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How Isaiah Wong can help the Indiana Pacers

Wong was a solid scorer for the University of Miami
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With their final pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Indiana Pacers took guard Isaiah Wong, a four-year player from the University of Miami. The 22-year old ball handler worked out for the Pacers in the pre-draft process, and he signed a two-way contract with the club at the beginning of free agency.

"I [feel] like I'm gelling with all the players... it's just a great place to be at," Wong said of being with the Pacers after a Summer League practice. He was a key scorer for Indiana's Summer League roster.

The New Jersey native averaged 14.1 points and 2.2 assists per game with the Hurricane. His scoring was always more advanced than his passing, but he developed both skills as his time progressed in the NCAA ranks.

Now, he's with the Pacers, and he will be tasked with more development on his two-way deal. Those contracts allow players to easily split time between the NBA and the G League, and Wong will almost certainly get most of his reps this season with Indiana's G League squad, the Mad Ants.

At both levels, the blue and gold will hope that he continues to grow his non-scoring skills while still being an effective play finisher. In Summer League, for example, Wong averaged 11.8 points per game on 45/40/68 shooting splits. Especially in his final outing, he proved he can put the ball in the basket.

"He's a very steady, solid guard that we liked throughout the process, throughout the last couple of years at Miami. He had a good workout for us," Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan said of Wong. He averaged 16.2 points per game as a senior.

Wong's best scoring moments come when he has space to operate. If he has room to attack, he takes it and creates threats. That allowed him to get to the cup much more often in his final two collegiate seasons (365 attempts in the paint or at the rim, per CBBAnalytics) than in his first two (231).

That skill also shows up in the open floor. The six-foot-three-inch guard had a 70.6% effective field goal percentage in transition last season, according to Synergy Sports. That's where the Pacers shine and form an identity. Wong should be a snug fit when running the floor.

"I can score, I can play defense at the other end," the guard said earlier in the offseason.

Wong's focus is moreso on scoring than distributing. During Summer League play, he scored 59 points and had 13 assists. That isn't a bad thing at all, plenty of guards are more capable of finishing plays themselves than setting up others, but it is something Wong can work on in the pros.

It was clear that he took strides as a setup man during his final season at Miami. His assists per game number climbed over three for the first time with the program, and his assist-to-turnover ratio jumped over 1.5.

Wong's true shooting percentage steadily improved at Miami, and his passing grew with it. Those traits combined give him a solid base of on-ball skills and could help him have an impact in the Pacers organization. He needs to improve as a creator in traffic, both for himself and for others, but he is excellent with space and should be able to grow out his game from there.

Off the ball, Wong is slippery and moved around often in head coach Jim Larranaga's system. He was solid as a catch-and-shoot guy in college. He's just tall enough to work next to another guard offensively if need be, so if Wong is asked to operate off the ball, he should hold up well despite being at his best with chances to handle the rock and score.

"My consistent three-point shot. I've worked a lot on my three-point shot, I feel like I'm knocking down a lot of shots," Wong said of what he's trying to show teams during his pre-draft workout with Indiana. "And my defense. Trying to help and just trying to play the best I can."

Speaking of defense, Wong could stand to improve on the less glamorous end of the court. Per Bart Torvik's database, his defensive box plus-minus was 0.8, just slightly above average during his final season with Miami.

In the pros, he will need to be more assertive on the ball defensively. He reads the game well enough, and his steal and block rates show that he positions himself correctly. But his smaller size limits the number of players he can contain, and he will need to battle more in the pros. Guarding his yard, to use a term the Pacers say often, will be a crucial skill to develop in the pros.

All-in-all, a player with Wong's scoring ability is worth taking a flier on with the 55th overall pick in the NBA Draft. That could get him on the floor in the NBA and help him rise above other G League ball handlers. His passing and defense will have to grow in the pros, but there are still ways that Wong will be able to help the Pacers during his opportunities in year one, however often they come.

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