To say Kevin Pritchard had a whirlwind of activity on draft night Thursday is to say that Dorothy got caught up in a light breeze on a calm Kansas evening. Normally that kind of capacity for understatement is reserved for British political leaders in the midst of a war.
No, what Kevin Pritchard did was a full-scale, F5 tornado whirlwind of activity that saw the Pacers acquire a known commodity (T.J. Warren, one of those guys I love to watch play because when his shot starts falling he scores a lot of points in not a lot of time) for absolute peanuts, draft a guy who could be Nikola Jokic or he could be Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Goga Bitadze, and let the puns begin with a name like that!), and end up with enough future second-rounders to ensure a G-League championship for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in five years.
Let’s break down what on earth just happened here.
The Warren Trade
The Pacers got Warren for almost literally nothing—“cash considerations” and taking Warren’s roughly $11 million cap hit off the Suns’ hands. Considering the state of the NBA market for decent-shooting wing players, even those like Warren who can’t play a lick of defense, this is a huge win, and honestly the best the Pacers could hope for in a small market in a post-Thaddeus Young world.
The bigger question is where he’s going to fit into the Pacers’ plans where regards the oft-talked-about use of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner in a stretch 4/stretch 5 lineup, especially since coach Nate McMillan wouldn’t know a stretched floor if you stuck him in a rubber room and tied each end to opposite-moving 18-wheelers.
But this is not a Fire Nate article. Anyone who reads this publication on even the semi-regular knows that “fire Nate” would be the best possible move the Pacers could make for their offensive production.
The point is, Warren is coming off a season where he shot 42.8 percent from three-point land, put up an eFG% of .549, a TS% of .580, and .074 WS/48 on an absolutely dreadful Suns team.
He might immediately get injured. But if he stays healthy, he, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Victor Oladipo could be the catalysts of a lineup capable of playing the same kind of small ball that just went to five straight NBA Finals out in Oakland.
Except Nate McMillan is the coach, so that won’t happen, but…ugh. This is NOT a Fire Nate article. Patience, Fox…breathe…
Goga Power Rangers
Bitadze is a 19-year-old who shares a home country with one of the most infamous draft busts of the Dark Ages (Tskitishvili was drafted fifth overall by Denver in 2002 and, in 172 games across parts of four seasons, played for four teams, had just 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, and posted negative Win Shares and minus-2.1 VORP in 1,946 career minutes.)
Bitadze is the sixth NBA player—assuming of course that he suits up and plays, but as the first-round pick that’s all but assured—from Georgia. Tskitishvili is the famous bust. ZAZA BREAK BAD MAN—ahem, Zaza Pachulia—is the most successful. Bitadze is probably better than both.
Not much is known about the guy, since Tblisi isn’t exactly Barcelona or Vilnius or Belgrade as far as NBA scouts are concerned, but a rangy big man with a three-point stroke and equally good touch at the rim and nose for the ball off the glass? There’s talk that Bitazde’s ceiling is Nikola Jokic, and if you thought the Pacers’ center controversy was bad with Turner and Sabonis, wait until Bitadze breaks out and something has to be done about Turner’s contract in particular.
Pritchard just stared down “draft based on need”, held “draft the best available player” up like an ax, and chopped draft-based-on-need’s head off.
The biggest question now might be not if the Pacers can get point guard help as free agency approaches, but just exactly how they intend to do it.
Turner’s not being traded anytime soon—he should’ve won Defensive Player of the Year, so it’s not like the Pacers intentionally drafted his replacement.
Sabonis, meanwhile…the real problem with Sabonis is less about what you can get for him and more about making the salaries work, since quality NBA point guards won’t match Domas’ $3.53 million salary in the final year of his rookie deal.
But the big point here is that the Pacers have too many big men, not enough small men, and a thorny salary cap problem reconciling the one with the other.
All Those Second-Rounders
Indiana got the 32nd pick in the Warren trade, then flipped it to Miami for three future second-rounders. They swapped the 50th pick for another future second-rounder, this one from the Utah Jazz.
Given the Pacers’ track record, none of those second-round picks will see a minute of NBA action anyway outside of garbage time—Nate is not the type of coach to develop young talent since he likes to play the main rotation players 46 minutes even in blowout wins, so even if the next Draymond Green or Manu Ginobili lands in Pritchard’s lap, it won’t amount to much since the guy—whoever he is—will just rot in Fort Wayne.
Man…I do not know quite how to grade the Pacers’ draft. On the one hand, they managed to trade for a known commodity—my biggest wish for Indiana every year, since I’m extremely skeptical of the logic behind giving a guaranteed contract to any player taken in the first round outside the lottery on account of for every Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo there are 10 Sergey Karasev types—and I love Warren as a fit in any modern offense.
On the other hand, they drafted another big man—and a wild gamble of a foreign player with a high ceiling and a low floor—when they already have a glut of them, did nothing to solve the point guard problem, built a roster that’s ill-suited for the guy coaching it, and left a lot of questions of whether Pritchard’s got as much of a case of Scott-Hollins Syndrome as his coach.
This could be great. It could be a monumental disaster. And I for one am just plain not convinced by any of it.