Can the Indiana Pacers pass up on taking Romeo Langford?

BLOOMINGTON, IN - MARCH 02: Romeo Langford #0 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots a free throw during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Assembly Hall on March 2, 2019 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, IN - MARCH 02: Romeo Langford #0 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots a free throw during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Assembly Hall on March 2, 2019 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

On draft day, if Romeo Langford is still on the board when the Indiana Pacers are on the clock, how does the team pass up on him?

When it comes to constructing a young team, drafting wisely is a crucial aspect to achieve continued growth. The emphasis on scouting is magnified for small-market teams that aren’t a destination to attract top free agents. With the 18th pick in the 2019 NBA draft, the Pacers will clearly look to add another developing player still wet behind the ears.

History shows us, in most cases, that the 18th selection in the draft doesn’t manifest into a major contributor. Some notable picks are Eric Bledsoe (2010), J.R. Smith (2004), and former members of the Pacers, David West (2003) and Mark Jackson (1987). Indiana also selected power forward T.J. Leaf with that spot in 2017.

However, if a player that was projected to be a top ten lottery pick were to fall to the 18th spot, wouldn’t you have to take a flyer on the 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball?

Examining the Pacers roster, the area with the biggest urgency for added depth is shooting off the bench. The guard rotation under contract for next season is now Victor Oladipo, Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner, who has a team option.

The only wing under contract for 2019-20 is Doug McDermott. While it’s likely a handful of expiring contracts will be re-signed, there’s a shining need for more athletic wings that can contribute positively off the bench.

Langford met with front office officials from Indiana during the combine, but the burning question is will the Hoosier shooting guard fall to the Pacers? Most mock drafts have him going somewhere between the 10th and 20th spot, with drafts by ESPN and CBS placing him in Detroit, who have the 15th pick. In the scenario the New Albany native is still available at the 18th spot, the McDonald’s All-American would be a no-brainer to select.

A Hoosier homecoming for the Pacers?

Langford led all Big Ten freshmen in scoring during the 2018-19 season. He averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game on 44.8% shooting overall and a lowly 27.2% from behind the arc.

Despite what seemed like an underwhelming season to many, especially Hoosiers fans, the 6’6″ guard was still the Big Ten Player of the Week four times and named to the All-Big Ten second-team.

Prior to his season at Indiana, he was a five-star recruit and projected by many to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft. After averaging 35.5 points and 9.9 rebounds during his senior year at New Albany, Langford finished with 3,002 points over his high school career, fourth overall on the all-time Indiana high school scoring list.

The Indiana Hoosiers finished with a 19-16 overall record and failed to make the NCAA tournament in a disappointing season that underachieved expectations.

Still, Langford was able to showcase his scoring ability, particularly with creating his own shot and consistency getting to the rim. The freshman shooting guard led his team in points and finished second in rebounds.

In an interview following the post-season media availability, Kevin Pritchard stated, “We need another creator. We saw that in the playoffs last year against Cleveland, it was obvious this year (in the playoffs) once the game got tight, and Boston was able to break us down one-on-one.”

“We couldn’t go down and break them down one-on-one.”

In context, this is mainly referring to an All-Star level player to pair alongside Victor Oladipo, but it’s relevant in building the roster nonetheless.

The Hoosier’s highlight reels would certainly highlight his skill of getting a shot close to the basket. However, Langford’s inconsistent shooting from deep would be the biggest cause for concern. With a player of his skill-set, reliably knocking down shots from long-range is one of the biggest factors in determining if a guard will end up like Monta Ellis, or Bradley Beal.

In the fast-paced, high volume three-point system the Pacers want to implement moving forward, a player that has to consistently drive into the paint for a majority of scoring opportunities can be counter-intuitive to that scheme.

Injuries were a factor during Langford’s first season in Bloomington. It was reported he played a majority of the season with a torn thumb ligament, which he had surgery on a little over a month ago.

After failing to make the tournament, the freshman sat on the bench during IU’s NIT run. The Hoosiers were a first seed in the tournament but lasted just three games without their leading scorer.

It’s very likely Langford’s injury lingered enough to have an effect on his shooting. If the physical pain didn’t hamper his shooting, the bulky wrap fitted on his hand most likely did.

