Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard is a steady, two-way presence in the backcourt; Q&A with Gonzaga coach Mark Few
"He’s not a big rah-rah guy. But what he is is a great quarterback that will organize guys. And he’s just a really low maintenance, fun teammate to have around."
It’s Sunday morning on Oct. 1. It’s Day 5 of training camp for the Pacers.
The team looks very different from last season. The coaching staff is back for a second year, but the makeup and possibilities with this group is very different. They’re also younger, with the average age of 25, the 10th-youngest team in the NBA.
They’re coming off a season where they lost 11 consecutive games to end the season, which led to their worst record since the 1980s and their highest draft selection since 1988.
They then added Bennedict Mathurin (6), Andrew Nembhard (31) and Kendall Brown (48) in the draft.
Back to Oct. 1…
As a few reporters sat on the second floor and just outside the northwest entrance to the gym at the St. Vincent Center, team president Kevin Pritchard came around the corner. He had just left practice and was waiting on the elevator.
Before he entered, he looked over and unprompted said “Nembhard is really good. He’s going to compete for minutes”
The first pick of the second round has done a lot more than compete for minutes, he’s earned a regular role — and more.
After not playing on opening night, coach Rick Carlisle played Nembhard a team-high 30 minutes against the Spurs in Game 2 of the season. And he’s remained in the rotation ever since. More than that, he’s back in the starting lineup for a Haliubrton-Nembhard backcourt.
“Andrew plays beyond his years,” Carlisle said during camp, even before the first exhibition game. “He’s got a real good old-school feel to the game. And he’s got some real toughness.”
Pritchard and Carlisle weren’t the only ones to praise Nembhard. It was his teammates too. No other player received more compliments than this rookie guard.
The Pacers were high on Nembhard long before he was inserted into the starting lineup and before he nailed a game-winning 3 this week to top the Lakers on the road.
That was his return game after sitting out four games with a left knee bruise. He had fresh legs and resumed his role of contributing at both ends. At 6-foot-3, he spent time defensively guarding LeBron James and making things difficult. And offensively, he sank four 3-pointers, including the difference maker.
That’s not the first time he’s assigned to defend the No. 1 target. He defended Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro on Nov. 4 in a Pacers win. First, he fouled Herro up three — smart strategy! — and then didn’t allow for Herro, who we all knew was going to take the shot, to get a decent look on his final attempt.
“Kevin and his staff really nailed it on him because he'll go down as a top-12 or -15 pick in this draft when it's all said and done,” Carlisle said. “That's where he should have been taken.”
Second-round picks do not receive guaranteed contracts like first-rounders, but the Pacers went ahead and signed Nembhard to a four-year deal with three years and $6.4 million fully guaranteed. It’s the most guaranteed money ever for a second-round pick coming out of college.
Just this week, Nembhard was one of five nominees for Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, an award won by his teammate in Mathurin.
“He’s such a good defender and his ability to get into the ball, make other point guards feel him is pretty high level,” assistant coach Ronald Nored said of Nembhard at summer league. “And then on the offensive end, he just settles us down. He gets us in the things we need to get into, he communicates plays. I don’t even call half the plays, I just let him do it. And he does it pretty well.
“He’s just a good guy and loves basketball. That’s the thing I love about him.”
Each year at summer league, former Gonzaga players get together one evening for dinner. They reminisce about their time playing for the Bulldogs, hang out with former teammates and help the younger guys make the transition to the league.
Nembhard, 22, spent two years at the University of Florida and two years at Gonzaga before he entered the draft. Now, he’s averaging 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a rookie while shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc.
He didn’t overlap with former Pacer Domantas Sabonis at Gonzaga, but those two had the chance to meet in Vegas and briefly discuss Indy.
“That dinner was amazing,” Nembhard said. “We had a lot of guys that I’ve played with and met through my time there. A lot of old heads who gave me a lot of advice growing up. It was fun seeing those guys, getting together and having fun that night.”
Longtime Gonzaga head coach Mark Few couldn’t make it because of recruiting obligations, but it was a proud moment for him. And he’s always staying in contact with his players.
Few was at summer league in Las Vegas so he was able to watch Nembhard, and other former Gonzaga players, play for several days. And yes, he’s still coaching them up and giving his players tips to this day.
“That’s my guy, I love that guy,” Nembhard said. “He always supported me and I’m always going to support him. I’m just so appreciative that he took time out of his day to come watch me.”
Coach Few attended the Pacers’ second game at summer league, which was held at Cox Pavilion. Fieldhouse Files then caught up with him outside the gym to discuss that special Gonzaga dinner and what the Pacers were getting in Nembhard.