Indiana Pacers: Top 10 NBA Draft picks in franchise history
The Indiana Pacers have built some of their best teams primarily through the NBA Draft. Here we feature the team’s top 10 draft picks of all time.
The Indiana Pacers, like every other NBA team, have a roller coaster history with the NBA Draft. The Pacers have made some outstanding choices over the years who didn’t even make our top 10 list.
In 1982, Indiana drafted Clark Kellogg with the eighth overall pick, and he was headed for stardom until knee problems derailed a brilliant start to his pro career (he finished with career averages of 18.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game).
Other quality players drafted by the Pacers who didn’t quite crack the top 10 include Wayman Tisdale (1985), Steve Stipanovich (1983) and Lance Stephenson, who was tabbed late in the second round in 2010.
Indiana has also had some monumental draft busts during their history in the NBA. George McCloud was chosen seventh overall in 1989 after being hailed “the next Magic Johnson,” but he was a huge disappointment during his four seasons in Indiana.
Other Pacers draft flops include Rick Robey (1978), Tyler Hansbrough (2009), Shawne Williams (2006) and Scott Haskin, who was picked No. 14 overall in 1993, but barely saw the floor before suffering a career-ending injury during his rookie season.
Our criteria for this list takes into account each player’s productivity while playing for Indiana, and their contributions relative to their draft position. Let’s begin our countdown of the Pacers’ all-time best NBA draft picks.
10. Vern Fleming (PG) – No. 18 pick in 1984 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 816 GP, 11.7 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 2.1 TOV, 50.3 FG%, 19.2 3P%, 76.5 FT%
Vern Fleming did not enter the NBA with the fanfare of a high lottery pick, but the Pacers thought enough of him to invest their first round pick (No. 18) in him, despite his flaws.
The primary deficiency in Vern Fleming’s game was that he came into pro basketball without an outside shot. When he did attempt to score from long range, both his form and accuracy left much to be desired.
Fleming was good at getting to the basket off the dribble, and he was a good defensive player. He also had a calm, poised demeanor that served him well during his NBA career.
Fleming was a 6-foot-5 point guard who was a solid passer and effective rebounder for a guard. He also managed to improve his outside shooting enough that he could eventually hit the open shot when the opportunity arose.
The steady, dependable guard from New York spent 11 seasons in a Pacers uniform, providing production as a starter and giving the team a reliable option off the bench later in his career.
Indiana got a lot in return by using their 18th pick on Vern Fleming in 1984, making him one of the better draft picks the team has made since joining the NBA in 1976.
9. Herb Williams (PF/C) – No. 14 pick in 1981 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 577 GP, 15.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.9 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 2.5 TOV, 47.6 FG%, 70.6 FT%
Herb Williams was a power forward/center from Ohio State who enjoyed a long and productive career in the NBA, and it all started when the Pacers made him the 14th pick in the 1981 NBA Draft.
Williams was a skilled big man, but he didn’t possess great athleticism, which allowed Indiana to take a chance on him as he fell outside the top 10 that year.
Williams could score in the post, and had a nice midrange shot. He was a solid rebounder, and despite not being a great leaper, he was a very effective shot-blocker.
The 6-foot-10, 242-pound frontcourt player from the state of Ohio played eight years for Indiana, and even when he was traded, he found a way to contribute further to the Pacers franchise.
After his time in Indiana, Herb Williams went on to play 10 more seasons in the NBA, retiring at the age of 41 — not bad for a guy who many pundits thought was too slow and awkward to make a mark at the pro level.
8. Al Harrington (PF) – No. 25 pick in 1998 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 390 GP, 10.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 1.8 TOV, 45.1 FG%, 33.8 3P%, 73.3 FT%
Al Harrington was the first high school player ever drafted by Indiana, and the team received a nice return by taking a gamble on the 18-year-old from New Jersey back in 1998.
Upon being drafted, Harrington joined a veteran-laden Pacers team, so he was brought along slowly by his first NBA coach, Larry Bird. Harrington made steady progress and became a key player for Indiana during his time there.
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“Baby Al” made his name in the NBA primarily as a scorer. He had a variety of moves around the basket and became a much better three-point shooter after spending a few years in the league.
Harrington entered the NBA as a very young and very raw prospect, found his niche, and ended up having a career in the NBA that lasted for 16 years.
