When a team has as much talent on paper as the Indiana Pacers but misses the NBA Playoffs behind a 35-47 record as the Pacers did this past season, there's usually an elephant in the room that's as difficult to ignore as it is to overcome.
Theirs was perimeter defense.
Tyrese Haliburton has demonstrated his worth since entering the league. However, the 2023 All-Star reserve has had struggles on the defensive end. He notably needs improvement at the point-of-attack and in the pick-and-roll.
Though Hield has added muscle to help him guard larger players, he's been a subpar defender throughout his career because of his unimpressive physical tools. A similar case has been made about Chris Duarte. A solid defender because of his effort and athleticism, Duarte lacks ideal positional versatility as a 190-pound wing.
On the flip side, 2023 Rookie of the Year finalist Bennedict Mathurin has all the tools necessary to be a high-quality multi-positional defender. However, he needs to improve his technique and focus.
Then there's combo Jordan Nwora. Nwora has great size for his position. Unfortunately, he lacks ideal lateral agility and is better suited as an interior defender.
Ultimately, the only reliable on-ball perimeter defenders the team has in their rotation are T.J. McConnell, Aaron Nesmith and Andrew Nembhard.
However, as of this writing, Nesmith, Hield, Nwora and Haliburton are all set to reach free agency in 2024. Most likely, the Pacers will reach a contract extension agreement with Haliburton, a high-level playmaker that's become one of the faces of their franchise. But the futures of Nesmith, Hield and Nwora are a bit murkier.
Fortunately for the Pacers, they have the No. 7 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft after Tuesday's lottery proceedings. That puts them in a prime position to replace one of their perimeter pieces with a younger prospect. Particularly a prospect that can excel defensively, like Overtime Elite guard Ausar Thompson.
The primary reason that the Indiana Pacers need to draft Overtime Elite City Reapers guard Ausar Thompson with the seventh overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft because he may be the best wing defender available in the lottery.
Ausar Thompson's numbers
Extremely athletic with an NBA-ready body at 6-foot-7 and 207 pounds, the 20-year-old averaged 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks in 27.3 minutes per game in the 2022-23 season. Per 40 minutes, Thompson is averaging 23.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. All while shooting 48.1 percent from the field.
Before getting started on what makes him a great fit for the Pacers, it's necessary to acknowledge that he didn't consistently face premier competition at Overtime Elite. However, as Overtime Elite has brought in multiple top-ranked high school recruits since its inception, the commonly held belief that Thompson has only been playing bottom-of-the-barrel players is erroneous.
Secondly, Thompson is not an efficient outside shooter, making just 29.8 percent of his 3s and 66.2 percent of his free-throw attempts in 2022-23.
That said, the opportunity to work with NBA player development coaches could make him a respectable shooter from beyond the arc. Even if he was not though? Multiple players have managed to thrive without being highly efficient 3-point shooters, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant, and Luka Doncic.
Ausar Thompson's skillset
What Thompson is though is talented and cerebral.
Thompson makes a number of plays off-the-dribble for himself and others on the offensive end. He's likely to be the team's best transition threat this side of Bennedict Mathurin because of his combination of size, strength and athleticism.
However, Thompson's also a creative ball-handler and crafty scorer. Thanks to his impressive footwork, court vision, and potential as a jump shooter, he'll do plenty of damage in the halfcourt as well.
Seriously, just put on five minutes of his film. Then try to come away unimpressed.
Barring a trade of one of their top players, Thompson will have to play an auxiliary role offensively as a rookie. However, the Pacers will be relying on Thompson defensively by Day 1.
His timing, length and lateral agility allow him to swallow up would-be scorers whether they're trying to score on the post or inside. Frankly, there might not be any players on the Pacers roster that match what Thompson provides defensively.
Not even McConnell and Nesmith.
Yet, when considering his physical traits and positional versatility, Thompson might end up being better than both of them defensively.
Honestly, if the Pacers had a chance to draft Thompson and they passed, it might go down as one of the worst decisions in franchise history. A prospect with legitimate All-Star potential, he, Haliburton and Mathurin could be the next Big 3 for the Indiana.
In fact, to be completely candid, Thompson has a chance to be the best Pacers player since Paul George.