'A win-now move': Pacers thrilled with acquisition of Pascal Siakam

Dustin Dopirak
Indianapolis Star
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SACRAMENTO -- Myles Turner is one of just two current members of the Pacers who have been to the playoffs in an Indiana uniform (the other is point guard T.J. McConnell). The 27-year-old center and ninth-year pro has been around long enough to know exactly what kind of message the Pacers sent to the league Wednesday when they acquired two-time All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam from the Raptors in exchange for guard Bruce Brown, forward Jordan Nwora and three draft picks.

"Everybody sees this as a win-now move," Turner said after the Pacers' shootaround on Thursday morning before the game against the Kings. "It's an exciting move and a big move at the same time just to have someone who's an All-Star and a 20-point-a-night scorer come into an organization like this, especially one that's building and trying to get to a place that he's been before."

By "a place that he's been before," Turner of course means an NBA title, as Siakam helped the Toronto Raptors claim their first crown in 2018-19. Siakam won Most Improved Player of the Year that season, finishing second in scoring on the Raptors with 16.9 points per game as a critical part of Kawhi Leonard's supporting cast. The following season, Leonard left for the Clippers, but Siakam became the Raptors' top scoring option and has been since. He finished with at least 21 points per game in each of his last four seasons and is averaging 22.2 per game this season. He was named an All-Star twice, first in 2019-20 and then last season. He earned second-team All-NBA honors in 2019-20 and third team in 2021-22.

In that time he's earned the Pacers' respect as one of the best players in the league in part because he's proven to be a tough cover for them. In his last three games against Indiana he's averaging 31 points per game. He scored 36 to go with 10 rebounds and five assists when the Raptors beat the Pacers on Nov. 22.

The 29-year-old Siakam arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday and met with members of the front office, including general manager Chad Buchanan and vice president for basketball operations Ted Wu according to a video post by the Pacers on their X -- formerly Twitter -- account. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said he isn't certain when Siakam will be available, but believes it will happen in time for him to join the team at some point on their current road trip, which includes games at Portland on Friday and Phoenix on Sunday.

"We like him very much," Carlisle said. "Been a long-time admirer. He has some unique skills for the 4 position. I even believe he can play some 3. I know he can play some small ball 5. I've just heard many, many great things about him as a person, as a professional, as a worker, as a teammate. Obviously, he's been named to multiple All-Stars, multiple all-leagues, he's done it at a high level. We think we're getting him at a perfect time in his career."

They certainly seem to be getting him at a perfect time in their ahead-of-schedule rebuild. After missing the postseason entirely the last two seasons, the Pacers currently stand at 23-17 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but are just 1 1/2 games behind the Cavaliers for fourth. Point guard Tyrese Haliburton has established himself as one of the league's brightest young stars, averaging 23.6 points and a league-leading 12.5 assists per game this year after earning his first All-Star nod last season as well as a spot on Team USA for the FIBA World Cup last summer.

He is the only Pacers player who has made an All-Star Game, however, and every team above them in the Eastern Conference standings has at least two All-Star-caliber players. Siakam gives them a player who can do a number of things no one else on the roster can. The 6-8, 230-pounder can score at all three levels and handle the ball better than most players his size. He's averaged at least 4.5 assists in each of the last four seasons including 5.8 last season and 4.9 so far this season.

The Pacers of course have no shortage of scorers. They lead the league in scoring with 125.6 points per game as well as offensive rating at 121.6 points per 100 possessions and field goal percentage at .508. However, their strength is their balance. Including the departing Brown, they have eight players averaging at least 10 points per game this season and three more averaging above 7.0 points per game.

Haliburton, however, is the only player averaging more than 20 points per game. In the four games he's missed with a strained left hamstring, no one has scored 20 points in a game. In three of those games, the Paces had seven players in double figures, but no one with 20. That's not necessarily a problem, but it helps to have a clear No. 2 option who can take some defensive attention away from Haliburton or punish opponents for making too much of a point of trying to take Haliburton away.

"I think that we can flow off each other well," Haliburton said. "He can bring the ball up and handle and I can play off the ball a little bit more with him on the floor. I think obviously there's the pick-and-roll capability. I think getting out on transition off of rebounds. Either one of us can bring the ball up. I think he's a very underrated playmaker."

