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Bennedict Mathurin shows strengths and growth areas for Indiana Pacers during Summer League play

The Pacers promising young guard showed what his next steps are in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Most players with Bennedict Mathurin's resume don't play more than one game in NBA Summer League, if at all. Of the five players on the 2023 All-Rookie first team, Mathurin and Keegan Murray (California Classic) were the only ones who played multiple Summer League games. The other three combined for one total outing — a Jalen Williams game in Salt Lake City Summer League.

Most established and promising youngsters don't play much, if at all, in the exhibitions. Mathurin did suit up, though. He's atypical in that way. "It's an opportunity to play a real game," he said of participating with the summer Pacers. "I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to pretty much apply what I've been working on the whole summer. It's a great opportunity to play against great players," Mathurin added. He wanted to play and get in reps with Indiana's newly drafted players.

Mathurin's situation made him a unique case for Summer League play. On one hand, his best skills are special. He's a talented scorer for a youngster, especially in isolation, and can get to the foul line at will. He averaged 7.5 free throw attempts per game in Las Vegas, which buoyed his efficiency. The 21-year old will get buckets and draw fouls against anyone.

On the other hand, Mathurin has some obvious areas for growth. His passing and playmaking are behind his scoring, which currently limits what he can be as a shot creator. General Manager Chad Buchanan noted Mathurin's passing as something important on an ESPN broadcast of Indiana's fourth Summer League game.

"He's very good at getting to the rim and drawing fouls. We want to see some more elements of driving to the rim and making plays for others," Buchanan said of Mathurin's growth areas heading into year two. "Consistently shooting the ball... becoming that really locked in defender," he added.

The 2022 sixth overall pick was an excellent three-point shooter to open his rookie season, but those numbers fell throughout his first campaign. He finished the year at 32.3% from deep and went 4/15 from beyond the arc in Summer League play, a much-too-small sample to make any meaningful observations. Shooting, along with passing, will be key areas to watch for Mathurin in year two.

Defense will be another growth point for the six-foot-six-inch guard this coming season, and he looked solid on that end of the floor in Las Vegas. He stayed in front of his matchups, worked well slowing down pick-and-rolls, and looked connected on that end of the floor. That was an encouraging sign for the Canadian.

"I think it's defense. I think if I get my defense as high as my offensive level, I think I'm going to be a great player," Mathurin said of what he was hoping to add during Summer League play. "My goal is to be the best two-way player in this league, and I'm not saying it because it sounds good. I actually mean it." He mentioned Kobe Bryant as someone who he looks up to in that way.

Mathurin is hard on himself to achieve his goal of being the best two-way player he can be. Last year, he told Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle to coach him hard so that he could improve faster. He wants to be great and will do unconventional things to get there.

This summer, that meant simplifying the game. He watched film of himself throughout the offseason to see how he could be better, and Summer League was his first chance to apply what he learned.

At times, he went to his go-to moves and looked to score. Other times, he swung the ball or made quality dump off passes. After the second game, Indiana's Summer League head coach Jannero Pargo said he challenged Mathurin to focus on ball movement and tried to help him find natural moments to isolate his defender.

"I tried to explain to him that within the game there [are] iso situations that don't look like isos," Pargo explained. He said some of them appear in pick-and-roll situations. Others just pop up within the frameworks of the game. "That's the way for him to be successful. When he's holding [the ball], when he's jabbing at the defense getting set, it makes it really tough on him and us as a team."

That looks to be one of the bigger improvement points for Mathurin going into year two. He just needs to keep the ball moving. He had a few easy assists in the Pacers second Summer League outing when he kept swinging the ball around the perimeter, which was encouraging.

The playmaking looks to be the biggest point of growth going forward for Mathurin, but he will also have the ball in his hands less often in the regular season than he did in Las Vegas. Balance will be important.

In general, though, Mathurin's strengths still looked like just that — strengths. He is hard to stay in front of on an island, and his ability to put constant pressure on the rim has a ton of value.

"He just makes the game so easy. He draws so much attention. Great downhill driver," Pacers rookie forward Jarace Walker said of Mathurin. "Creates offensive rebound opportunities. Just a really solid player."

His defense looked better, too. That will matter for the young guard going into his second season. Staying alert and active on defense, and improving his decision making on offense, will be among the most important skills for Mathurin to develop this coming campaign.

Growing in those areas will make Mathurin a better fit next to All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton as well, which is important for the blue and gold. Haliburton is now under contract for the next six seasons with the Pacers.

"I've been working so hard the last two months just to be a better version of myself and a better player, and also a better teammate. I feel like I've improved," Mathurin said, but he knows there is more improvement to come.

He just wants to be a superior player, and he has stated that at every turn. He pointed it out after his first summer practice and again in Las Vegas. It was something Mathurin shared often during his rookie season. He has the right attitude, and playing in Summer League will only help him long term.

He's set up for a great second season if any of his growth areas become strengths, especially because his baseline is already so impressive. Scoring at the level he does, and getting to the foul line with ease, is difficult for first-year players. Mathurin already has that skill set. The next steps for him are shooting, defending, and playmaking at a higher level.

"Very competitive guy who wants to be great," Buchanan said of the guard. Bennedict Mathurin laid the groundwork for his next steps on his quest for greatness in Las Vegas.

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