Pacers Summer League Takeaways: What we learned in Las Vegas

The Indiana Pacers finished off their Summer League schedule with a loss to the Washington Wizards and suffered perhaps the worst shooting performance ever seen against the Phoenix Suns. Before the Wizards game, they actually had a shot at playing in the championship if they would have won by at least 15 points but Indiana rested many of their top players including Bennedict Mathurin, Isaiah Jackson, Chris Duarte, and Terry Taylor. Duane Washington Jr. was also inactive after being waived earlier this week so the Pacers could sign Deandre Ayton to an offer sheet. The Summer Pacers finished just 2-3 overall.

With three draft picks and seven players that were on the team’s roster in some capacity last season—plus newcomer Aaron Nesmith—this was a loaded group for the Pacers for Summer League in the first three games. While it’s important not to overreact positively or negatively to anything that happens in Las Vegas, there’s still plenty to learn and takeaway from these exhibition games. Here’s my takeaways from each player:

Bennedict Mathurin

The number six pick in the 2022 NBA Draft didn’t disappoint in his pseudo-debut for the Pacers as he averaged 19.3 points, 4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in just 22 minutes per game. He finished his three games with shooting splits of 48.8/38.5/76.5. His numbers efficiency-wise compare favorably to any rookie in his class.

Mathurin averaged the third-most PPG among rookies in Vegas despite a much lower minute total than those above him.

Mathurin impressed in catch-and-shoot situations off the ball as expected but showed also showed off some nice on-ball skills with step-back 3-pointers and a variety of drives to the rim where he often finished or drew a foul (5.7 free throw attempts per game). His handle has plenty of room to grow and tighten up but he only averaged 0.7 turnovers per game in a typically sloppy setting. His passing and decision making is still a work in progress but he finished with three assists in his final game after having just one in his first two. His skills in transition when paired with Tyrese Haliburton should lead to plenty of highlights. Overall, a highly encouraging start to the rookie’s career on the offensive end.

“He’s an NBA scorer right now and he has tremendous upside,” said head coach Rick Carlisle during the broadcast of the team’s win over the Pistons. “There are parts of his game that are still very raw and that’s exciting.”

Defense is often an adventure for first-year players in the NBA and Mathurin will likely need plenty of development on that end. He did show effort and desire that’s needed to be a good defender and the willingness to get his body on the floor for loose balls, but knowing when he needs to rotate and just consistently having good positioning will take some time. Maybe the most impressive thing for Mathurin coming out of this week was his confidence. He had the viral quote about LeBron having to prove he’s better than him whenever he plays against him the first time but it all comes from a place of confidence in himself being the best player on the court. At one point after a step-back jumper against the Pistons, he yelled towards the crowd, “I’m the best one out here!” Indiana hasn’t had that type of irrational confidence guy in awhile and it’ll be fun to watch how he responds to the ups and downs of a long NBA season.

Chris Duarte

Duarte was the Pacers best player in his lone game in Vegas as he quietly dominated putting up 16 points on just seven shot attempts. It was exactly what you wanted to see from the 2021 lottery pick: he looked too good for Summer League and after finishing the season with a nagging toe injury he looked healthy as well. Duarte just looked like he was in complete control that entire first game, didn’t force anything, and always played at his pace.

Isaiah Jackson

Jackson looked like his po-go-stick self through three games and bounced back from a bad performance against the Kings to a dominant one against the Pistons where he made all of his shot attempts with nearly all of them being dunks. He used his athleticism on both ends to make a ton of highlight plays, but probably wasn’t as good as hoped for the second-year man over the first two games. Over three games, he averaged 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 stocks (steals and blocks) in 22 minutes per game.

Jackson is in an interesting spot with the roster currently as his leaping ability pairs perfectly with Tyrese Haliburton but he looks like he’ll be the first big off the bench right now if Myles Turner remains with the team as Jalen Smith was promised a starting role. He should play plenty this season and give plenty of fantastic highlights for years to come. He has the potential to be a fantastic switch big on defense that can guard all five positions but he’s still got to put all the tools together and be more consistent with his positioning. One encouraging defensive stat between the blocks and steals, only two fouls per game.

Terry Taylor

Terry Taylor did what Terry Taylor does. He rebounds a ton for a guy his size, especially on the defensive glass, scores over people inside that are much taller than he is, and finds ways to contribute. He finished his three games averaging 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds while shooting 57% from the floor and making his only 3-point attempt. Summer League defenders closed out on him harder than NBA defenses will which allowed him to drive to the basket more often but we’ve seen what Taylor can do for at the NBA level and how his skills translate. If he can get his outside shot to be consistent, that’ll open up a lot more things for him, but at minimum he can crash the offensive glass as good as anyone in the league. Such a unique player at 6’5”.

Kendall Brown

The 48th overall pick from Baylor was the second most impressive rookie for the Pacers. Initially, I thought his propensity to get out at run as fast as possible and at every opportunity would lead to him being out of control but it worked to his advantage more often than it would lead to a turnover over five games. He averaged 9.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 2 steals in 21 minutes per game.