The Pacers see Siakam as a seamless fit for their style of play. The Pacers rank second in the league in fast-break points per game with 17.3 but the Raptors rank first with 17.8 in part because Siakam can run the floor and finish. According to NBA.com, Siakam ranks 11th in the league in transition points with 5.7 per game and 12th in transition field goals per game with 2.0. He shoots 67.2% from the field in transition, which is the third-highest figure in the league among players with at least 2.0 transition field goal attempts per game, behind only Kevin Durant and former teammate O.G. Anunoby.

"He'll fit right in with our group," Haliburton said. "He plays the way we want to play. He's like fourth in transition field goal percentage and we play in transition better than anybody."

Carlisle expects playing with Haliburton and Turner will unlock his scoring capacity even more. Haliburton, obviously, is as focused on sharing the ball as any other superstar in the league, and Turner's inside-outside game could create opportunities for Siakam. Turner is averaging 17.2 points per game on 52.9% shooting.

Both Turner and Siakam rank in the top 20 in the league in points per game in post-ups -- Siakam is 12th with 2.9 per game and Turner is 20th with 2.3. Turner shoots 62.7% from the field in such situations while Siakam shoots 52.3%. Meanwhile Turner averages 1.3 3-pointers per game while Siakam averages 1.2.

"The fit with Tyrese as a 1-2 punch is something that makes a lot of sense to us and I think to him too," Carlisle said. "I don't think he's played with a true space 5 man in his career yet. That is something that can help give him more space to operate in the lane and the paint, etc. It's an exciting time, no two ways about it."

Turner thinks he'll benefit from having Siakam as well.

"I think we both can open each other's game up," Turner said. "I think teams can't necessarily guard me with smaller guys anymore because you can't guard him with a bigger guy, and vice versa. I think he has some one to space the floor for him so he can have more field to operate and get downhill and that forces someone to help off me and get more open shots. It's a win-win."

He's also an important addition on the defensive end. The Pacers have had major problems stopping power forwards his size with perimeter and post scoring ability. Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best example, posting 64- and 54-point scoring efforts against the Pacers this season. The Lakers' LeBron James, Minnesota's Karl Anthony Towns, Utah's Lauri Markkanen, Boston's Jayson Tatum, Orlando's Paolo Banchero, Portland's Jerami Grant and of course, Siakam himself have found it very easy to score on the Pacers this year.

Siakam is considered a solid defender and with a 7-3 wingspan, he can keep some of those players in front of him. He's averaging 0.9 steals per game for his career and has finished three seasons above 1.0 per game. He's also a strong rebounder, averaging 6.5 per game for his career with a high-water mark of 8.5 per game in 2021-22.

"It's no secret that forwards have, especially early in the year, had kind of a feeding frenzy with us," Haliburton said. "Him included. It's exciting to add him. Any time you get another wing it helps. At the end of the day, today it's a wings' league. You guys see the value that every wing in the NBA has when it comes to trade talk or whatever. Everybody's fighting to get long wings that can defend and knock down 3s. He can do all that and more. We've got a player that every team in the NBA wants."

That in itself is a major boost for the Pacers, who have rarely in their history been the team that makes the sort of deadline move that instantly alters a playoff race as this one did. That's not to say they've never been bold at the deadline. Haliburton and veteran wing Buddy Hield were acquired at the deadline two years ago as part of a trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento. That trade ended up revitalizing both franchises over the past two years, but both teams were clearly lottery bound in February of 2022.

This year, the Pacers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference at 23-17, but they are just 1 1/2 games back of fourth-place Cleveland in the East's tightly-packed second-tier. They are 8 1/2 games back of first-place Boston, but just 4 1/2 back of second-place Milwaukee and 3 1/2 back of third-place Philadelphia. With a second All-Star caliber player in the fold, a return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2019-20 season seems more like a floor than it does a ceiling and the acquisition gives them reason to dream bigger.

"I definitely got a lot of calls from people in NBA circles talking to me about it, excited for me for the opportunity," Haliburton said. "I think everybody sees that it's a very natural fit for us and it's going to fit seamlessly with the way that we play. I think everybody has talked about adding another guy to our team, like, one of The Guys. I think Pascal's a Guy. I'm excited about that."

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