Three teams have won an NBA title in the past four seasons. LeBron James was the best player on one of them. On the other two, the best player was not from the United States, instead representing Germany (Dirk Nowitzki) and France (Tony Parker).
This fact, combined with a recent Tom Haberstroh article on ESPN.com, highlights how little the Pacers have benefitted from overseas players in recent years.
According to the below chart from Haberstoh, only five teams have had international players log fewer minutes than Indiana since the start of the 2005-06 season.
It is a bit strange.
While anyone who thinks about recent Pacers’ seasons for even a few minutes will quickly realize that U.S.-born guys were doing all the heavy lifting, seeing that ranking —25th in international minutes since 2005-06 — is still shocking?
Why? Well, because early on, when Europeans first started appearing in the NBA, Indiana was at the forefront of employing their services.
Detlef Schrempf and Rik Smits were two of the first big-impact players from across the Atlantic. Schrempf was brought over by the Mavericks, but he had his best seasons for the Pacers. Few remember just how productive and versatile he was, but Detlef averaged an astounding 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game in his final season in Indiana. Read those numbers again, and then remember that he also won two Sixth Man of the Year Awards and appeared in an All-Star Game for the Pacers.
Smits wasn’t never as impressive statistically, but he was the best of the non-Hall of Fame centers in the league in the 1990s, outplaying everyone except for Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Patrick Ewing in the decade. He is easily one of the best Pacers in the franchise’s NBA history, and was a key cog on the imposing front court that helped Indiana reach all those Eastern Conference Finals in the ’90s and the team’s only NBA Finals appearance in 2000.
Since then though?
Indiana hasn’t had any non-U.S.-born players contribute in a major way.
Sure, Peja Stojakovic shot great while putting up good numbers in his half season with the team.
Ian Mahinmi has been a serviceable backup for Roy Hibbert (particularly in the second half of this season).
Leandro Barbosa was a nice weapon off the bench in his short regular season stint (before missing everything in the playoffs).
And Luis Scola had some moments this year, though he will mainly be remembered as the guy for whom Larry Bird gave away a draft pick (not to mention Miles Plumee and Gerald Green).
But there hasn’t been anyone else of note.
Really, the last time the Pacers made a run at an international player was Sarunas Jasikevicius. For those who don’t remember his time in Indiana, it was … um … not good. He was a player that the team badly misjudged, proving unable to replicate his great European play in the NBA. (In fairness, other teams were also competing to bring over the two-time All-Europe Player of the Year and three-time Euroleague champion.)
Perhaps that misfire has contributed to the team failing to benefit from international players of note ever since Smits retired. Or maybe it is just a coincidence.
Either way, the Pacers certainly aren’t doing themselves any favors in this department after being on the vanguard during the first wave.
I don’t know enough about this year’s draft to know whether there are notable foreign players worth selecting with Indiana’s late-second-round pick. Nor can I tell you how much/little the team has spent in international scouting. But we due know that the Pacers have failed to invest in any D-League player development, and I get the sense that this also applies to their international efforts. The age, relative health, and old-school mentalities of their top executives (in Bird and Donnie Walsh) cannot help either.
It’s hard to speculate about how much the team could have benefited from finding a diamond in the rough the past few years. Obviously, they have done a good job in turning non-lottery draft picks, particularly Lance Stephenson, into major contributors.
Right now, however, the Pacers are nearly capped out and need to find some bargains to fill out their bench, especially if they hold pat with the current core and/or fail to re-sign Stephenson.
There is a lot more competition in finding international players these days — as well as a wealth of talent to develop from non-major-conference schools. But the Pacers could do themselves a huge favor if they were able to uncover a gem from afar this summer.