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His three-point percentage at Indiana was nearly 9% lower than he posted during his senior season at New Albany, where he took nearly 100 more attempts. His free-throw percentage fell from 81.0% to 72.2% after his move to Bloomington as well.

Some of this could surely be attributed to the better defenses seen at the college level or the nerves of playing on that stage. However, I can’t help but believe the torn thumb ligament was the biggest factor for his decline in shooting.

Another criticism the young guard faced is his perceived lackadaisical attitude on the court.

Maybe Langford is just more attuned to the mannerisms of Kawhi Leonard, as opposed to a player like Russell Westbrook. Neither is right or wrong, but in an exciting game that’s filled with emotion, it’s not surprising a lack of outward emotion can be perceived as a lack of care.

It’s easy for fans of an under-performing team to find issues with those in the spotlight, and that doesn’t mean enthusiasm isn’t important, but character should be the biggest determinant of a players’ mien. From an analytical standpoint, his efficiency and production are what matters, not if he’s pounding his chest after a basket or barking at an opposing player.

If anything lackadaisical about the Indiana standout’s game could be justified, it would have been his defense at times. It isn’t that he’s a terrible defender, as he showed flashes of solid defensive play.

The freshman scorer received criticism for his effort on the defensive end, especially from many Hoosier fans. While this wasn’t inspiring for his draft stock, Langford still showed enough on defense that I doubt his declining position on draft boards is majorly attributed to his defense. He finished the season with a defensive rating of 100.9 per-100 possessions.

Using the same metric, Oladipo finished with a 101.1 defensive rating during his freshman season in Bloomington.

If Langford can put on some muscle as he continues to develop, he’d have the quickness and strength to guard the 1-3 spots on the floor.

What could the Hoosier guard contribute to the Pacers?

Langford is undoubtedly still a raw prospect. At just 19 years old, it isn’t inconceivable he’ll take a few years to develop to a consistent rotation player, as is the case with many young guards. On a positive aspect, it also isn’t unimaginable that the Indiana native could contribute in spurts off the bench, similar to Aaron Holiday this past season.

A player who can create his own shot is a major need. This obligation pertains more to a player that can play significant minutes immediately, but for a young team that isn’t expecting a finals appearance right away, Langford is a perfect mid-round project that could develop to an All-Star caliber player in a handful of years.

Outside of Bojan Bogdanovic, the Pacers didn’t have many players that could reliably get to the basket and score in Oladipo’s absence. Even with a thumb injury and poor shooting from downtown, Langford was able to consistently get into the paint for a layup or floater after getting around his defender.

When the Hoosiers leading scorer wasn’t able to convert on a tightly contested attempt, he was often able to get to the foul stripe; over 25% of his points came from the line.

His willingness and tendency to get physical in the paint, with a hand injury, is notable at the least. He averaged 34.1 minutes on the court in 32 of Indiana’s 35 games, showing an absence of shell-shock many guards face transitioning into college basketball.

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Any off-season additions aside, a young back-court of Aaron Holiday and Romeo Langford provides the team with two guards who’ve shown the ability to score off the dribble.

The Hoosier’s 6’6″ frame and ball-handling ability would be helpful in counterbalancing Holiday’s 6’1″ listed height. This isn’t a pairing you’d expect to play twenty minutes together next season — unless it was in Fort Wayne — but could manifest into a deadly scoring duo for a Pacers bench that has lacked consistent scoring.

If Indiana is able to land the shooting guard and he lives up to the hype he had coming out of high school, pairing him next to Victor Oladipo with the Pacers All-Star as the primary ball-handler could be a lethal combination comprised of two explosive finishers with respectable shooting.

The once projected top-ten pick doesn’t come without any hesitations, but the 18th pick isn’t usually one you’d find yourself gambling with either. Pritchard hasn’t been known to move up in the draft, with the Pacers, and it’s uncertain which players the scouting department is targeting more than others.

If the young shooting guard falls to the late lottery, it’s not implausible the team would seek to make a deal to secure Langford.

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This, of course, is contingent on the selections made after the top handful of prospects are selected. Needless to say, a second homecoming for the most hyped Indiana native since Greg Oden would receive a loud response from basketball fans in Indiana.