It was a quiet night for the Indiana Pacers on the opening day of the always entertaining NBA free agent frenzy. The biggest news for circle city squad was the announcement of the Summer League roster (well other than that the Pacers have finally shed Monta Ellis from their cap sheet and that Indiana’s free agent big man [redacted] remains unsigned).
As for the Summer League, the Pacers look like they’ll be putting out their best squad since they started coming to Las Vegas instead of Orlando for their exhibition games. The roster is highlighted by both of last season’s first-round picks in Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, all three of this year’s picks in Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard, and Kendall Brown, and returning Pacers Terry Taylor and Duane Washington. Not to mention the two players who ended the season on 2-way contracts with the team in mixtape legend Gabe York and Nate Hinton. The head coach will be Butler legend Ronald Nored who seems destined to be the top dog on the sidelines for an NBA franchise at some point.
Duarte and Jackson are the biggest surprises but all of the young guys on the team have been working out in Indianapolis this summer so it does make some sense why they would also be joining the team in Vegas. For Duarte and Jackson, it’s a chance to build chemistry with the newly drafted players specifically Mathurin, the highest Pacers draft choice in my lifetime. (Apologies to Jonathan Bender for the erasure from Pacers history throughout this whole draft process as we all know he was an Indiana pick but technically he was selected by the Toronto Raptors.)
Pacers Summer League action starts in one week against the Charlotte Hornets on July 8th. Highlights in the four scheduled games before the tournament include a face off against both teams that drafted directly in front of the Pacers so we’ll get a look at both Keegan Murray with the Kings and Jaden Ivey with the Pistons. Another top pick Johnny Davis with the Wizards will also present some fun competition for Mathurin and Duarte in the backcourt.
While we prepare for a tremendous week of meaningless basketball, let’s dive into what we can expect and what we can hope to see from all the participants for the Pacers. While the end result may not matter, there are always meaningful moments to find during these games and they have real consequences for these players’ careers (I’m looking at you Solomon Hill who somehow turned the worst Summer League into a declined team option which led to a $50 million contract in the ludicrous 2016 free agency of regret for many NBA teams).
Bennedict Mathurin – The 6th overall selection makes his much anticipated debut. For Mathurin, I’ll be very interested in the defensive end. How does he do at the point of attack? How’s his screen navigation? Does he get blown by too easily and rely on Jackson to clean things up at the rim? Does he lose focus off the ball and lose track of his man? All of these things were something he struggled with at least at times at Arizona in games that I watched. While I do think he was conserving energy on that end often, it made it harder to evaluate him as a defender.
Offensively, I want to see how he’s developed over the draft process with his handle and playmaking off the bounce. His ready-made strengths of his outside shot, ability to shoot in traffic unbothered off movement, and find buckets via cutting and transition should provide plenty of glimpses of a promising future for the rookie.
Chris Duarte – For the member of the 2021-22 2nd-team All-Rookie, you probably want to see the 25-year-old look like he’s way too good and way too in control to be playing in Summer League. Duarte showed off his penchant for tough shot making throughout his rookie season and started his buzzer beating prowess in last season’s summer sessions. If you’re looking for things for him to show improvement on, playmaking for others is at the top of my list for something I’d like to see him develop further as well as being able to get all the way to the rim on his attacks. Duarte said that while he is healthy he may not play in the actual games because of his foot injury at the end of his rookie season.
Isaiah Jackson – The high-flying human pogo stick (there I go again trying to erase Jonathan Bender from Pacers history) unofficially set the Pacers record for alley oops in only 36 games played at 15 minutes per game. Areas to watch for him in Las Vegas include defensive positioning, outside shooting, and defending without fouling. We don’t have to worry about Jackson fouling out as players get 10 fouls in these developmental games but that was part of the issue for IJax staying on the court in his rookie season. He has a fantastic ability to block shots but his eagerness to showcase that skill can cause some unnecessary fouls at times. He has all the physical tools to be a great switchable defender in the league; it’s just a matter of gaining the discipline of being in the right place at the right time. Jackson showed flashes of outside shooting especially in his time with the Mad Ants when he went 5 for 5 from deep in his last appearance with Ft. Wayne. If he can shoot that just adds a whole range of things that he can do on offense in addition to being a lob threat and also helps the potential pairing of Turner and Jackson.