He flashed his athleticism in transition pretty consistently, showed some nice passing instincts, and an ability to move well without the ball in a half-court setting. He shot just 33% on 3-point attempts and that’ll be important to teams paying him any attention in an NBA game but he does enough everywhere else to cause intrigue. I’ll be interested to see how his speed and transition game translates to the regular season. It’s still unclear whether he’ll be on a 2-way deal or a standard NBA contract.

Andrew Nembhard

I thought Nembhard’s best game was his first game where he looked poised and in control running the offense at all times. The rookie point guard and 31st overall pick struggled with some bad turnovers at times in the next four games. He averaged 6.6 points on 35% shooting overall and 21% from deep and added 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2.8 turnovers while playing over 26 minutes per game. He did have some fantastic assists in each game.

He’s got a nice floater game and seems to have confidence in his 3-point shot with it’s low-release point but could not buy a bucket. As the first pick in the second round, it would be shocking if he didn’t get a standard NBA deal but it would not be surprising to see him spend plenty of time in Fort Wayne while Haliburton and T.J. McConnell are both healthy.

Aaron Nesmith

This was not the start to his Pacers career that anyone would have hoped for. You want to give him some slack because he wasn’t able to practice with the team much before just jumping into game action but you’d certainly like to see a third-year player perform much better than Nesmith did. He shot just 27% overall and 25% from deep over three games. He scored 9.7 points on over 12 shot attempts per game. Not only did he struggle to make shots, he also didn’t take care of the ball as he led the Pacers in turnovers with 3.7 per game. On offense, there wasn’t a whole lot to like. His drives often ended in those turnovers and his jump shot just wouldn’t fall.

I will say that on the defensive end he was much more intriguing, making some athletic plays, playing with a lot of energy, and averaging 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. With the Pacers lacking both wing depth and defense, he’ll likely have plenty of chances this season but with how poorly he shot the ball it also wouldn’t be that surprising if the Pacers declined his fourth-year team option for 2023-24 if they don’t see him find his shot in training camp and the games before they have to make that decision.

Duane Washington Jr.

Washington Jr. was waived after three games so the Pacers could make their offer sheet to Deandre Ayton. He cleared waivers todays and could rejoin the Pacers if both sides would like to do so but Washington is behind a large group of guards on the roster as it currently stands and he did not perform all that well in Summer League action either. He played better than Nesmith on offense but only slightly and remains a traffic cone on defense. Washington Jr. has the ability to light up a scoreboard and get hot quickly but unfortunately he did not do so in any of these games averaging 8 points on 34.6% shooting.

Exhibit 10, Mad Ants, and others

  • David DiLeo at times looked like Summer League Dirk wearing #41 out there and led the Pacers in scoring in their final game but it was only 8 first-half points. He scored points in bunches and you can tell he’s a shooter but he finished his time in Vegas making just 23.5% of his triples.
  • Gabe York, in my opinion, was the best player in this group. After making his NBA debut last season, York can make some impressive shots and he made some nice passes over the five games. He shot a respectable 36.4% from deep but only 36% overall from the floor. He averaged 5.6 points and 2.2 assists per game. At 28 years old, he’s probably running out of time to gain a foothold in the league.
  • Fanbo Zeng showed some impressive flashes offensively with his jump shot and some nice scoop layups at the rim. His question marks are mostly defensive as he gets blown by fairly easily on that end and committed a lot of fouls in limited minutes. He averaged 5 points in 10 minutes per game making 55.6% of his shots but also had no assists. The G-League Ignite player probably would benefit from another year in the developmental league.
  • Bennie Boatwright hasn’t seen a shot attempt he doesn’t like. In just 11 minutes per game, Boatwright took over 7 shots per contest which was about the same as Nembhard and Jackson who played twice as many minutes Boatwright. The results weren’t great either as he shot just 36% overall and 23% from deep.
  • Nate Hinton, who ended the season on a 2-way deal with the Pacers, plays with a ton of energy and I enjoy his excitement on the court when teammates do things well. Similar to Nesmith in that while he struggled a bit offensively, his defensive energy was good to see. He averaged 5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.3 steals in 14 minutes per game. Like many of this roster, he struggled with making shots as well.
  • Jermaine Samuels made four of his five shots and every free throw that he took for the Pacers in Summer League. He played the least amount of minutes for the team but I thought he played alright while he was out there. He didn’t try to do too much like many and didn’t turn the ball over once. He’ll be with the Pacers in training camp as he signed an Exhibit-10 deal.
  • Simi Shittu had some nice moments in Vegas and seemed to have some chemistry with Brown when they shared the floor. He made 55% of his shots, had a couple nice drives in transition which were surprising, averaged nearly 5 rebounds in only 11 minutes per game but only made one of seven free throws. He had six fouls in the first half only one of the games. Not quite tall enough to be a center in the NBA.
  • Tevin Brown is another shooter on the roster that simply couldn’t find his stroke. Brown made just 25% of his deep attempts in limited action.
  • Eli Brooks didn’t play a ton but made 57% of his shots and averaged 3.3 points and 2.7 assists in over 9 minutes per game. He had a really bad turnover in his first action but I thought settled in better than many of these players in this section as the week went on.

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