On the eve of Thursday’s NBA draft, the Indiana Pacers likely threw a curve ball into all of the mock drafts regarding their selection with the 20th overall pick.
The Pacers’ reported acquisition of point guard Jeff Teague — a three-team deal that won’t be official until July — frees up president Larry Bird to look at athletic bigs, the most obvious need. Indiana has second-year pro Myles Turner capable of settling in at center after being named to the All-Rookie second team.
But Indiana is short on size and rebounding strength. It’s possible Bird could choose a center and keep Turner at the power forward spot, but there are several athletic forwards expected to be available when the Pacers are on the clock.
In scanning a multitude of mock drafts and compiling a list of possible selections, priority was given to forwards and/or centers. Some mocks had the Pacers taking a point guard, but the Teague trade makes taking another player at that position seem more unlikely.
Here’s a list of Pacers possibles:
* Brice Johnson, power forward, North Carolina, 6-10, 210 — Bird reportedly liked what he saw in Johnson during workouts. He’s wiry and could add some muscle, but isn’t just a guy to hang around the rim. He can be explosive in the open floor, and the Pacers will be looking to run more, a style that last season’s personnel couldn’t stick to playing.
* Taurean Waller-Prince, small forward, Baylor, 6-8, 220 — He has the athleticism and wingspan to defend shooting guards as well as small forwards. Prince finishes strong at the rim and has shown an ability to hit the spot-up shot, including 3-pointers.
* Deyonta Davis, forward/center, Michigan State, 6-11, 237 — Despite playing only one season for the Spartans, Davis came on toward the end in starting 16 of the last 17 games. Some suggest he’s a developmental guy who will need time to earn minutes whereas others suggest he can be decent defender and rebounder right away. He’s just 19, and doesn’t turn 20 until December, so the team that lands him is thinking upside as an inside presence.
* Damian Jones, center, Vanderbilt, 6-11, 245 — The big man underwent surgery for a torn pectoral muscle after injuring himself on a bench press. That will keep him out of summer league play and likely delays his readiness to play as a rookie. He’ll need to be stronger and that takes time, too, but he’s a solid rebounder and shot blocker. Some say he needs to be more aggressive.
* Juan Hernangomez, center/power forward, Spain, 6-9, 225 — In the spirit of foreign-born players, the 20-year-old big man has a decent shot from outside with excellent mobility and quickness. He’s worked on building his strength in the last year. He isn’t the prototypical inside player, which means he needs to work on post-up moves. While noted for his stamina and movement, he must improve his focus on the defensive end.
* Dejounte Murray, point guard, Washington, 6-5, 170 — He’s just 19 but has shot up many mock drafts and was among the prospects invited to attend the draft. Perhaps the NBA knows something about where teams have slotted him. Murray still needs a lot of seasoning. He’s a scorer, but his shooting percentage needs to improve, especially from 3-point range. He’s been described as a gamble worth taking later in the first round.
* Denzel Valentine, shooting guard, Michigan State, 6-5, 220 — Some reports have Valentine’s stock falling, primarily because of a knee issue, which suggests he could be there for the Pacers, the question becomes does Indiana want to add another shooting guard in addition to Monta Ellis? Valentine averaged 19.2 points as a senior, including 44.4 percent from 3-point range. There’s no doubt he can shoot and has decent size for a backcourt player.
* Malik Beasley, shooting guard, Florida State, 6-4, 190 — Although all the previous comments about taking a shooting guard apply, Beasley is a 19-year-old shooter with range, an explosive leaper with ideal athleticism to run the floor. Some will suggest he needs to bulk up a bit, but he showed an ability finish strong at the rim. How much of a defender he can become is a question.
* Malachi Richardson, shooting guard, Syracuse, 6-6, 200 — He showed solid shooting touch during workouts and is regarded as a ruthless competitor from his one season in college. He impressed scouts by scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half of an Elite Eight matchup against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament. Richardson has an explosive first step to go with the range as a shooter.
* Demetrius Jackson, point guard, Notre Dame, 6-1, 194 — If Bird favors a point guard who pushes tempo and is fast, Jackson could be a surprise selection to back up Teague. He was excellent in workouts, which presumably raised his NBA stock. He averaged 15.8 points and 4.7 assists for the Fighting Irish. He shot 45.1 percent overall, but just 33.1 percent from 3-point range, but his game is creating off the dribble and breaking down defenses with his quickness.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.