The Indiana Pacers, despite posting a stronger-than-expected 2022-23 campaign, are currently in free-fall. Before Tyrese Haliburton went down with knee and elbow injuries against the New York Knicks on January 11, the Pacers were comfortably in an outright playoff spot with a 23-18 record. They have gone 1-10 since (including the Knicks loss), which goes to show just how valuable Haliburton is to the Pacers’ quest to jump from rebuilders to playoff contenders.
This horrid stretch may have changed the Pacers’ trade deadline plans. By how much, however, that remains unclear. They recently agreed to a contract extension with Myles Turner, effectively taking him out of the trade block. Thus, the popular fake trade sending Turner and Buddy Hield to the Los Angeles Lakers may end up being nothing more than the stuff of dreams.
Nevertheless, if anything has become clear amid Tyrese Haliburton’s absence, it’s that the Pacers need far more pieces than they currently have if they were to make some noise in the postseason soon enough. TJ McConnell may be putting up gaudy stats in Haliburton’s stead, but there’s no denying anymore just how much Haliburton’s control over the pace of the game elevates his teammates’ play.
However, a pressing question remains. Just how far are the Pacers out of true playoff status? Haliburton mentioned that the Pacers’ goal is to emulate the Memphis Grizzlies’ trajectory. But could the Pacers deviate from that model and add an impact player, like OG Anunoby, via trade, to expedite their contending timeline?
If so, here’s the perfect offer the Pacers must make the Toronto Raptors for OG Anunoby, with the 25-year old forward becoming increasingly available the closer we move towards the February 9 NBA Trade Deadline.
Pacers trade Goga Bitadze, Chris Duarte, 2023 CLE first-round pick, 2023 BOS first-round pick, lottery-protected 2024 IND first-round pick to the Raptors for OG Anunoby
The Raptors’ price for OG Anunoby won’t come down, as much as other rival executives and fans hope it would. Anunoby may not be a transformative piece on offense, but his perimeter defense will be a boon to any team looking to shore up their ability to defend. In fact, Anunoby is such an elite defender that he has been receiving some shouts for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Pacers’ defense definitely needs some help. Following their horrid past few weeks, they have fallen all the way to 24th in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, and that’s with an elite rim protector such as Myles Turner protecting the paint.
Simply put, the Pacers need to bolster their ability to guard the perimeter, and there’s no one available for trade that’s more equipped to help in that department than OG Anunoby.
The Pacers most certainly have a glut of wings in their roster, namely Buddy Hield, Bennedict Mathurin, Chris Duarte, and even Aaron Nesmith. But none of those players are even remotely close to being as impactful as Anunoby is on defense. Indiana lacks a true perimeter defensive anchor, which, at times, leaves Myles Turner hung out to dry.
However, it’s unclear whether the Pacers are in position to be making moves that sees them give up draft assets, not acquire them in return. They may currently be in a feel-good position relative to preseason expectations, but there are no guarantees that they continue to progress in an upward trajectory in a linear fashion. Thus, it may be best for them to grow organically, develop their young guns such as Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, and add more young prospects with three first-round picks in the upcoming draft.
Even then, it’s difficult enough to land a solid rotation player with a late first-round pick, like the Pacers have with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics’ 2023 first-rounders; how much more difficult is it to land a player as talented as OG Anunoby that late?
(Yes, the Raptors drafted Anunoby with the 23rd overall pick in 2017, but the draft is a crapshoot. For reference, the 23rd picks in the following draft are as follows: Aaron Holiday, Darius Bazley, Leandro Bolmaro, Usman Garuba, and David Roddy. Some of those are already rotation pieces, with room to grow to spare, but they hardly have the impact Anunoby has had.)
Moreover, it’s not like the Pacers are giving up a ton in this scenario. Losing Chris Duarte, the 13th overall pick in 2021, may hurt, but his sophomore season has tanked his stock considerably, what with his efficiency woes. He’s also already 25 years old – an advanced age for a player in only his second season. Thus, Indiana should be more than willing to part ways with him.
The Pacers’ 2024 first-rounder could end up being valuable, but that is why it will only convey if the pick ends up within the lottery.
At the end of the day, the Pacers may be at a crossroads, but there might not be a better time for them to take a leap of faith than the present.