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Pacers add power forward and more shooting in 2023 NBA Draft
Houston forward Jarace Walker fills a big need up front — and then you can't have enough shooters.
The Pacers were as active as they promised, completing three trades in the 30 hours leading up to the draft, even if there weren’t the fireworks were hoping to see.
They weren’t going to use all five picks they originally had — and they didn’t. But at the end of it, however, they still added four players, including two first-round picks.
7: 6-foot-8 forward Jarace Walker
26: 6-foot-6 wing Ben Sheppard
47: 6-foot-5 guard Mojave King
55: 6-foot-4 guard Isaiah Wong
That’s the short of it. And because the trades were not finalized with the NBA before draft night, I know it was all sorts of confusing for fans at home watching as they saw Walker in a Wizards hat, plus what appeared to be Julian Strawther and Jalen Pickett selected by the Pacers.
That’s something the NBA has to figure out, especially in trying to improve the TV product. Too many picks are being moved that it’s different to keep up.
“I was told I was going to Indiana before Indiana’s pick, then I was like ‘wow, what happened,’ Walker said of seeing Bilal Coulibaly taken at 7 by the Pacers — when actually, it was the Wizards.
The Pacers squeezed a pair of future second-round picks from the Wizards to move back one spot and still get the player they wanted.
“I was super excited,” Walker said of being taken by the Pacers at 8. “Just to know where I’m going, just to take that deep breath and butterflies let loose so I was definitely happy.”
The Pacers are thrilled because he’s been high on their draft board and wish list from the beginning.
“We think Walker is a really unique prospect because of his ability to handle, see the floor, pass, make plays,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the rare young, big guys that really has a great feel for the game. His workout was terrific.
“He’s a guy that’s almost impossible not to like when you watch him play. His defense is very good, his rebounding is good; those are areas where we need to improve. He played in a great system at the University of Houston for Kelvin Sampson, who has done an amazing job. His teams are always known for hard, unselfish play. If anything, Jarace may be guilty of being a little too unselfish at times. But he’ll learn very quickly in the NBA what the game is about.”
During his pre-draft workout in Indy, he highlighted his defense and versatility to the Pacers — exactly what they wanted to see. Larry Bird was watching. So was Tyrese Haliburton, his new teammate.
“It was my first visit, but I felt like it was one of my better ones for sure,” Walker said. “Just being able to show them my versatility, what I can bring to them immediately. Just having an immediate impact, ready to go from the jump. I definitely felt like it would be a good fit.
“I’m excited. We have some high-level talented dudes like Mathurin, Turner and Haliburton.”
Walker will be able to slide into the 4 spot immediately; and he should. The starting lineup is shaping up to be Haliburton, Nembhard, Mathurin, Walker and Turner.
After making a lottery selection for the third straight year, the Pacers stayed at 26 and, unsurprisingly, added a 3-and-D wing in Ben Sheppard out of Belmont. He was a four-year player who got better each season. Then, he really impressed at the draft combine in May.
Sheppard averaged 18.8 points per game last season and shot 42% from beyond the arc. He’s an active, willing defender who does the little things. Think Haliburton’s hustle with Oshae Brissett’s knack for doing the little things.
And then he “really showed out,” Carlisle said of his Pacers workout. He sees him playing the 2 and the 3, and praised Sheppard’s length, quickness and strong ball skills.
“We just have a really strong feeling about Sheppard,” he continued. “Our scouts were all really high on him. His workout here was tremendous. He just gives off a real enthusiastic vibe, not just about the game but life in general.”
And that’s the other thing that stands out. Both of them are optimistic, charismatic and very clearly driven for me. As the Pacers continue to set the culture and build upon it, these two fit that mold.
“Both guys are energetic, basketball junkies, high basketball intelligence, high IQ, see the game, pass it, move it,” Carlisle said. “These are the kinds of guys that we want to build this roster and this organization with. We’re really thrilled with the first round.”
Walker plans to wear No. 1 since Jalen Smith already has 25.
Sheppard will be No. 26 — his draft number — since Isaiah Jackson has 22. And so … the Pacers now have players with jersey numbers 22-27.
The Pacers held an introductory press conference for these two on Friday.
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Without any additional moves, the Pacers have just one roster spot remaining after making two selections in Round 1. That’s why you saw them willing to trade back from 40 to 47 with the Lakers for ~$4 million in cash. Whomever they drafted was bound for a two-way contract at best.
They’re still expected to add a wing via trade, as I reported on draft day. A player like Dorian Finney-Smith from Brooklyn or Tobias Harris from Philadelphia.
And Carlisle can never have enough shooting.
So first, at 47, they added New Zealander Mojave King, who played for G League ignite. He averaged 9.4 points per game and shot 40% from the field. He’s just 21 years old so there’s a lot of room for growth, and that will best be done in the G League.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that takes effect on July 1, teams may sign up to three players to two-way contracts, up from two, thus creating 30 new jobs.
Lastly, the Pacers added Isaiah Wong from the University of Miami at 55. He had an outstanding NCAA Tournament. IU fans know the name because he scored 27 points and led Miami to a 85-69 win over the Hoosiers in the second round.
Those same fans would have liked to see Trayce Jackson-Davis in the blue & gold. He was less than a mile away, in fact, at a private party in downtown Indianapolis to celebrate draft night. However, he was bound for the Warriors all along if not drafted inside the top 35. And the Pacers never really made sense because they already have too many big men.
It was just not a good fit.
Wong, 22, was a four-year player at Miami and he led them in scoring (16.2 ppg). He shot 38.4% from 3 and 85% at the line. He’ll be with the Pacers in summer league and then be a candidate for a two-way contract.
The Pacers still need to re-sign 2022 second-round pick Kendall Brown, who missed most of last season due to injury.
Listen to what Carlisle had to say after the first round in the media player below (or click here to read the transcript):