Some players make it in the NBA because they can contribute in a variety of ways, and some specialize in one area and become good enough at that single skill to remain in the league for a long time.
Al Harrington wasn’t a great rebounder, passer or defender, but he could flat-out score — and that led to a terrific career for a guy who was drafted near the end of the first round.
7. Rik Smits (C) – No. 2 pick in 1988 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 867 GP, 14.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.4 SPG, 1.8 TOV 50.7 FG%, 77.3 FG%
Back in 1988, most basketball fans had never even heard of Rik Smits. Smits played for tiny Marist College, so his productivity and height (7’4″) were not enough to garner him much attention in the pre-internet age.
The Indiana Pacers used the secnd overall pick in the draft that year on Smits, insisting at the time that he was not a long-term project, but a player who would succeed in the NBA after a short time in pro basketball.
Smits was initially supposed to be a backup and learn from veteran center Steve Stipanovich, but those plans had to be altered when Stipanovich was not able to recover from a degenerative knee condition.
Rik Smits was thrown into the fire early, and acquitted himself very well. Smits had excellent post skills and also possessed a nice mirdange shooting touch.
The big man from the Netherlands certainly had his limitations as well — he was not very athletic, and he was below-average as a rebounder and shot-blocker for someone so tall.
Despite those shortcomings, Rik Smits was among the best centers of his era, even making the NBA All-Star team in 1998 when there were several other outstanding centers playing in the Eastern Conference at the time.
Many people doubted Rik Smits when he was chosen near the top of the NBA Draft in 1988, but his offensive ability and perseverance made him a very solid draft pick for the Pacers.
6. Dale Davis (PF/C) – No. 13 pick in 1991 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 671 GP, 9.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.2 TOV, 54.3 FG%, 53.1 FT%
Going into the 1991 NBA Draft, the Pacers were looking to add defense, rebounding and toughness to their lineup — and they found all three when they chose power forward/center Dale Davis from Clemson.
Davis was offensively-challenged, but he brought a lot to the table despite that. He set the tone for Indiana’s teams of the 1990s, balancing the shooting prowess of Reggie Miller with the intangibles that all winning teams need.
On the offensive end of the court, Dale Davis was a screen-setter and a finisher off the lob, but he never developed post moves or a midrange shot to speak of.
What Dale Davis did do was what made him special. He was fierce on the glass, and he was a physical defensive player and a good shot-blocker.
Davis was a perfect complement to a player like Rik Smits, who was a skilled offensive player, but was lacking in most of the areas in which Dale Davis excelled.
Many observers at the time felt that Indiana “reached” by choosing a non-scorer like Davis with the 13th overall pick, but “D-Squared” proved to everyone just how valuable a tough blue collar player could be to an NBA team.
5. Antonio Davis (PF/C) – No. 45 pick in 1990 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 420 GP, 9.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 0.7 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.3 TOV, 48.2 FG%, 68.2 FT%
The other half of the “Davis Boys” was drafted one year ahead of Dale, but Antonio spent three years playing overseas before joining the Pacers in 1993.
In comparing the two players, Antonio Davis wasn’t with Indiana as long as Dale Davis was, and Dale was a marginally more productive player than Antonio during their time in Indiana.
However, Antonio was a late second round pick (No. 45 overall), while Dale was taken 13th overall one year later — thus the decision to place Antonio one spot above Dale in these rankings.
Antonio Davis contributed to the Pacers’ reputation as a physically and mentally tough club, but there were also more tangible qualities to his game. Davis could score around the hoop and had a pretty solid midrange shot, and he was a good rebounder.
Antonio and Dale complemented each other well: Antonio was a better offensive player, while Dale was a bit stronger defensively and on the boards. Antonio Davis flourished even more after he was dealt to the Toronto Raptors and became a full-time starter, making the NBA All-Star team in 2001.
Davis is a prime example of a guy who came into the NBA with very low expectations, worked hard, and made himself valuable to the Indiana Pacers and every other team he played for.
4. Chuck Person (SF) – No. 4 pick in 1986 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 479 GP, 19.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 2.7 TOV, 48.1 FG%, 35.0 3P%, 73.9 FT%
Chuck Person was a wanted man in 1986 after a stellar college career at Auburn University, and in order to secure his services, the Pacers had to keep their interest in the 6-foot-8 forward a secret.
Indiana put the word out that they were going to draft a center with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, so the team with the fifth choice, the New York Knicks, felt comfortable staying put and choosing Person when their turn came.
