Sumner Returns, Will Play in Vegas
The interview had ended and the recording devices wielded by both reporters on hand were shut off. But Edmond Sumner had something else to say before getting up to leave.
“I spent time with Vic, too,” he said.
Sumner wanted it known he had spent a couple of weeks with Victor Oladipo in Miami around the end of May and early June. Oladipo, immersed in his recovery from a quad tendon tear, wasn’t yet able to run at the time, but he wanted to allow Sumner to work out with his trainer in Miami and offer advice and encouragement of his own.
The message: “Stay confident,” Sumner recalled Thursday following the Pacers’ final practice before beginning Summer League play on Saturday in Las Vegas. “You’re here for a reason.
“Just to hear it from him, a guy of his status, was great.”
Oladipo’s personal outreach and the Pacers’ corporate embrace of Sumner are indicative of the potential observers see in the former second-round draft pick. He’s displayed it often with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and in brief flashes with the Pacers, but mostly during practice sessions and individual workouts at St. Vincent Center.
He’ll try to further ingratiate himself during Summer League play in Las Vegas, beginning in the first game on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET against Memphis. Sumner did not practice with the Pacers’ team until Thursday because of a sore left foot that flared during recent workouts, but he won’t have a minutes restriction other than his conditioning level.
He will be joined in the starting lineup by fellow Pacers Aaron Holiday and Alize Johnson and free agent hopefuls Jaylen Johnson (Louisville and G League) and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (Illinois State and Le Portel in France).
First-round draft pick Goga Bitadze will immediately step into the starting lineup if his working visa is approved in time for him to join the team in Las Vegas. The effort to get the native of the Republic of Georgia rushed through the system is passing through government channels in Washington D.C.
Sumner will be there for certain, hoping to display an expanded skill set, improve his conditioning and avoid injury. It’s an opportunity for him to show he’s more than a G League star, more than a guy who can excel in a blowout victory or end-of-season game when starters are sitting out.
“I’m looking to push myself, but not do anything too crazy,” he said. “I want to be as healthy as possible for training camp.”
Sumner will be fighting for a spot in the playing rotation next season amid a still-unfinalized roster. He’s regarded primarily as a point guard, where he will back up Holiday in Las Vegas, but he also can play an off-guard position if he continues to improve his perimeter shooting.
Whatever his role winds up being, he’s come a long way since being drafted out of Xavier in 2017 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and atrophied left leg. He couldn’t begin playing with the G League Fort Wayne Mad Ants until January of his rookie season, and ultimately played in 14 games.
Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey, who will direct the Pacers’ Summer League entry, recalls Sumner initially being allowed to play no more than 15 first-half minutes and then showering at halftime and joining the team on the bench for the second half. Sumner’s only NBA field goal that rookie season came on a layup in the final minute of the final regular season game.
Healthy throughout last season, he was the poster child of the two-way contract. He averaged 22.1 points in 26 games with the Mad Ants and played in 23 games for the Pacers. He averaged just 2.9 points in those games, but had his moments - the kind of moments that won over Oladipo and the Pacers’ front office.
Injuries threw Sumner into the fire with a starting assignment against Golden State last Jan. 28 after he had been inactive the previous six games. He came out singed, scoring just two points on 1-of-10 shooting in 28+ minutes, but wiser for the experience.
That was the start of an eight-game stretch in which he played as a rotation player for at least 10 minutes in each one. He averaged 4.5 points on 34 percent shooting in those games, but had the highlight of scoring 17 points in 17.5 minutes in a blowout victory over the Lakers.
He also scored 22 points in the final game of the regular season in Atlanta. He hit just 5-of-14 shots but nailed three game-winning free throws with three-tenths of a second remaining.
Now, a 23-year-old veteran of essentially one NBA season, he’s poised to take another step with the supporting breeze of the franchise’s belief. He hasn’t proven he’s an NBA player, but he hasn’t proven he’s not and he’s trending positively.
“That’s the whole point of the G League,” Gansey said. “A guy like that, going in the second round, having some injuries, working with him, getting our medical staff working with him, building him back up, that’s what it’s all about.
“His confidence is really sky-high right now. We knew his athleticism was there. His three-point shooting is tremendously improved (36 percent with the Mad Ants last season). He’s making reads in pick and roll, making reads in transition. And we knew he could defend multiple positions.”
Sumner, who stood out in Thursday’s end-of-practice scrimmage, has gained 20 pounds since joining the Pacers two years ago, and 195 certainly looks better on his 6-foot-5 frame than 175. He’s also more outgoing and more confident.
Without a true center on his roster, Gansey will unleash Holiday and Sumner, prodding them to run at every opportunity to take advantage of their athleticism. That should allow Sumner to convert some of his ballyhooed potential to promising reality, after which he’ll take a brief vacation and then return to workouts in Indianapolis.
“I’m definitely not going to get lackadaisical,” he said. “I know I’m far from where I need to be. I’m not taking days off.
“I’ll be working with the staff. They see my face every day. I’m a young guy. I don’t need to go nowhere else. I don’t need to spend no money. I can work out for free, lift weights for free, get access to the gym 24/7.
“I don’t do too much. I’m a simple guy.”
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