How the James Wiseman signing continues a trend of second chances with the Pacers

The Pacers' recent signing of James Wiseman is another example of Indiana giving top draft picks another chance.
Detroit Pistons v Indiana Pacers
Detroit Pistons v Indiana Pacers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers have only made one offseason signing so far. Rather than swing another blockbuster trade for a star player or sign one in free agency, Indiana chose to keep their group relatively unchanged in favor of retaining productive free agents Pascal Siakam and Obi Toppin.

The only signing the Pacers have made so far is for a backup center. After losing Jalen Smith to a deal with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana signed his replacement the next day in former Memphis Tigers star James Wiseman.

After being selected with the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft following a stellar high school career but only three college games, Wiseman struggled to find a consistent role with the Golden State Warriors, juggling inconsistent play with stints in the G League and injury concerns. During the 2023 trade deadline, Wiseman was traded to the Detroit Pistons, where he saw more playing time than before, but was still rather unremarkable on the worst team in the league and lost his starting spot in the 2023-24 season.

Now, Wiseman finds himself in Indiana where he is somewhat in limbo. Still only 23 years of age but entering his fourth NBA season after missing his entire sophomore campaign due to injury, this may be his final chance to prove that he is a worthwhile NBA player.

It may seem silly to say that about a 23-year-old who has not played meaningful minutes in the NBA yet, but it very well may be the truth. The NBA has not been kind to Wiseman, and while he showed flashes of potential in Detroit, it was not enough to warrant another team taking a flyer on him or the Pistons bringing him back. However, this is where Indiana's recent history comes into play.

Despite only holding the 54th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Pacers have made a recurring pattern out of taking on former 2020 lottery picks and shaping them into productive role players or even stars. In the past two years, Indiana has employed the eighth pick in Obi Toppin, the 10th pick in Jalen Smith, the 12th pick in Tyrese Haliburton, and the 14th pick in Aaron Nesmith. In those two years, the Pacers have turned every single one of these players into productive role players, and in Tyrese Haliburton's case, a superstar and franchise cornerstone.

In Toppin, Smith, and Nesmith's cases, these were players who were basically given up on by their former teams, with Nesmith being the clearest example. After 98 games in Boston filled with inconsistency, injuries, and admittedly poor play on his part, Nesmith was shipped off to Indiana in a trade for Malcolm Brogdon and a first-round pick.

Originally seen as highway robbery by Boston, the perception of this trade has almost done a complete 180 after two years, during which Nesmith has proved himself to be one of the best 3&D wings in the league, inking himself a three-year, $33 million contract prior to the 2023-24 season as a result.

As for Smith, he was so out of place with the Phoenix Suns, that he became one of six lottery players ever to have his third-year rookie scale option declined, which made him an unrestricted free agent in 2022. Despite this, the Pacers still traded Torrey Craig to acquire him at the trade deadline, after which he proved their eye for talent sharp by having a career resurgence in Indiana.

This led to Smith taking less money to remain a Pacer in the 2022 offseason and having two more productive seasons before signing with the Chicago Bulls for three years and $27 million, solidifying his place in the NBA for the future.

Toppin's story is a bit different. Out of the three players mentioned, he was easily given the biggest chance to succeed prior to his Pacers career. Toppin played three seasons of mixed production in New York, only averaging around 15 minutes per game through his 201 games, and even getting some playoff burn in 2021 and 2023.

However, this did not matter to the Knicks as they traded him to Indiana for a 2028 and 2029 second-round pick, both being least favorable. Toppin quickly proved his worth to his new team by playing all 82 games and averaging 10 points per game while being one of the most efficient players in the league.

He shot 57% from the field (12th in the league), 70.6% from two-point range (second in the league) 40% from deep, 68% true shooting (third in the league), and an offensive rating of 129.1 (ninth in the league). This regular season performance combined with his productive playoff run led to him inking an aforementioned four-year, $60 million deal to stay with Indiana through the 2028 season.

As you can see, the Pacers have a knack for finding misused or miscast talent from the 2020 draft class and turning them into valuable rotation players. Diamonds in the rough, if you will. As such, history is on their side with the James Wiseman signing.

However, this will easily be their biggest challenge yet, as Wiseman has not done much so far to prove that he deserves a rotation spot in the league, much less on a legitimate playoff contender like the Pacers. There is still much work to be done with his development, and Indiana will have to be patient with him.

Nobody should expect Wiseman to come in from Day 1 and impact the team like how Jalen Smith did. He will certainly be more of a project player, although he should have the same chip on his shoulder that Nesmith, Toppin, and Smith had when they arrived in Indiana.


The James Wiseman signing is a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for the Pacers, and they essentially have nothing to lose regardless of how he performs. The only one on the table with something to lose is Wiseman, and it is up to him to prove Kevin Pritchard and Chad Buchanan's eye for talent correct yet again and contribute nicely when called upon in his first real taste of NBA rotation minutes.