks.

Fredette, who led the nation in scoring by averaging more than 28 points per game this season for Brigham Young, is expected to be the first senior chosen in the draft. The 6’3” guard will likely play the point at the next level and would serve as a reliable backup for the Pacers behind Collison.

Fredette’s ability to score in college was unrivaled; however, questions have arisen regarding his ability to defend NBA players as opposed to those in the Mountain West Conference. Having gained tremendous recognition and popularity in Utah over the past four years, it is unlikely that Fredette will fall past the Utah Jazz at No. 12; however, if he is still on the board when the Pacers are on the clock, don’t be surprised if Indiana pulls the trigger on the sharpshooting guard.

Another intriguing prospect is the aforementioned Brooks, a 6’5” guard out of Providence. As a senior, Brooks averaged 24.6 points per game for the Friars, including a 52-point performance against Notre Dame, which broke the Big East record for points in a single game. Having played point guard throughout high school, Brooks possesses above average ball handling skills and uses his arsenal of moves to get to the rim.

Miraculously, Brooks measured in with a 7’1” wingspan at the draft combine, which is comparable to most NBA power forwards.

Providence is known for playing zone defenses, so Brooks will need to be groomed as an NBA defender; however, his natural length and athleticism should lessen the learning curve. Brooks could realistically step in at three different positions, ranging from point guard to small forward and would give the Pacers another scoring threat to compliment Granger.

Washington State’s Klay Thompson, son of former NBA first overall pick Mychel Thompson, is another prospect expected to be available when the Pacers make their selection. The California native is a lanky shooting guard, measuring in at 6’7”, who specializes in perimeter shooting (42.3 3P%) and coming off of screens.

Pacers fans will remember another Californian with a similar playing style in Reggie Miller. While that comparison is an embellishment, Indiana may have a hard time resisting a player who resembles one of the franchise’s all-time greats.

Guard prospects, especially those with a knack for scoring, are easy to get excited about, but sometimes it is the workhorses that push a team to the next level. Antonio and Dale Davis were key role players for the Pacers during the Reggie Miller era and were known for their hustle and defense more so than their offensive games. Jeff Foster has fulfilled that role for Indiana in recent years, but the aging center is on the twilight of his career and the Pacers may focus on finding a young big man to strengthen their frontcourt.

Kenneth Faried was a force in the post for Morehead State, scoring nearly 18 points per game while leading the nation in rebounding with 14.5 boards per game. Faried (6’8”, 225 lbs.) is undersized; however, he usually initiates contact rather than shying away from it. He could easily provide a spark off the bench for Indiana, a team in need of a physical player to battle in the post against opponents like Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard.

Another prospect that has been linked to the Pacers is Kansas’ Marcus Morris. Marcus and his twin brother Markieff, who are both projected to be first round picks, made up one of the toughest and most formidable frontcourts in all of college basketball.

Unlike his brother, Marcus possesses the ability to score in the post or on the perimeter and would add substantial depth to the Pacers’ bench, offering relief to both Granger and Hansborough.

In a radio interview Wednesday on Indianapolis’ 1070 The Fan, Pacers’ president of basketball operations Larry Bird revealed that the team is targeting three players. I believe Indiana will select a shooting guard with its first round pick and will use its second pick on a rugged post player. Natural scorers are at a premium in this year’s draft and the Pacers can’t afford to let one slip past them at No. 15.

Of course, it would come as no surprise if the Pacers opted to trade their first round pick to move up in the draft or acquire a proven veteran.

The next week will be infused with water cooler conversations, a plethora of rumors and plenty of trades, all leading up to the crapshoot that is the NBA draft.

Despite so much uncertainty, one thing is clear: the clock is ticking for Bird and he and the Pacers’ management will undoubtedly make more than a few moves this offseason, the first being the Pacers draft selection.

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