With the 2022 NBA2K23 Summer League in the rearview mirror, it's time to discuss some of Pacers fans' takeaways after watching their squad play. Everyone has plenty of time to dissect players' performances over the five-game schedule, as no significant basketball events occur until September. So, let's get started:
Bennedict Mathurin Looks NBA Ready
It only took three Summer League games for the sixth-overall pick to earn All-Summer League Second Team honors, and Pacers fans should be excited about that. Finishing with an average of 19.3 points scored in an average of 22.4 minutes played, Mathurin proved he has what it takes to be an adept NBA scorer. While Paolo Banchero and Keegan Murray both had higher scoring averages, they also played more minutes (7.7 and 9.5 more minutes per game, respectively). The only player to match Mathurin's per-minute output was 2020 undrafted forward Matt Ryan for the Celtics. The New York native finished with an average of 19 points over 22.9 minutes in two games played.
Mathurin's ability to finish at all levels of the floor stood out the most. He also did not chase the game but rather let the game come to him naturally. Along with playing a physical game at Arizona, Mathurin was stellar from the perimeter. The wing shot 38.3 percent from 3-point range over 63 games for the Wildcats. Just 43 seconds into his Summer League debut, he sank a triple from the right wing.
Sometimes, rookies hit the Summer League looking to over-impress their teammates or coaching staff and take an aggressive approach. Instead, Mathurin opted to rely on a comfortable sect of his game, allowing himself to ease into the NBA spotlight. He does the same thing in his second game against the Sacramento Kings.
Perhaps hitting an early trey is precisely what Mathurin needed to get the pressure off his shoulders and open up to working on other facets of his game. Promising after effects of these shots are the results of his next field goals. In game one, he follows his triple with an alley-oop transition finish off a lob from Chris Duarte.
The finish highlighted his speed to get out in transition, athleticism to get up, and his unwavering mentality to finish strong. Against the Kings, he followed his trey with a crisp mid-range pull-up jumper.
Then, there was his 20-point outing against the Pistons. With Duarte removed from the action, Mathurin showed he is capable of leading this team on all ends of the floor. His three steals can attest to his quick defensive hands, and his three assists show he can get himself out of trouble with the correct pass. In all, the wing proved he makes an immediate and long-lasting impact with the Blue & Gold.
Andrew Nembhard is in the Perfect Spot
In the NBA, solid second-round picks are hard to come across. While some, like former Pacer Malcolm Brogdon, excel, others have difficulties finding their spot. With the first pick in the second round, the Pacers selected guard Andrew Nembhard from Gonzaga. And after his Summer League performance, it appears Nembhard is heading in the right direction at the correct pace needed to succeed.
Nembhard suited up for all five of the Pacers' Summer League games. While the guard probably would have liked to sink a few more buckets, Pacers fans should look at the stat he was primarily known for in college, his assist numbers.
When Summer League concluded, Nembhard finished with 25 assists, including a game-high nine against the Washington Wizards. When comparing him to other players who appeared in all five games, his average of 5 assists per game stands tied for the sixth-most in Summer League.
Projected to play behind the dynamic Tyrese Haliburton and the experienced sparkplug in T.J. McConnell, it appears Nembhard is in the perfect spot to learn from two solid teammates. Additionally, in case one of the aforementioned gets an errant bump or a bruise, Nembhard appears to have what it takes to eat up some precious minutes as the Pacers' co-co-pilot. The five assists per game in his first NBA action is promising for a future floor general. Look no further than who fed Mathurin the rock for his first three. The Gonzaga product has the driving capability to draw defenders and the eye to spot the open man on the wing, which is a near-mandatory quality to possess in today's NBA.
However, this does not mean Nembhard is a fully-formed NBA point guard. In five games, Nembhard shot 35.1 percent from the floor. Compare that to the pass-first McConnell, whose lowest season-long shooting percentage was 46.1 percent. That came during his second year in the league. He needs to develop something akin to McConnell's patented baseline turnaround 8-footer or improve his 3-point game to earn more minutes. A boost in defensive production would help too. The guard averaged just 0.8 steals per game. Thus, starting his career behind two point guards with different playing styles is a perfect first step in this promising athlete's career.
Chris Duarte Will Soar This Year
The reason the second-year Oregon product is third on this takeaway list is that there is much less to say about him. That is because Chris Duarte showed it to everyone in his only Summer League outing.
Against the Hornets, Duarte finished with 16 points, including a 9-of-9 night at the free-throw line, three boards, and four assists. Perhaps the most throught-provoking stat line is his free-throw numbers. In a discussion with Tony East on the Locked On Pacers podcast, East noted that his free-throw numbers indicate Duarte is now taking his game a step further. He can get the jump on less-experienced defenders now and could draw more shooting fouls during the upcoming 2022-23 season. During his rookie season, he averaged a mere two free-throw attempts per game. With one year of experience under his belt, that number is likely to go up. And it does not take advanced analytics to note that more free-throw attempts equal more easy points for the Blue & Gold.
Some can question why Duarte even stepped on the court for a Summer League game in the first place. On the other hand, it was imperative to see Duarte in command. He took this veteran-esque role to heart. He tested out his nagging left toe injury in a low-pressure environment. Additionally, he roomed with Mathurin in the team hotel to build early chemistry with his former Pac-12 foe-turned-teammate. That decision appeared to pay immediate dividends since the player to deliver Mathurin's first NBA alley-oop was Duarte himself. And from this lighthearted interview, it seems the decision to bring him to Summer League was a great one.
Isaiah Jackson, Terry Taylor Take Steps Forward
Not to be outdone, the other second-year players did not need all five games to showcase improvement either. Isaiah Jackson tallied 21 rebounds over his first two games and finished one point shy of a double-double against Charlotte. He also showcased his athleticism again, collecting a bevy of swats and slams over three games.
Meanwhile, Terry Taylor also doubled down on his bread and butter. The 6-foot-5 forward showed his uncanny ability to fight among the trees for offensive boards and putbacks. Against the Kings, he hauled in four offensive boards while playing against a seven-footer in Neemias Queta. Against the Pistons, he brought down five offensive rebounds while working the glass.
The Pacers Will Be Fun To Watch This Year
After a topsy-turvy 2021-22 Pacers season, questions loom regarding how the Blue & Gold will perform this year. Predicting a record with this many talented young faces is an impossible task. However, one thing is for sure. There is no doubt that this team will be fun to watch.
At every position, there is talent. First, there is Tyrese Haliburton, who is expected to achieve new goals as the new fearless leader on offense. He is backed up by a scrappy T.J. McConnell, who always gives 110 percent on both ends of the floor and will certainly have his moments. Then, there's a laundry list of guards, wings, and power forwards who all possess the potential to exceed already high expectations. Andrew Nembhard, Chris Duarte, Aaron Nesmith, Bennedict Mathurin, Oshae Brissett, Terry Taylor, Jalen Smith, and Isaiah Jackson can bring this young team to new heights. Finally, there is the defensive powerhouse in Myles Turner, who some call the best rim protector in the league. While more wins would be nice, the squad somewhat resembles the 2021-22 Orlando Magic. Despite a 22-60 record, Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz, Wedell Carter Jr., and Mo Bamba proved that a "re-tooling" team can have fun while improving. Like the Magic, the Blue & Gold have a bright future, and fans cannot wait to see the squad step on the court for the first time.