Pacers forward Jarace Walker navigates rookie season, gets extended playing time in loss to Utah
The Indiana Pacers' 2023 lottery pick has appeared in 13 of 40 games this season. He discussed his growth on the court, what the coaches are asking from him, and the challenge of staying ready.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back on Monday in Salt Lake City, the undermanned Pacers were blown out by the Jazz in a 132-105 wire-to-wire loss.
Considering the schedule and how they were without three starters due to injury, it had the feel of a scheduled loss for the Pacers, who had won nine of their last 10 games before consecutive losses to the Nuggets and Jazz.
A 26-point deficit entering the final quarter, however, led to a productive and useful final 12 minutes. Rookies Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard both played over 25 minutes in the game, and two-way players Kendall Brown and Oscar Tshiebwe also played the entire fourth quarter.
When you’re young and new to the NBA (or any league for that matter), game reps become most important. But minutes are hard to come by. And must be earned — which is the team’s motto for the 2023-24 season.
Walker and Sheppard, the team’s two rookie first-round picks, have mostly been out of the rotation. They haven’t complained, instead choosing to focus on getting their work in and staying ready for when called upon — as they were in Monday’s loss.
Walker: eight points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks.
Sheppard: four points, three rebounds, three assists.
Through the first 40 Pacers games this season, Walker has appeared in 13 games. Mostly blowouts. Aaron Nesmith and Obi Toppin are ahead of him in the rotation that has mostly been kept to about 10 guys when all are healthy.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” Walker told Fieldhouse Files. “Everybody has high expectations for themselves, but just being able to keep my head down and work (has been key). I’m continuing to grind, stay hungry and stay consistent in the work. And then just let everything happen.”
Extra game reps have also come in the form of appearing in five G League games with the Indiana Mad Ants. They competed in the G League Showcase, losing in the championship game, and then took advantage of a home-friendly schedule.
And in G League games, Walker is averaging 24.4 points per game while shooting 50% from beyond the arc. His outside shooting is where you can see that he’s made the most progress. He’s looking for it and shooting with confidence, which has led to regular 30-point games with the Mad Ants.
With the Pacers, he knows being a threat from outside will help most with spacing and in opening up driving lanes for teammates like Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin.
“I’m just trying to let the game come to me — take open shots when I’m open and make the right plays offensively,” Walker said. “If that’s happens with me scoring, then that’s what is going to happen.”
Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle hears the noise. He knows fans want to see more from Walker. But he’s stressing patience with their 20-year-old forward.