Pacers Summer League 2022 Preview: Schedule, roster, learning and improving decision making
The team begins their five-game schedule on Friday, July 8 and will be coached by Ronald Nored.
LAS VEGAS — Over the last week and a half, 16 players gathered for a mini-camp before heading west to Las Vegas for the NBA’s primary summer league.
They held six practices in Indy before departing on Wednesday, then practiced again on Thursday. For coaches and staff members, it was probably strange to be boarding a commercial Southwest flight rather than a charter flight.
And for most of the players, they’re young, simply appreciative of the opportunity and ready to get started.
For half the roster, it’s about the chance to get in front of an NBA team, compete and make an impression. But more than that, it’s about playing well in Las Vegas in front of executives and scouts of all 30 teams, along with scouts from overseas.
These Summer Pacers are being coached by Ronald Nored. Indiana sports fans are familiar with him from his playing days at Butler (2008-12) and his close relationship with Brad Stevens, who just completed his first season as Celtics’ president of basketball operations. He signed on with Rick Carlisle before last season.
Nored brings a fresh perspective to the team. He’s full of energy — call it youthful enthusiasm — and he will be demanding effort on the defensive end. However, he says learning is their number one priority.
“We have a lot of young guys, even our guys that are back,” Nored said. “They are learning. This is a learning environment. So our goal is when these guys get to training camp in September, that what we’ve done has set them apart and to already have an idea about what we need to do when the season starts. We would love to go 5-0, I want to win more games than anybody else. But if these guys come to training camp and they understand defensive rotations, they understand our offensive system and how we play defense, that’s the priority.”
Getting them prepared for the NBA includes many layers. There’s the team dynamic, building chemistry and playing together. But there’s also individual growth — like making proper reads, moving without the ball, defensive rotations and getting enough reps to where the game slows down.
It won’t happen simply during these five games. Over the next two weeks, Nored wants to see growth in individual decision making — what he calls the number one skill for NBA players.
And you can tell Duane Washington Jr., who impressed last season after going undrafted, is taking that message to heart.
“I’m learning so much,” he said when asked about areas of growth. “I keep asking questions; I ask questions every day, I watch film every day. For me, it’s about making decision, making the right decisions, finding the open man and making the right reads.”
The Pacers ranked 28th in defense last season, so it’s only up from there. It starts with individual assignments and taking care of their man on the perimeter. Though it is summer league, Nored said there will be a lot of attention given to that end of the floor.
“I think as an organization, coach (Carlisle) preaches it, we need to preach it as well,” he said. “Defense has to be our calling card. You look at the NBA Finals — Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics were number one and number two in defense and they ended up in the finals. So if we want to have a chance as we grow this organization, defense has to be the standard.”
The number one thing Pacers fans want to see is the debut of lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin. He’s a confident player who made a strong impression on Day 1.
“Just the athleticism and the natural ability is real,” said Nored. “His ability to the ball on the court, get to the rim, make the right reads today. He did a great job. We’re working a lot on on reads for everybody, we all are young and need to learn. He did a good job with it and then his spirit around the gym. He’s having fun with the guys, everybody is having fun with him. It’s a really good environment.”
Mathurin is deliberately using his voice more and speaking up. Already, he feels the need to lead when he can. And we know he’s a confident player. He knows that being a top six pick comes with higher expectations and that a lot of eyes will be watching how he plays.
He said his focus is on building chemistry with teammates, learning about NBA spacing and playing defense at a high level.
“We talked about playing the right way,” said Nored. “This can’t be about you necessarily. It has to be about the Pacers organization and us getting better.”
See Also: Why Mathurin was with Tyrese Haliburton the night before the draft
Game 1: Friday, July 8 v Charlotte Hornets | 6 p.m. ET | Thomas & Mack | ESPN2
Game 2: Sunday, July 10 at Sacramento Kings | 3 p.m. ET | Cox Pavilion | ESPN
Game 3: Tuesday, July 12 v Detroit Pistons | 9 p.m. ET | Thomas & Mack | NBA TV
Game 4: Friday, July 15 at Washington Wizards | 9 p.m. ET | Thomas & Mack | ESPN2
Game 5: TBD
This is talented roster, their best in a decade. It includes seven core Pacers.
That’s two first-round picks from 2021, Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, plus Duane Washington Jr. and Terry Taylor. Along with their three 2022 draft picks: Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard and Kendall Brown.
“It’s going to be fun,” Mathurin said. “I played against Chris (in 2021) against Oregon and he gave me the work. So I’m glad he’s on my team now. Having some guys who are in the league, they’ve seen a couple things that I wasn’t able to seen.”
Chris Duarte’s left big toe
Unfortunately for Chris Duarte, his big left toe is still an issue. He last played in a game on March 15 and was ruled out for the season a few weeks later. It cut short his rookie campaign.
“It was uncomfortable,” he said last week after practice. “I love the game and being away from the game is not fun. I’m really excited and looking forward to play.”
So Duarte took a month off after the season, but the injury remains. He’s expected to play at least a game or two in Las Vegas, but not even that’s guaranteed.
“I don’t know,” said Duarte. “I’m listening to my body and listening to what the trainers are telling me and coaches.”
He does not have any restrictions, but both he and Nored described it as a day-to-day injury.
“We’re still monitoring it, seeing how he feels,” Nored said. “He’s done a good job of competing in practice. We’ll let his body tell us what he needs to do and talk to the trainers and talk to coach and make the decision.”
Duane Washington Jr.’s contract is not guaranteed for this upcoming season and neither is Terry Taylor’s. That’s noteworthy ahead of the team playing five games over the next week.
The Pacers worked with Washington Jr. to move his contract guarantee date from July 6 to July 15th. Taylor’s contract for the 2022-23 season becomes guaranteed on Sunday, the 10th.
One Player to Watch
Beyond the core Pacers, keep an eye on David DiLeo. He’s a 6-foot-8 forward from Central Michigan. He last played in Greece.
He’s a smart player, moves without the ball and knows where to be. He’s also a good shooter. He made a strong impression on the coaching staff over the last week.
He’ll wear No. 41.
Last year, it was Mike Weinar coaching the Summer Pacers. Now it’s Nored, who has held the role before in 2019 while with the Charlotte Hornets. So it’s only fitting that their first game this summer is against those Hornets.
He will be assisted by Jenny Boucek, along with player development coaches Calbert Cheaney and Jannero Pargo. Video coordinator Dylan DeBusk, Mad Ants head coach Tom Hankins and assistant Mo Baker are also on the bench.
Players want to win
Many Pacers have talked about their desire to win it all, including Mathurin, who everyone will be watching closely. “We’re going out there to get the most wins possible,” he said. What else would you expect from him? “We’re trying to win it all. We’re going out there with a purpose.”
And now there’s another incentive: championship rings. The NBA has been trying to find other ways to celebrate team accomplishments; that’s among the reasons there’s consideration for a mid-season tournament.
Here’s what the rings look like.