The Indiana Pacers have decided to kick the trade deadline into high gear. The No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference made a win-now move with darkhorse MVP candidate Tyrese Haliburton currently sidelined with a hamstring injury. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, the Pacers sent Bruce Brown — who they signed this summer to a two-year, $45 million deal — Jordan Nwora, and three first-round picks to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Pascal Siakam.
This move is the Pacers pushing the pedal to the floor in the race for an NBA Championship. They are 23-17 on the season. As recently as Jan. 5, they were in fourth place in the East, and have won nine of their last 12 games, including two without Haliburton in the lineup.
How the Pacers have been winning this year is with pace and scoring. They are second in the league in possessions per game, averaging 102.9, and are No. 1 in offensive efficiency by averaging 122.1 points per 100 possessions. The Pacers are sixth-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA, converting at a 38.1 percent clip, and lead the league in assists per game with 31.
The defensive end of the floor is what is keeping them near the Play-In Tournament in the standings. Their 120 point per 100 possession defensive rating is fifth-worst in the NBA. The Pacers just gave up 132 points to the Utah Jazz on Monday.
Acquiring Siakam, without having to give up Myles Turner, could make the Pacers a defensive force going forward. Turner is a stout defender in the paint. He is averaging nearly two blocks per game and allows a lower field-goal percentage near the rim than Joel Embiid. Siakam has a 7-foot-3 wingspan and was a crucial part of the strong Raptors defenses during the Nick Nurse era. He was called on to switch and apply pressure to players on the perimeter as well as be able to deal with bigger players in the paint.
That is quite a line of defense when a player who gets past Siakam is then met by Turner. Bruce Brown is a good defender, but no amount of hustle can make up for mobility and wingspan. Turner and Siakam now sharing the floor with that bruiser Aaron Nesmith, defense might soon become a strength for the Pacers.
And as an added bonus with Siakam, he has averaged better than 20 points per game the last five seasons. His field-goal percentage has steadily increased to his current career-high 52.2. Siakam’s ability to finish at the rim makes him an ideal pick-and-roll companion for Haliburton, as well as being a strong midrange shooter who has also been able to hit corner threes throughout his career.
The Pacers found a way to improve both their strength and weakness. Siakam is a two-time All-NBA player who can average 20-plus points a game without being ball dominant. He is also a long athlete who can be trusted in almost any defensive matchup.
This trade cost the Pacers a lot, but it was necessary. Adding a player of Siakam’s caliber has moved them up from a fun league-pass watch, to a true threat in the Eastern Conference. That has not been a reality for Indy for 10 seasons. The draft picks and talented players they sent away are absolutely worth the immediate improvement.