How close are the Indiana Pacers to earning a spot in the postseason?
Guard Tyrese Haliburton again proved to be a bright spot on Indiana’s roster, averaging a double-double in 56 games started and played for the Pacers. The duo of Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin placed first and fourth on the roster in points per game with 20.7 and 16.7, respectively, with Mathurin racking up as many as 32 points in an October matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
Both Haliburton and Mathurin will remain under contract for the Pacers in the 2023-24 season, according to Spotrac. Center Myles Turner, guard Buddy Hield and center Daniel Theis have the highest cap figures on next year’s roster. Turner is set to make $20.98 million after signing an extension with the Pacers in January.
Along with the projected No. 7 pick, the Pacers possess the No. 26 and No. 29 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, giving plenty of room for Indiana to find a sleeper in the draft.
Who will be a sleeper prospect the Pacers should watch for in the 2023 NBA Draft? And will they be able to find their way onto the roster next season?
Pacers’ Sleeper Prospect: Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA
A former 4-star prospect out of Camarillo, Calif., Jaquez initially chose UCLA over offers from Georgetown, Illinois, Memphis, Oregon State, Stanford, USC and Utah, among others, according to 247Sports. The 6-foot-7-inch guard played in 134 games and started in 126 for the Bruins over his 4-year career, averaging 13.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and two assists in an average of 31.4 minutes per contest.
UCLA ended its 2022-23 campaign with an overall record of 31-6 and an 18-2 record against conference opponents. He scored 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds when the Bruins faced off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Sweet 16 of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, hitting 12 of his 25 shot attempts and one of his three tries from the 3-point line.
Though he won’t be the focal point of a UCLA offense that took second place in the Pac-12 with 73.9 points per game, he can still find an important role on the Pacers’ up-and-coming roster.
The 2022-23 Pac-12 Player of the Year told ESPN NBA Draft expert Jonathan Givony he knew he would be asked to play a different role in the NBA than how he was used in UCLA’s offense in April.
“It’s going to be a smooth transition because I know how to play with other great players, whether it’s defending the other team’s best player, knocking down open shots, or being a playmaker and facilitator,” Jaquez said. “I’m an underrated passer. I believe in my shooting and the work I put in. I know I can shoot the ball. I’ll do whatever, as long as we win.”
The Pacers could only benefit from having a player who can provide a scoring and playmaking punch off the bench with their later picks. Indiana placed 10th in the NBA with 116.3 points per game, but ended the 2022-23 season with a 113.8 offensive rating, a number that would put them on pace with the New Orleans Pelicans. Its 27 assists per game, which put it in sixth place in the league, will only be amplified with Jaquez on the bench.
The Pacers will be better positioned to pick a prospect like Jaquez — who sits at No. 42 on ClutchPoints’ first 2023 NBA Draft Big Board — if they can cover some of their more significant needs on the boards and add extra size in the frontcourt with their earlier picks. Should the Pacers take Houston forward Jarace Walker at No. 7, or if a center like Duke’s Dereck Lively were to slip to Indiana at No. 26, the Pacers would be able to strengthen a bench unit with an offensive rating of 61.3, good enough for second in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Clippers.