Wilson's Word: Who Pacers should pick

After narrowing the possibilities for Indiana's 11th overall choice in the draft, the final choice might be a surprise.

On the eve of the NBA Draft, it’s time to administer the jinx to whom the Indiana Pacers will select with the 11th overall pick Thursday night.

NBA teams work out players, break down countless hours of game tape and scout so many of their college games. Journalists take a stab at it based, often times, on the reputations of these prospects.

That’s why it’s probably not much of a surprise that my Wednesday consideration came down to some familiar players. You stick with what you know if you’re expecting to be wrong.

My choices were narrowed to Murray State sophomore guard Cameron Payne, Wisconsin center/forward Frank Kaminsky, Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein and Kentucky forward Trey Lyles.

Honestly, I haven’t seen Payne play. But after reading so much about him, and realizing how he would fit into the Pacers' plans, he made this list. I’ve watched the other three players up close, including Lyles once when he was a prep stud at Indianapolis Tech High School.

Payne makes a lot of sense for a team wanting to add a point guard and shift George Hill to shooting guard. The fact that he comes from the Ohio Valley Conference leads to the undeniable question of his game translating to the next level. I’m not saying it can’t. What do I know? Mock drafts have this kid rated high.

But in the interest of shaving the list and coming to a decision, I crossed Payne off the list. So consider him a strong favorite to be president Larry Bird’s guy.

The picture chosen to go with this story seemed appropriate because it shows Cauley-Stein and Kaminsky going against each other in the NCAA Final Four semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium. I had the honor of covering the Final Four. And I’ve seen Kaminsky in past Big Ten Tournaments at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Because the Pacers have spoken so much about wanting to change the identity to more of a perimeter team, Kaminsky gets the edge over Cauley-Stein. The Badger has a great outside shot, including from 3-point range. What’s not to like about a 7-foot-1 big man who can shoot threes?

But then came the news that Pacers forward David West intends to opt out of his contract (reported first by my former employer, The Indianapolis Star). While few expect Pacers center Roy Hibbert to opt out of his deal, I don’t see him having a future in Indiana after the 2015-16 season. He just doesn’t seem happy here. And his enigmatic nature, on and off the court, has undoubtedly worn out the patience of others, and we’re not just talking reporters.

So Cauley-Stein becomes more of a possibility because the Pacers would love to have his rim-protection skills and post defense. The dude is a beast inside. But adding an inside player who doesn’t fit the mold of the team’s supposed push to be more versatile and perimeter-oriented just doesn’t add up.

That means he likely gets taken by the Pacers. But I’m not picking him, either.

Kaminsky has the offensive game and would thrive here alongside Paul George, who as the Pacers have said can shift to play either forward spot. Some think that’s nuts, but it’s Bird’s belief that George is such a rare talent, he can impact a game from either position. And I’ll take Bird’s word for it.

But here’s the thing about Kaminsky. I’m not sure he brings the kind of physicality to play the defense that head coach Frank Vogel will expect. Not that the guy can’t do it, it’s just a question. And that question gets asked a lot about big guys who tend to play on the perimeter so much on offense. Can they be reliable on defense if needed inside? And Kaminsky would be needed there, with or without Hibbert.

So check Kaminsky has the second-most likely selection for the Pacers.

Yeah, that leaves the hometown kid. Granted, Lyles is just 19, but I like everything about his game. I like his grit. He’ll do anything he’s asked to do because he’s so unselfish. That’s guarding on the perimeter, banging inside, driving hard to the basket and spotting up for jumpers (probably the area he will need to work on the most).

He’s 6-10 and 240 pounds, yet combined versatility with an obvious understanding for how the game should be played. That gets lost on some people, but I’m guessing Bird sees this. Lyles’ on-court presence and feel for the game are probably no-brainer observations for an NBA legend. That young body is going to get bigger, stronger and faster, too. He fits the criteria for what the Pacers need in evolving to be in step with today’s NBA game.

And he’d be proud of play back home for the Pacers. He makes the most sense to me, but what the hell do I know?

Apologies to Lyles fans, but me picking him means it probably won’t happen.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


scoutpacers Top Stories