What the Pacers' new contract for Obi Toppin means for Jarace Walker going forward

Obi Toppin is now an Indiana Pacer for the next four years. What does this mean for Jarace Walker?
Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Clippers
Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Clippers / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages

Not too long ago, the Indiana Pacers locked up their only important remaining free agent after Pascal Siakam by signing Obi Toppin to a four-year, $60 million contract, keeping him with the Pacers until at least 2028. Indiana liked what they saw from Toppin in his first season with the team, and quickly decided to lock him down long-term on the first day of free agency rather than let him get a heftier contract with another team that they would have to match down the line.

Toppin occupied Indiana's backup power forward role for the second half of last season after losing his starting spot temporarily a month earlier and then permanently following the Pascal Siakam trade. However, this contract puts the future of one of Toppin's frontcourt competitors in question to some. Jarace Walker now seems stuck in that power forward logjam, with him getting consistent minutes behind Siakam and Toppin seeming unlikely now.

Jarace Walker will have to play small forward due to the re-signing of Obi Toppin

There is an easy solution to this. Jarace Walker will most likely be moved to the small forward position permanently now, as opposed to playing power forward. Looking at his minutes distribution in the second half of the season, Walker played far better at the small forward position anyway, with his career-high game of 15 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter against the Kings coming on a night where Rick Carlisle played him at small forward due to injuries adding up and the Siakam trade being in progress.

Sure enough, small forward is exactly where Walker played for the rest of the season after Siakam and Toppin overtook the power forward spots. Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan even confirmed recently that Indiana liked what they saw with Walker's minutes at small forward last season despite not having that in mind when he got drafted in 2023.

With Toppin not going anywhere anytime soon, Walker at small forward seems like not just a novelty, but the norm, with some small ball lineups with Toppin at the 5 and Walker at the 4 being possible if more speed and youth are required against certain teams.

This will probably leave Ben Sheppard in a less secure rotational position than last season. Sheppard's unexpected minutes increase last season was due in part to Walker not playing much and Bennedict Mathurin getting injured in the second half of the season. With Mathurin returning and Walker's minutes load undoubtedly increasing, Sheppard may struggle to get minutes at times due to the sheer depth in Indiana's swingman rotation.

Walker's ascension to the rotation will most likely mean Bennedict Mathurin sliding down to shooting guard, where he is arguably better, and probably demotes Sheppard to the 11th man in the rotation, where he can contribute further to Indiana's depth this upcoming season.

Looking at his game, Walked is a far better fit as a big wing player who can do a little bit of everything rather than being shoehorned in as a stretch four, where his offensive opportunities will be limited. Sliding down to the three gives Walker a better opportunity to play something of a 'point forward' role where he can help distribute in the offense and create for himself, which is an underrated aspect of his game.


Think of an OG Anunoby-type role for Walker next season where he thrives as a do-it-all small forward instead of his offense being limited as a power forward.