The Indiana Pacers spent all season building trust in Ben Sheppard, and it's paying off in the playoffs

Sheppard has been in the rotation every postseason game for Indiana
May 6, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Ben Sheppard (26) warms up before Game 1 of the Pacers 2024 series against the New York Knicks. (Mandatory Photo Credit: Pacers SI)
May 6, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Ben Sheppard (26) warms up before Game 1 of the Pacers 2024 series against the New York Knicks. (Mandatory Photo Credit: Pacers SI) / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — During the regular season, the Indiana Pacers needed Ben Sheppard to shoot. The rookie wing was trying to earn the trust of his teammates and routinely made the right plays, but he wasn't looking at the rim enough.

Guard Tyrese Haliburton shared that the Pacers forced Sheppard to be ready to let it fly. "Just being ready to shoot. Early in the year, there was a lot of games where he wouldn't look at the basket. We kind of bullied him into looking at the hoop," Haliburton shared Sunday night. Sheppard's three-point attempts per 36 minutes climbed from his first 28 games to his final 29 as his fellow Pacers encouraged him to stay involved.

Now, after listening to his teammates and succumbing to their pressure, Sheppard is a trusted member of Indiana's playoff rotation. He's played in every postseason game so far for the blue and gold and has been effective — his true shooting percentage is over 65% after 10 playoff outings.

The 2023 first-round draft pick operates as a backup guard/wing. He hustles on defense and fights through screens, occasionally drawing tough assignments. On offense, he lets it fly from beyond the arc — so far, 33 of his 44 shot attempts have been threes in the playoffs. He tries to not make mistakes and add value. That's all that can be asked of a rookie, and Sheppard has handled it.

"He was well equipped for opportunity during the season because he was a four-year player at Belmont. Very mature," Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said of Sheppard. "He plays a style of game that's not a high-risk style. He goes hard, he's fast, he defends, and generally does a pretty good job of showing his hands and avoiding bad fouls."

Trusting first-year players in the playoffs can be difficult. Only six rookies have played more than 10 minutes per game in this postseason, and only three 2023 draftees (Sheppard, Cason Wallace, and Dereck Lively II) are still helping their teams in round two. The latter two were selected in the lottery. Sheppard went 26th overall.

Sheppard is a rare exception. He plays every game, and he plays a lot — he's currently averaging 17.9 minutes per game in the postseason. He fits in well with Indiana's bench right between T.J. McConnell, his mentor, and forward Obi Toppin. With those two, he looks like an experienced player.

"It means a lot," Sheppard said of his postseason playing time. "I didn't really notice that I was one of the only rookies that's getting playoff rotation minutes. Just making the most of my opportunity."

The "bullying" Sehppard received from his Pacers teammates appears to have been successful. He's taking, and making, open threes throughout the postseason. So far, the 22-year old is knocking down 45.5% of his 3.3 outside shots pre game in the playoffs. When he's got space to let it fly, his teammates get him the ball. Good things have happened so far.

Simultaneously, Sheppard is learning about playoff intensity. While he spent all season earning the trust of his teammates and growing as a player, he now has to navigate a new environment with heightened intensity. "It's crazy," he said. "I've never experienced anything like this."

Yet every game, Sheppard looks like a veteran. He said that he knows when his energy-fueled style requires him to make a riskier play, but in general, he sticks to his role and tries to give his team life with the bench group.

"The light's aren't too bright for him. I feel like as a rookie, coming into this moment, it can be tough establishing how you want to play, where you get in, get in where you fit in. Someone like him, he's doing just that," Pacers center Myles Turner said of Sheppard. Turner was in the rotation during the postseason during his rookie year, too. "He's knocking down open shots, he's really taking the challenge on defense, he's playing hard... I think he has definitely exceeded my personal expectations for his [playoff] debut. I think he's done a tremendous job."

Through 10 postseason appearances, the rookie wing is averaging 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. In the NBA, teams routinely shorten their rotation in the playoffs to give their best talents more minutes. Sheppard survived a shortened bench and has been a nightly contributor for the blue and gold.

"He's mature beyond his years... he's so important to our team on both ends," McConnell said of Sheppard. "With the pace and energy he brings [and] his ability to shoot the ball, he's helped us so much. We're lucky to have him."

With Bennedict Mathurin sidelined due to injury and Buddy Hield traded away, the Pacers needed someone to fill in as the reserve wing/guard with the second unit. Sheppard took the role in stride and has carried his success to the postseason. Without him, Indiana might be too light on depth in these games. But they've been playing nine or ten guys almost every night, and energy has been an advantage for them in the postseason.

Ben Sheppard embodies that, and he's been rock solid in the playoffs for the Pacers. "This is what every basketball player dreams of," Sheppard said before Indiana's series with New York started. He'll look to keep dreaming as the playoffs progress.

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Tony East


Tony East is the Publisher of AllPacers. He has previously written for Forbes Sports, the West Indianapolis Community News, WTHR, and more while hosting the Locked On Pacers podcast.