However, the Pacers wanted Chuck Person all along, and they got him. The Knicks went with their backup plan and tabbed Kentucky’s Kenny “Sky” Walker with their choice, and that didn’t turn out so well.
While Chuck Person was known as a deadly shooter/scorer, he was actually a good all-around player. He rebounded well for a small forward, and he was underrated as a passer.
Person was not only a highly-productive player, he was a fierce competitor. Person and Larry Bird has some classic one-on-one playoff battles during the 1990s that helped raise the profile of both Person and the Indiana Pacers.
Chuck Person was expected to be an impact player in the NBA, and he delivered. He had a long and successful career in pro basketball, and as it turned out, he was worth the shenanigans that Indiana had to employ to draft him in 1986.
3. Danny Granger (SF) – No. 17 pick in 2005 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 544 GP, 17.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 2.0 TOV, 43.5 FG%, 38.2 3P%, 84.9 FT%
Danny Granger was a hot prospect coming into the 2005 NBA Draft, as he was expected to go in the top 10; perhaps in the top five. But, there was one major concern about the 6-foot-9 forward from the University of New Mexico.
Granger was recovering from a knee injury, and some NBA teams were very concerned that this would hamper his pro basketball career — perhaps even prevent him from having one.
Due to this issue, Danny Granger was still on the board when the Indiana Pacers were on the clock at No. 17, and they were more than happy to take a chance on Granger.
The knee problem turned out to be a very temporary setback early on, and Granger quickly showed why he was once considered a top-five draft talent.
Granger could score on the drive, from midrange, and from beyond the three-point line. He peaked statistically in 2008-09, averaging 25.8 points per game on 40 percent three-point shooting.
Danny Granger was an outstanding scorer, and a quiet but effective leader during his nine seasons in Indiana. Considering he was chosen 17th overall, Granger has to be considered one of the best Pacers draft picks of all time.
2. Paul George (SF) – No. 10 pick in 2010 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 448 GP, 18.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 2.5 TOV, 43.2 FG%, 37.0 3P%, 85.0 FT%
When it was announced that the Pacers were taking Paul George from Fresno State with their first round pick in 2010, most fans in Indiana had never even heard of the 6’9″ forward.
George embarked on a steady but fast rise, becoming an NBA All-Star by his third season in the league. He went from unknown commodity to face of the franchise in a very short time; he is considered by some to be a superstar in today’s NBA.
Paul George has a well-rounded game on both sides of the floor. He is a dynamic scorer offensively and a very good defender as well.
George has become a complete player, but as the Pacers’ lone star, he is now being asked to make others around him better — a difficult task that is currently a work in progress.
There is a great deal of speculation right now about Paul George’s future, as he can become a free agent next summer. Whether he leaves Indiana or not, his legacy as a Pacer has been chiseled.
Paul George is arguably the most talented player to ever put on a Pacers NBA uniform, and he was also secured with a relatively low draft pick (10th overall). This combination of ability and value is nearly unmatched in Indiana Pacers history.
1. Reggie Miller (SG) – No. 11 pick in 1987 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Pacers): 1,389 GP, 18.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.7 TOV, 47.1 FG%, 39.5 3P%, 88.8 FT%
The addition of UCLA guard Reggie Miller in the 1987 NBA Draft was initially met with disdain by Pacers Nation, but Miller proved to be worth far more than anyone could have anticipated at the time.
Many basketball fans in the state of Indiana wanted the Pacers to draft local hero Steve Alford from New Castle and Indiana University, but those hopes were crushed despite Alford’s availability when Indiana chose Miller with its first round pick.
Reggie Miller went on to play 18 seasons for the Pacers, and he solidified himself as one of the best clutch shooters the NBA has ever seen.
Miller’s numbers were impressive, but his crunch-time playoff performances are what elevated him to Hall of Fame status (he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012).
The five-time NBA All-Star currently works for TNT as an NBA analyst, so his association with the game has continued beyond his retirement as a player in 2005.
So what became of Steve Alford you ask? Alford was primarily a deep bench player during his four NBA seasons before beginning a successful college coaching career in 1991.
History would have been changed had Indiana succumbed to the pressure to draft Alford over Reggie Miller in 1987. Fortunately for Pacers fans, general manager Donnie Walsh decided to make a very unpopular move that turned into pure gold.
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