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Isaiah Jackson provides Pacers ready-made Myles Turner replacement

Isaiah Jackson provides Pacers ready-made Myles Turner replacement

The Indiana Pacers just wrapped up their worst season since 1989. Finishing with a 25-57 record, Indiana has decided upon a path it hasn't ventured down in decades.

On Christmas, the Pacers were in no man’s land in the Eastern Conference sitting at 14-19. The frontcourt pairing between Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner was still working on occasion, but it didn’t make any dent as a true competitor. Malcolm Brogdon was supposed to be Indiana’s long-term answer as its primary floor general, but he could barely stay on the court due to injury woes. Speaking of injuries, Orlando Bubble superstar T.J. Warren didn’t play in a single game this season due to a nagging foot injury; four total games over two full seasons for the former Phoenix Suns wing.

Indiana’s vision for a sustainable contender just simply wasn’t working. Running stagnant with a roster that was just competitive enough to sneak into the postseason, the Pacers finally pressed the rebuild button during the holiday season. From Dec. 25 and on, Indiana went on to an 11-38 finish.

After trading away Sabonis and Caris LeVert, Indiana is now in an advantageous long-term position, even in spite of not conveying the first-round pick acquired via the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Cleveland will keep its first-round pick due to the loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, as the team misses the NBA Playoffs.)

The cupboard is anything but bare. Sending out Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings brought back a potential face of the franchise in Tyrese Haliburton. The second-year point guard from Iowa State continued to blossom in a more featured role away from De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento. Haliburton averaged 17.5 points, 9.6 assists and 1.8 steals for Indiana, immediately planting himself as a primary pillar for the next great Pacers team.

Chris Duarte also made noise during his rookie campaign for Indiana before a nagging toe issue hampered his availability post-All-Star break. Showing a true scorer’s mindset, Duarte displayed why he’s another key piece to the Pacers’ puzzle.

Outside of the Haliburton and Duarte pairing, plus the exciting unknown ahead, the Pacers have one more young prospect that is so intriguing to project.

Isaiah Jackson, the No. 22 overall pick from the 2020 NBA Draft, has all the potential to take a massive sophomore jump in 2022-23.

Still a raw prospect, Jackson flashed tantalizing two-way talent in different spurts throughout the Pacers’ midseason downturn. The sample size for Jackson was small — 36 total games and 15 starts — but it’s hard to ignore what the ceiling could look like for the former Kentucky Wildcat big man.

Over Jackson’s final 18 games of the season, Indiana saw a glimpse of true two-way success. In only 21.6 minutes per game, Jackson averaged 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.2 blocks on an impressive 62.6% True Shooting percentage. When stretching those minutes to per-36 thresholds, Indiana’s rookie was outstanding: 20.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 3.6 blocks.

The reason why Jackson is such a moldable piece of clay for Indiana is because of the uncertain future revolving around Myles Turner. Having been the subject of trade rumors for multiple years now, which again got red-hot back in February, Turner now enters the last year of his contract. If the Pacers were to decide to move off Turner this offseason, now would be the ideal time if it wasn’t at the trade deadline, as it would allow Jackson to fully blossom.

Jackson showed already for the Pacers he can fill the Turner role seamlessly. Not only can Jackson rim-run and block shots at an above-average level, but the floor-spacing potential is certainly there as well. Also, unlike Sabonis and Turner, Jackson provides the Pacers an athletic lob threat that hasn’t been present within the organization for years now.

Indiana is in an ideal spot to choose any direction for Jackson’s immediate future. Whether it be moved up into a starting role replacing Turner or slow-playing his development behind Turner one more season, Jackson’s early trajectory is so promising. Jackson checks the rim-protection box with emphasis, plus the perfect pick-and-roll partner near the rim for Haliburton to execute with.

Entering arguably the most important offseason in franchise history, Indiana can continue to blow it all up and reset around an exciting core of young players. Haliburton, Duarte and Jackson are locked in. The future top-seven draft pick is cemented as well. Outside of that, anything is possible for the Pacers’ roster construction avenues.

Running in place for years at this point, the Pacers’ fresh start was much-needed. Now, it’s time to see how all the new parts work together over an extensive long-term period. As far as the most interesting topics for the Pacers, Jackson’s potential Year 2 jump could eventually change everything in Indianapolis.

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