At the time of this year’s NBA draft, the Indiana Pacers had barely begun what would become a dramatic offseason transformation.
The franchise openly wanted to move away from their brand of defense-first dinosaur ball to a modern pace-driven, small-ball squad, but their payroll was still tethered to the huge contracts of big bodies like Roy Hibbert and David West, both of whom had expensive player options for 2015-16 that seemingly impeded Indiana’s ability to switch up their strategy.
That perception changed as soon as the Pacers drafted Myles Turner with the 11th overall pick. The selection of a long-range-shooting, shot-blocking, 19-year-old center clearly signaled that Indiana had no intention of accommodating Hibbert, the man who had been the foundation of their defensive gameplan, and every intention of moving forward with their new plan regardless of his status. Sure enough, the Pacers soon shipped Hibbert to LA for chump change while West was long gone and chasing a championship in San Antonio. The deed was done.
During the second-round, Indiana doubled down and drafted another intriguing player whose defensive drawbacks might have prevented the Pacers from even considering him during recent years: Oregon’s Joe Young, an undersized combo guard who’s pretty much all offense, no defense.
Turner may have been the biggest, most notable piece of Indiana’s transformative youth movement, but the drafting of Young also shows how dramatically the team’s objective has changed, especially since Indiana awarded the 23-year-old with a guaranteed contract that essentially amounts to that of a late first-round pick, not a mid-second-rounder.
Clearly, the Pacers are committed to an exhaustive roster rebuild and understand that part of that requires developing young players who can fit in their new system. They’re forgoing a contingency plan based around what they’ve known and instead making short- and long-term accommodations for their shift in strategy.
In Young, they may have found a guy who is capable of aiding that plan both now and later.
Young has already made an impression around the league, albeit due to his impressive-but-fleeting summer league performance, when he dominated in Orlando and led that league in scoring by a wide margin. Following a shaky debut, Young went off in his next three games and averaged 22.5 points per game on 51/45 percent shooting splits by the end of the Orlando session.
The former four-year player at Oregon looked like he hadn’t missed a beat since leaving the Ducks. He operated smoothly handling the ball in pick-and-roll situations as well in transition. When he wasn’t finding shots for himself, he was finding shots for others, and in general making the right decisions. From an athletic standpoint, Young demonstrated tremendous quickness and agility, plus some unexpected explosiveness for a small guy with such a lean frame.
Now comes the next challenge for Young: making the team. Second-round picks always face an uphill battle to secure a roster spot, and Indiana already has a bevy of guards in its backcourt, which includes George Hill, Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, and C.J. Miles. Thankfully for Young, he doesn’t have to disrupt that rotation in order to make the team, only prove that he can hang with that group.
Encouraging performances aside, the summer league is just a stepping stone, one where the level of play is weaker on both an individual and team basis. Guys aren’t as big, strong, or long as rotation NBA players, which makes projecting even successful showings into regular season results nearly impossible. Considering his utter lack of size and defensive deficiencies, there’s still a chance Young could crash and burn during training camp in such a way that Indiana cuts ties with him or sends him straight to the D-League to toil away.
That’s why the Pacers signed Toney Douglas, as an insurance policy and training camp competitor. Indiana fans are hoping his role will remain so limited and temporary.
Considering the guaranteed contract Indiana awarded him––as well as the team’s recent purchase of an exclusive D-League affiliate––his chances of being involved with this year’s squad feel strong, even if he’s not part of the rotation or does spend some time developing on the newly acquired Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBDL.
The Pacers are hoping Young can become the next Nate Robinson or Isaiah Thomas, a guy who can become a sparkplug off the bench, someone capable of filling it up and picking up a team’s offense when it’s dragging. He already has that type of prodigious offensive ability, and if he translates that to an NBA level, he would probably become Indiana’s most well-rounded offensive threat, a combo guard who can effectively score in every possible way without turning the ball over.
That might sound ridiculous, especially considering Indiana’s current group of perimeter talent, but that’s how good Young could be on offense. It’s why the Pacers have been so willing to look past his defense, and why they gave a second-round pick a first-round-style contract.
Indiana’s entire offseason has been based around finding more offense, and despite being a second-round pick, Young could wind up being one of their most exciting additions. His all-around offensive abilities are obvious, and if he can adjust to the size or speed of the NBA, he could become an immediate backup in the Pacers’ crowded backcourt, perhaps an emergency scorer during moments when the struggle gets real on that end of the floor.
No matter what happens initially, Young has a great opportunity with Indiana, since the team seems ready to give him a chance for niche success right away, but also willing to be patient and allow time for his development. That’s exciting when you’re talking about a scorer of Young’s caliber, especially in today’s jump-shot-crazy NBA.
In making their transition this offseason, the Pacers’ front office has left no area unaddressed. Changes this massive require that type of meticulous attention to maximize the potential for success, since unfamiliarity means contributors can emerge from unexpected places, perhaps even an end-of-roster second-rounder who can shoot the lights out––perhaps Joe Young.