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Bennedict Mathurin shows that he can be the player that the Indiana Pacers want

Mathurin had one of his best-ever games on Wednesday night

Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle had a 40-minute chat with young guard Bennedict Mathurin earlier this week. They discussed how the second-year player can impact the game without the ball and what Mathurin can do to be great without taking a shot.

It was an important conversation to have. Up to that point, Mathurin was struggling to find his spots. The ball was going in the basket on less than 40% of his looks and his defense was up-and-down. While Mathurin had shown important growth as a passer, there was still work to do.

"I sat down with him yesterday for about 40 minutes and showed him a lot of ways to impact the game that have nothing to do with having the ball in his hands or taking a shot," Carlisle said Monday. He noted that the Pacers' increased level of expectations, combined with Mathurin's added responsibility, meant that there would have to be changes to his play style.

"As the head coach, I've got to help try to facilitate these guys mature at the fastest rate possible," he said.

That night, Mathurin finished with 10 points on 50% shooting in a win over the Spurs. He defended well and tossed two assists. Indiana outscored San Antonio in his minutes by 14. 

He defended well, too. The two guys he guarded the most often throughout the game — Keldon Johnson and Tre Jones — combined to shoot 7/17 from the field. It was a nice outing for Mathurin, especially so when looking at how well he did the little things.

Carlisle said during his postgame press conference that the 21-year old played "a hell of a game." It was a sign of progress. Mathurin is figuring out how to play both within a team concept and as himself.

That's a key balance to find. It's important for Mathurin's long-term fit alongside Tyrese Haliburton in the backcourt, and it's crucial for the young guard's outlook as an offensive player. The team is trying to push him toward the right balance.

Two nights later, Mathurin showed that he's figuring it out. The Utah Jazz were in town, and they were playing an aggressive, switch-heavy defense. That created avenues for an aggressive, but team-focused, Mathurin to thrive.

By halftime, it was clear he was in for a big night. He had 11 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals at the break. While Indiana struggled to get a big advantage, Mathurin kept them in the game. He was massive.

"I've got a whole different role. I won't get as easy shots as I did last year. Trying to find the right way to play and trying to help my team win," Mathurin said after the game. He found easier shots in this game.

The Jazz changed their defensive scheme in the second half, but Mathurin still found spaces to be effective. 11 more points. Five more rebounds. Another assist. He did it all on his way to a season-high 22 points. He came up big in the win, and he defended well on the ball all night.

Mathurin said after the outing that he's trying to keep the game simple after what he described as a rough start to the season. He wants to catch the ball, make his reads, and make a play all within the flow of the offense.

He did that on Wednesday. "Bennedict is finding his way. I think he's such an aggressive scorer that, at times, we try to tell him to be unselfish. And then when he's unselfish, we need him to score It's like he's trying to find that line," Pacers center Myles Turner said after the game. Mathurin's teammates want him to have an aggressive mindset on both ends of the floor, and they encourage him to have one throughout each game.

When Mathurin is playing simple, his decision tree is shorter. When defenders cut him off at the rim, he passes. If he can score, he goes up for a layup at the basket. If he's open from three, he shoots — if not, he passes. Utah's switches led to several important reads, and Mathurin made almost all of them correctly.

Mathurin's conversation with Carlisle was important in getting his mindset, and focus, right. "He told me pretty much to just be myself. Obviously, it's not going to be easy. But I've got to fight through it," Mathurin siad. He's playing differently than last season, and in a way he never has before in his career.

He wants his defense to match his offensive level, and that will come. Those goals are all important in allowing Mathurin to be the best player he can be. But the most important thing Mathurin can do to reach his summitt is learn to play better team basketball.

He's starting to show signs of growth there, and on Wednesday night, he had maybe his best-ever game. The Pacers will hope to see more of that version of Bennedict Mathurin.

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