The Indiana Pacers were close, but not quite there yet.
Indiana finished a record of 35-47, good enough to put them in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and five games behind a division rival in the Chicago Bulls for a spot in the Play-In tournament.
The Pacers’ most significant need will likely be a starting power forward who can pair with center Myles Turner and provide more size to a lineup that features a bright young duo in Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin. But, should Indiana use the selection to take a player like forward Jarace Walker, Indiana may be able to take care of other needs with diamond-in-the-rough prospects in the first round.
Duke center Dereck Lively may be able to provide at least a few immediate answers for the Pacers before the start of free agency. How will he impact this Indiana squad? And will it be enough to bring it back into playoff contention?
Indiana’s division rival, the Cleveland Cavaliers, ultimately fell to the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs in five games, largely because they could not control the battle on the boards.
Mobley and center Jarrett Allen combined for 13 rebounds in a 106-95 loss to the Knicks in Game 5, following up the 11 combined rebounds they hauled down the game before.
“I feel like we just didn’t really play with the grit we needed to play with and the urgency we needed to play with all the way through down the stretch,” Mobley said after Game 4, via Bally Sports Ohio. “I feel like we turned the ball over early, and that got them going.
“We just have to protect the ball a little more and make better plays.”
Indiana averaged 41.5 total and 31.4 defensive boards per contest last season, good enough for 24th in the league in both categories. If they are going to try to compete for a playoff spot, they will need to add more reliable rebounders on top of players who can provide more size on the interior.
Center Myles Turner signed a 2-year, $60 million contract extension in January, locking down the former 1st-round pick out of Texas until 2025.
“It’s everything to me. I’m so glad I was able to stay here and come to the city that fully embraced me since I’ve been here,” Turner said in April. “I’m just hoping to build for years to come. It’s a great place to be, especially for hoops. I’m at home.”
Boosting the Pacers’ interior defense
Lively could be a reliable option as a backup center for the Pacers. He can work off the bench to provide a solid interior presence for a team that allowed 53.7 points in the paint and 15.4 second-chance points allowed per game, good enough for 27th and 29th in the NBA.
He ended the 2022-23 campaign with averages of 5.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in 34 games and 27 starts. His season was highlighted by multiple matchups where he showed his worth with a multitude of rebounds and swatted shots.
Duke head coach Jon Scheyer spoke on Lively’s unselfish play and how his play style made him a crucial part of the Blue Devils’ rotation in February.
“And so for him it’s, usually bigs are so hungry to score, that’s not necessarily the most efficient play or the best play,” Scheyer said, via On3 National News Desk writer Kaiden Smith. “For him he’s all about the team, he’s all about winning, and the impact that he has on defense, besides the blocked shots.”
Lively ended a close contest between Duke and the North Carolina Tar Heels with 14 rebounds and eight blocks. He grabbed nine boards on defense as the Blue Devils earned a 63-57 victory over UNC in February.
“I would like to look back on the film, he had eight blocked shots, which I was told was the most even in a Duke Carolina game,” Scheyer said, via On3. “But also the shots he changes just by being around the basket and then he had some big plays where just switching, so he’s staying in front of their guards who are really good.
“It just speaks to the versatility that he has.”
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