While Shayne Whittington didn't hear his name called on Thursday night at the NBA Draft, the former Western Michigan big man and MAC First-Teamer signed a free agent contract with the Indiana Pacers. Whittington won't play for the Pacers' Summer League team in Orlando because of injury but will try to earn a spot on the roster when he gets back to 100%.
The signing shows a lot about the Pacers' commitment to Whittington. Normally a team wouldn't take a chance on a player still rehabbing from a nasty injury. But the Pacers seem to be all in, with Whittington saying to MLive that even Larry Bird knew his name. Another intriguing item in that article is the fact that the Pacers would have drafted Whittington at 57, but chose to sell the draft pick to the New York Knicks to free up cap room. If the Pacers would have drafted him, Whittington would have been the first draft pick from the MAC in over ten years.
The Pacers are pretty deep at the power forward position. David West is the starter and Luis Scola is the backup. After those two, though, the roster really drops off. Lavoy Allen was the third string power forward last year and averaged less than fifteen minutes per game. Allen is a free agent though, opening a door for another power forward to come in.
Looking through the anticipated summer league roster for the Pacers reveals they also believe they need another power forward. The roster includes three power forwards already and also a center. Two of them (Kevin Jones and Willie Reed) have NBA and D-League experience already and could have a leg up on Whittington. Their performance in Summer League play will take part in determining Whittington's fate with the club.
But, Whittington definitely has the talent and style of play that NBA execs love. His tenacity on defense and low-post skills make him an ideal on-the-block power forward and his height also allows him to play some center. The ability to hit deep shots is also a huge factor and Whittington was able to show that he can step back and hit threes in the Portsmouth Invitational.
Although it may seem like a longshot for him to make an NBA roster, he's in a great spot with the Pacers. The MLive article makes it seem like the Organization wants him there and will help him along in his recovery. Whittington will come to Pacers camp ready to work and the coaches and execs will love his attitude. That in and of itself should give him an even greater chance than most rookies signing free agent contracts.
If he doesn't make the NBA roster, he'd likely be sent to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers' Development League team. The Mad Ants were the champions in the D-League last year, so they already have a pretty good team. Whittington could also look overseas, where multiple MAC players have made names for themselves. Financially, playing overseas makes the most sense, but the D-League is just one step below the NBA. Wherever Whittington goes he is sure to be successful.