The war for Wembanyama

Indiana Pacers season preview

Ben Grimes ‘25, Staff Writer

One man will control the fate of the Pacer’s season: Victor Wembayama. Even though he isn’t in the league yet, Wembanyama has the makings to be one of the greatest players of all time, touted by many to be the best prospect since Lebron James. Now the team is left with a choice. Should the Pacers throw the season away in hopes of the generational talent, or compete for a playoff spot? 


Although the Pacers were one of the most talked about teams over the offseason with countless trade rumors around veteran players like Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, nothing actually happened in terms of trades. However, the team did draft Bennedict Mathurin, a shooting guard out of the University of Arizona, who figures to be the team’s long-term shooting guard and primary scorer. 


Mathurin has been described by many to have a short of special “spark” that is a major factor in his scoring ability. One glance at his highlights from Arizona makes this evident to any viewer, with dunks and 3s galore. Being the highest draft pick in recent memory for the Pacers, the pressure is on for Maturin. 


The Pacers also re-signed power forward Jalen Smith, who was acquired in a trade last season. The team did put in an offer for DeAndre Ayton, but because the young center was a restricted free agent, the Suns were able to match the offer and keep him in Phoenix.


After these offseason moves, the Pacers starting lineup is projected to consist of Tyrese Haliburton at point guard, Benedict Mathurin at shooting guard, Buddy Hield at small forward, Jalen Smith at the power forward spot, and Myles Turner at center. Key players off the bench include veteran TJ McConnell, Chris Duarte, Isiah Jackson, and Oshae Brisset. 


Haliburton is perhaps the “X-Factor” for the season, being acquired in a trade with the Sacramento Kings last season. Many predict that the third-year guard is ready for a breakout season. He could realistically average 20 points alongside 10 assists, with a good shot at leading the league in assists. 


The Pacers have a borderline play-in/high-draft-pick team at the moment and are left with a decision. Does the team trade away its veteran players like Hield and Turner for future draft picks, or go all in this season to attempt to make the playoffs? In favor of the tanking option is getting a chance at the aforementioned Victor Wembanyama. 


Wembanyama, a 7’4” French prospect has eye-popping defensive skills, and the offensive game of a point guard. He is essentially a lock for the first pick. His potential as both a defensive and offensive threat is through the roof, and he could legitimately change the franchise as a whole. 


Even if the Pacers decide to try and get Wembanyama, nothing is guaranteed. If the Pacers had the worst record in the league, the team would only have 14% chance at the first overall pick, and thus a 14% chance at Webanyama. Though the odds at Webanyama are fairly low, Scoot Henderson, the projected #2 overall pick and many of the other talented prospects in this year’s draft would make a nice consolation prize for the organization. 


When asked if he thinks the Pacers should tank for Wembanyama, Andrew O’Brien ‘25 said “I think they (The Pacers) should start out the season going all out and if they don’t play well then tank.” 


Overall, the Pacers have a long road ahead of them, whether they decide to compete for Wembanyama, or fight for a playoff spot. Is the season worth discarding simply for a chance at one player? Does the team even have a chance at the playoffs? The only way to find out is to watch this season of Pacers basketball.