Pacers Summer League Grades: Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte lead the way

The Indiana Pacers looked very fun in their first game in Las Vegas Summer League as they beat the Charlotte Hornets 96-84 behind stellar performances from their rookie Bennedict Mathurin and second-year player Chris Duarte.

As always, remember this is Summer League. The results of the games don’t matter but some of the details can tell us a lot about these players, many of which will be on the Pacers roster during the regular season. That being said, the Summer Pacers look like Vegas contenders so let’s add some meaningless grades to these semi-meaningless games.

Bennedict Mathurin: Grade A-

Mathurin looked good in his debut for the blue and gold. He led all players with 23 points (9 of 16 from the field) and added four rebounds and a steal to his tally. Mathurin started off strong hitting a 3-pointer to open the game on a beautifully run Spain pick and roll by the Pacers.

He then layed in a lob from Chris Duarte and made another three off of movement on a designed play to get him a shot early in the possession. Totaling a quick eight points in his first 4-minute stretch, Mathurin made a great first impression.

In the second quarter, he struggled a bit. Airballing a push floater in the lane and a pull-up triple. At this stage, Mathurin definitely looks more comfortable shooting off the catch and off of movement than he does in self-creation pull-up situations. He did take advantage of a mismatch with a nice hesitation step-back jumper but he generally struggled in the mid-range.

After finishing the first half with just 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting, Mathurin put together a fantastic second half scoring 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Mathurin got out in transition with a three and multiple finishes at the rim (both will be brought up in more detail later) and scored off the offensive glass. While he finished with no assists in this game, he also only had one turnover on a lob attempt that was just a smidge out of Isaiah Jackson’s reach. It didn’t feel like he was forcing anything too often and moved the ball at times. It’s clear that his play-making does have some work to do as expected but his play finishing was on full display tonight.

Defensively, he opened up the game by missing an opportunity to tag the roller which allowed a wide open dunk for Charlotte. He made good effort on ball and was active, always prepared for transition opportunities.

Chris Duarte – A+

The Pacers sage veteran at 25 years old looked way too good for Summer League. Duarte quietly dominated and looked like he was in full control whenever he was on the court. He scored 16 points on only seven shot attempts while getting to the free-throw line nine times. I don’t think we’ll see him on the court for too many more games this week.

Duarte was interviewed after the game and said he is focused on three things in Vegas:

  • 1) Decision making: Duarte didn’t force anything offensively and looked to get his teammates involved. He finished with four assists and zero turnovers. Check.
  • 2) Defensive positioning: I noticed Duarte multiple times pointing guys in the right direction on that end of the floor and saw at least one occasion of him tagging the roller to take away that option on the pick and roll. Check.
  • 3) Be a leader: Duarte did everything you could ask a leader to do. On the play of the game, Duarte was alone in transition but threw a lob off the backboard to Bennedict Mathurin. Rick Carlisle who was on the broadcast at the time said of the moment, “That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. When you can be that happy about getting your teammate a dunk, that’s who we want to be in Indiana.” Check.

The backboard lob play was the conclusion of a glorious trifecta of possessions for Duarte. On the first, he threw a perfectly timed lob to a rolling Isaiah Jackson, on the second he hit a 3-pointer from Carson City, and on the third came the grand finale to Mathurin. The only stain on his performance where a couple shots that went in and out to end the game that brought his shooting percentage to below 50% for the night.

Isaiah Jackson – B

Jackson was his usual pogo stick self with his incredible leaping ability. The only thing bringing his grade down was an uncharacteristic 3 of 12 night from the floor. The Hornets were long inside and forced some misses and Jackson’s numbers could have looked a little better with a few better lob passes from teammates. He still finished with 9 points and 12 rebounds.

Defensively, Jackson was active. He finished with 4 blocks and a steal and perhaps most importantly only a single personal foul against a big Hornets front court. Perhaps my favorite Jackson play of the night was his lone assist where after doubling the ball handler with Mathurin and getting the ball free, he executed a perfect touch pass to Mathurin who finished with an easy layup. If he tried to simply pick the ball up in the situation, it would have been a much tougher possession but the awareness and quick thinking there was impressive.

Jackson also took two 3-pointers, making one. He looks confident in taking them and the more he can develop that shot, the more valuable he becomes offensively.

Andrew Nembhard – B+

Nembhard ran the show to perfection. The Pacers as a team only had nine turnovers which could be a Summer League record where sloppy play is the norm and there’s no one better to credit than the Pacers second-round pick. His numbers were modest with 5 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds but it’s obvious that even if he’s just an emergency point guard in his rookie season, the Pacers aren’t going to be in a Brad Wanamaker situation again.

During the broadcast, Carlisle praised his feel and said that it’s a rare combination for a point guard to always be ready to shoot but still always make the right pass. Nembhard went just 2 of 6 with a pair of those shots perhaps being lobs that ended up hitting the rim but his lone 3-point attempt was a deep triple off the catch that were the Pacers final points of the game.

Kendall Brown – B-

Brown showed his athleticism in his Pacers debut, making a few high-flying plays. He finished with an inefficient 9 points on 11 shots but there were some tantalizing flashes in the game.

Brown loves to get out and run in transition. He started the fast break a few times and got a little out of control at times but he plays fast and can make plays. He also added three steals on that end and was very active.

Brown didn’t hesitate on his three 3-point attempts, making one, but needed to move the ball on one of them to a wide open Duarte on the wing. Still it was good to see him take those shots with confidence.

Terry Taylor – B

Terry Taylor did what Terry Taylor does. He scored 11 points and added 7 rebounds. Taylor made his usual plays on the offensive glass, managed to somehow score over much bigger players inside and also made a 3-pointer in the corner and had a nice dump off pass inside on a drive to Bennie Boatwright.

Duane Washington Jr. – B

The human microwave was cold from the field today at just 3 of 12 but he ran the offense well as the backup point guard with six assists and just one turnover. An impressive performance in that way for a guard that spent most of his time off the ball in his rookie season. Many of his missed shots were on self-created attempts however. Washington also added a pair of steals.

Fanbo Zeng – C+

Zeng, a member of last year’s G-League ignite squad, had a pair of really nice layups in transition that both resulted in a bucket and a foul. Defensively is where he needs the most work though as he was unable to keep up with quicker players like Kai Jones who blew right past him with ease on multiple occasions. He committed five fouls in just 14 minutes, alluding to his struggles with keeping guys in front of him on that end.

Bennie Boatwright – C+

Boatwright had a nice opening to last year’s Summer League before getting hurt. He had a solid but unspectacular performance in this one. There was a brief stretch where it felt like he was going to chuck up every 3-pointer he could but he settled in with 9 points on only seven shot attempts.

Gabe York – Grade B-

York didn’t force much on the offensive end only taking and missing two shot attempts. He grade is a little higher than some of these bench guys for some solid playmaking with 4 assists and no turnovers. It could have been five but Boatwright blew a layup on York’s best pass of the night. York played solid defensively as well and was the only Pacer to not commit a foul.

Simi Shittu is the only other Pacers player to see the court in this one but he played just one minute. No notes to make there.

The Indiana Pacers next Summer League game is on Sunday at 3 p.m. against Keegan Murray and the Sacramento Kings.

(Photo from Pacers sports and entertainment)

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