Although it generally lacks the hoopla surrounding the NFL draft and the depth of baseball's marathon affair, the yearly NBA draft still generates a respectable buzz, particularly for the teams that land in the coveted lottery slots at the top of the board. I'm actually quite happy that the Indiana Pacers did not fit into that category this year, because the Blue and Gold turned in a fine 2011-12 season that took them out of lottery contention. It also made pre-draft speculation about who the Pacers would take in the first round, because the number 26 pick is generally such a wide open proposition. After the team hosted seven workouts for potential draftees, lots of folks in central Indiana had their eyes on Kentucky's Marquis Teague, a fellow Hoosier. Instead, outgoing president surprised everyone yet again by selecting Mike Plumlee, a power forward from Duke. While not many are thrilled with this pick, I do think that Plumlee could contribute to the Pacers in an important way.
For a dozen years, one of the constants on a Pacers team that seemed to be in constant flux was hard-nosed play of forward/center Jeff Foster. Foster was a solid rebounder and could move well in the paint, and he always brought a hard edge to the Pacers when they needed it most. Unfortunately, back woes plagued him in his later playing years, and he managed to get into just a handful of games this past season before retiring in March. Although Roy Hibbert definitely stepped up his game this year, Foster's presence was still missed, and I'm hopeful that Plumlee can fill some of that void. Although listed as a forward, Plumlee checks in at an even seven feet and figures to get plenty of playing time at both big-man positions. At Duke, he showed a lot of power, but didn't shoot the ball much.
One guy who did shoot quite a bit in college was Orlando Johnson, a 6'3" guard from UC Santa Barbara, who surprisingly ended up with the Pacers after the draft-night dust had settled. The Pacers entered the night without a second round pick to their names, but they landed Johnson from the Sacramento Kings (who drafted him 36th overall) in exchange for cash. Johnson is a pure shooter who doesn't do a whole lot with the ball, but the Pacers have a crowded point guard field, anyway. He has a nice three-point touch and could develop into a clutch bomber for Indiana off the bench.
Overall, this wasn't a spectacular draft, but that's to be expected for a team who netted one of the best records in the game this season. I would much rather have a winning team that adds a few compatible pieces here and there than a bottom-dweller hanging its hat on the fortunes of a lottery pick. The Pacers are definitely fine-tuning at this point, and we can thank Larry Bird for leaving the organization in good shape.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Pacers fan since the early 1980s and has witnessed the rise and fall of a great NBA franchise. He follows the current club closely and is happy to see the Pacers begin their next ascent.
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