Andrew Nembhard – To be frank, I don’t know a ton about Nembhard. I was not expecting the Pacers to be taking anyone at 31 but especially not a point guard. I’ll be looking to see what his shot looks like, how in control he is of an offense, and how he defends at the point of attack and gets over screens on defense which feels like a struggle for nearly the entire Pacers roster. What does he bring to the table that intrigued the front office enough to target another guard at that spot? Maybe we’ll get a glimpse here or maybe Kevin Pritchard and company are just that haunted by having to play Brad Wanamaker as the backup point guard for a far too long stretch last season.
With Gonzaga last year, Nembhard averaged 11.8 points and 5.8 assists. In his senior season, he upped his 3-point shooting to 38.3% and shot 87.3% on his free throws. He’s got a quirky, low-release point on his jump shot so that’ll be interesting to monitor as well.
Kendall Brown – The 48th selection in the draft was a much needed wing for the Pacers roster. For him, it’s all about how does his athleticism translate on an NBA court. Transition opportunities should be fun with Brown but what he looks like in the half court on both ends will tell us a lot about how ready he is to be an NBA player. Does he have any confidence in his jump shot? Is he overly tentative in a half-court setting? How does he use that athleticism on the defensive end? Let’s find out. Depending on how he looks in these games, it may decide whether he starts the season on a 2-way contract or with a full NBA deal. Because if he looks ready to play, the Pacers will likely need bodies on the wing as the shallow pool of free agent wings is quickly drying up.
Terry Taylor – A member of last year’s Vegas roster that then dominated for the Mad Ants in the G-League before getting a 2-way deal that was then converted to a standard NBA contract near the end of season, Taylor was a bright spot in an overall lousy season. Shoutout to a good friend of mine who has been clamoring about how awesome Terry Taylor is since those Summer League games where to be honest he didn’t make much of an impression of me. Now I’m just excited to watch Taylor be the smallest strongest small ball big in existence. No one on the roster is listed as a center in the Pacers official post so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Taylor get some minutes in his emergency gig of last year. Hopefully we’ll also see him play his more natural position at the wing just to see how he affects the game in that spot. Defensively, he’s going to give up a lot as a center but how does he defend on the perimeter against wings? Does playing outside take away his offensive rebounding chances? As mentioned before the Pacers desperately need bodies at the wing, Taylor was the desperation play at center last year, maybe he’s the emergency wing in the upcoming one.
Duane Washington Jr. – Probably the player with the most on the line out of the current contract and draft pick group is Washington. The Pacers have a gluttony of guards on the roster (and that doesn’t include Lance Stephenson who we may have to wait for a hypothetical 4th reunion in 2025 to see in a Pacers uniform again) and while Washington showed a penchant for getting hot quickly from outside and lighting up the scoreboard, his contract is unguaranteed and that makes him an obvious target if the Pacers need to create space on the roster for whatever reason. He was an off-ball guard last year, seeing if he can run some offense may be useful and how and if his defense has improved will be what I’m watching for.
Quick hits for the other players on the roster:
Bennie Boatwright – He looked pretty solid last Summer League before going down with an injury. He played with the Mad Ants for averaged 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Eli Brooks – An undrafted free agent from Michigan, he averaged 12.8 points as a 5th-year senior while shooting 39% from 3 in his last two college seasons.
Tevin Brown – An undrafted free agent from Murray State, he may be a 2-way contract candidate along with a few of the other undrafted rookies. He’s well known as a shooter and averaged 15.3 points per game over his 4 college seasons on 38% shooting from deep.
David DiLeo – A rookie who spent last season in Greece. He’s another guy known for his shooting.
Nate Hinton – Hinton finished last season with the Pacers on a 2-way contract though he barely saw the floor, totaling 2 minutes over 2 games. He played in over 20 games in the previous season for Carlisle’s Mavericks.
Jermaine Samuels – Undrafted rookie from Villanova who is another 5th-year senior. He averaged over 10 points per game over his final three college seasons and shot 57.5% over his entire five years.
Simi Shittu – played in Israel last season and with Vanderbilt in college. The big man had a couple nice seasons in the G-League and averaging a double double at 14 and 10.
Gabe York – The other 2-way player for the Pacers at the end of last season. York had been trying to crack the NBA for a long time and made his debut at 28 years old in the last two games of the season.
Fanbo Zeng – Zeng played for the G-League Ignite along with draft picks Jaden Hardy and Marshon Beauchamp last season.