The Indiana Pacers added some depth to their frontcourt last week, signing former New York Knicks and Washington Wizards center Kevin Seraphin to a two-year, $3.6 million contract, per Shams Charania of The Vertical. The second year of the deal is a team option.
Last year, the Pacers had Ian Mahinmi, Myles Turner, Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill capable of playing the center spot. This offseason, they lost Mahinmi and Hill but had only replaced them with Al Jefferson, leaving them wanting a bit more.
Adding Seraphin — assuming he makes the final roster — gives the team some much-needed security at that position. Turner is still just 20 years old and a first-time starting center, while Jefferson is 31 and has missed significant portions of each of the last two seasons with injuries. Although Indiana also added Thaddeus Young, Jeremy Evans and Georges Niang to their frontcourt, none of them can effectively play center.
Seraphin is capable of that, but exactly how capable remains to be seen. A few years ago, he was viewed as a promising young big man with the Wizards, but things did not pan out that way. He could never carve out a significant niche behind Nene and Marcin Gortat, and after leaving Washington last offseason, he signed with the Knicks on a one-year deal.
In New York, despite a new opportunity, Seraphin put together arguably the worst season of his career. He shot a career-low 41 percent from the field and struggled to finish inside, which was unusual, since efficient inside shooting had long been his most consistent skill. The mid-range jumper he had developed during his final year in Washington disappeared as well. As a result, he struggled to find minutes and played in only 48 games.
Other parts of Seraphin’s game improved with the Knicks, if only marginally. He clearly made more of an effort to be a passer — nearly doubling his assists per 36 from 1.7 to 3.2, per Basketball Reference — but he needs to make more significant improvements to garner respect as a passing threat.
The Pacers have an offensive threat off the bench at center in Jefferson, so they’ll probably be counting more on Seraphin to give them a defensive presence off the bench. Defense has received only passing rhetoric as Indiana has remade its squad in a “pace-and-space” mold the last two offseasons, but Seraphin definitely addresses a need at that end of the floor.
While the sample size is relatively small, Seraphin was effective defending the rim last season: according to SportVU, opponents shot just 42 percent on three attempts per game against him, a respectable number for a reserve. During his final season in Washington, Bullets Forever noted that Seraphin had adopted verticality with great success, and that rim protection was one area where he had actually shown growth. Comparatively, Seraphin is one of the more competent defensive bigs on the Pacers’ current roster.
Indiana now has 16 players with guaranteed contracts, so they’ll have to make a cut prior to the start of the season if they decide to keep Seraphin. The most likely candidates include Rakeem Christmas, Glenn Robinson III, Joe Young, Evans or Niang. Christmas, Robinson, Young and Niang are all young players who might not be ready to contribute effective minutes in the NBA, while the Dallas Mavericks basically overpaid the Pacers to take Evans off their hands, and cutting him would cost Indiana very little.
Seraphin projects as the third-string center right now behind Turner and Jefferson; an emergency big should anything happen to that pair. At power forward, Thad Young will start, Allen will back him up and Paul George/C.J. Miles will probably pick up some minute scraps against smaller lineups.
That doesn’t leave many minutes for Christmas, Evans or Niang in the frontcourt, so cutting one of them seems like Indiana’s most likely move. Once again, Evans seems like the most likely guy to go, since Christmas and Niang are both young players in development. The former spent all of last season with the Pacers’ D-League team, and Niang could become be the most capable inside-outside stretch 4 on their roster. However, the Seraphin move shows that Indiana’s front office has its eye on guys who can give this team 15 minutes in a pinch, and neither Christmas nor Niang has shown any inclination toward being capable of that yet.
Clearly, the battles for frontcourt positions during training camp will be competitive, and they could get even more so if the Pacers’ rumored interest in free agent power forward Carl Landry is consummated. These moves suggest that Indiana’s front office is not satisfied with the current makeup of its frontcourt and is willing to look past its incumbent members for help if necessary.
For right now, Seraphin’s ability to play center — plus his potential two-year contract — suggest that he’ll be kept on as an emergency 5, and that any cut will come at another position. Who that will be could come down to whether Indiana wants to take a chance with its young talent or prefers to have proven veteran commodities at the end of its bench.