Pacers Second-Rounders Performing in Training Camp

September 29, 2018 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan complimented the progress made by Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson, and Ike Anigbogu -- second-round draft picks who are all having strong a strong training camp.

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Pacers Second-Rounders Performing in Training Camp

September 29, 2018 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan complimented the progress made by Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson, and Ike Anigbogu -- second-round draft picks who are all having strong a strong training camp.
Sep 29, 2018  |  03:09

Late Picks Showing Early Signs of Growth for Pacers

by Mark Montieth Writer

Second-round draft picks who have lasting careers in the NBA are rare breeds in a league where even many first-rounders don't survive beyond their rookie contract.

The Pacers, however, have three who show glimpses of becoming exceptions to the rule. Ike Anigbogu and Edmond Sumner from 2017 and Alize Johnson from this year have inspired optimism from coach Nate McMillan based on their play in training camp, backed by supporting evidence from their G League and/or Summer League games.

"They've had really good training camps," McMillan said Saturday following the Pacers' morning session at St. Vincent Center. "I really like what I see from those guys."

A coach liking what he sees in a player is a long way from that player actually making it in the NBA, but it's a start. And those three are just getting started, even the "veterans" Anigbogu and Sumner. Both were injured last summer and spent far more time in training rooms receiving treatment than in actual games, but are healthy now.

All three are likely to spend most of the upcoming winter in Fort Wayne with the Pacers' G League affiliate. As the least proven members of the Pacers' projected 15-man roster and stuck behind established veterans, they wouldn't benefit much from watching NBA games in street clothes. None of them have been told of the plans for them this season, but all say they'll accept whatever role – and location - assigned to them.

That's a smart choice, given the odds. Only two of the current established members of the Pacers' roster found a path to the NBA from outside the first round: Bojan Bogdanovic, who was the first player drafted in the second round in 2011, and Kyle O'Quinn, who was the 49th overall choice in 2012.

Only about two-thirds of NBA second-round draft picks play even one game in the league, and a far smaller percentage last more than a few seasons.

The Pacers are typical. Scroll through the long list of players who have played in regular season games for them in their 51 seasons, and only a handful of second-rounders made lasting contributions in the NBA. Antonio Davis (1990), Fred Hoiberg (1995) and Lance Stephenson (2010) certainly "made it." Kenny Williams (1990) played four seasons before going overseas. Joe Young (2015) played the past three seasons as a third-string point guard, but is now in China preparing for the next season.

Alize Johnson

Alize Johnson averaged 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds during the Las Vegas Summer League (Photo: Getty Images/NBAE)

Given those harsh realities, the second round has in recent years become a refuge for promising projects rather than more established players who simply aren't quite as good as first-round picks. It's for the athletic guy whose skills need refinement. The really young guy who might mature physically. The injured guy who needs time to rehabilitate. The late-blooming guy who might need a position change. The guy from a smaller college who might have been overlooked.

Anigbogu, Sumner and Johnson all fit one or more of those categories.

Anigbogu was just 18 years old when drafted by the Pacers last year after averaging just 4.7 points off the bench for UCLA. He recalls participating in just two training camp practices – "maybe 1 ½" - while rehabbing a knee injury. He wound up playing in 11 Pacers games for a total of 30 minutes and 20 games for the Mad Ants in Fort Wayne, where he averaged 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds.

He doesn't turn 20 until Oct. 22, but has had an "NBA body" from the moment he was drafted. His challenge will be to acquire the skills and knowledge of an NBA player to supplement his 6-foot-10, 250-pound foundation.

He was a poor shooter away from the rim when drafted, as indicated by his free throw percentage of .535 at UCLA. He's worked with assistant coach David McClure on his shooting form, and seems to have made significant improvement by moving the ball away from his face at his release point.

"I remember sometimes in college I would actually brush my face (when shooting)," he said. "I feel way more comfortable and it goes in a lot more, too."

He hit 5-of-6 free throws for the Pacers last season and 26-of-37 for the Mad Ants. McMillan said he's shown improvement with his mid-range shot in practice, too, but then shooting won't be Anigbogu's priority.

"He's a true five who has the ability to defend the basket, block shots, rebound the ball … and he's not bad in the post," McMillan said. "He makes good decisions with the basketball."

Johnson, the 50th overall pick in this year's draft, stands 6-9 and weighs 212 – virtually identical to Paul George's stature. He projects as a power forward, though, because of his thirst for rebounding and lack of perimeter shooting.

He's made a similar correction to his shooting form as Anigbogu, moving the ball away from his head, and ran off a string of made free throws following practice on Saturday for what that's worth. He hit just 28 percent of his 3-pointers last season at Missouri State, but was one of the few college players to have a double-figure rebounding average (11.6) for the season.

He averaged 8.6 rebounds while playing 23 minutes per game for the Pacers' Summer League team, and has continued to rebound well in training camp, according to McMillan.

"Absolutely. Relentless," McMillan said. "He is a rebounder. He knows it. He goes and gets it. He has to learn when he can go to the boards offensively, but this kid goes to the boards and rebounds the ball."

Johnson had a late growth spurt, so he has uncommon ballhandling and passing skills for a big man. Should he become a consistent shooter, he might become able to play on the perimeter.

"It's a lot more physical and way more faster," he said of his transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the NBA. "I just need to get comfortable (and know) where I need to be, and once I get all that down I'll be able to start making (shots)."

McMillan sounds most enthused about Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard who came to the Pacers last year with a torn ligament in his left knee. He didn't play for the Mad Ants until Jan. 19, and averaged 7.2 points, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 17 minutes per game.

Coming off the bench in the Mad Ants' only playoff game, he scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, with seven rebounds and two blocks. He made one appearance for the Pacers, the final two minutes of the final regular season game against Charlotte, and took the ball the length of the court for a layup.

Yes, the game ball from that personal milestone can be found at his home. No, he doesn't go on YouTube to relive the moment.

Edmond Sumner

Sumner averaged 7.2 points, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 17 minutes per game with the Mad Ants last season

"It's turn the page now," he said. "I'm looking for bigger and better things."

McMillan sounds confident they'll come, given Sumner's length, speed and court vision. While this year's first-round draft pick Aaron Holiday would logically be regarded as the Pacers' point guard of the future, it probably would be wise not to count out Sumner, who averaged 11.3 points over 19.3 minutes in Summer League play.

"He's fast. He's really fast," McMillan said. "He sees the floor. He can get to the basket. He's really patient in the pick-and-rolls. He does a good job getting us into our offense and creating opportunities for his teammates. He can guard the one or the two, and with his speed he's shown the ability to be able to defend a wing.

"And he's a tough kid. He doesn't say much, but he has a quiet confidence about himself."

McMillan recalled the August and September pickup games at St. Vincent Center, when Sumner jockeyed to play against the veterans rather than with them.

"I like that about him," McMillan said.

Sumner's confidence isn't difficult to detect in conversation.

"I feel I've been playing great this training camp," he said.

"I've been defending really well and been getting in the paint."

Sumner also needs to shoot better. He hit 27 percent of his 3-point attempts in his final abbreviated season at Xavier, and 25 percent (5-of-20) for the Mad Ants. He hasn't changed his form to the degree Johnson and Anigbogu have, relying on repetition instead.

"It's more about being more confident and getting the reps in," he said. "Most of it is mental."

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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