Indiana Pacers: Getting to know new point guard Keifer Sykes

Indiana Pacers, Malcolm Brogdon, TJ McConnell - Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Malcolm Brogdon, TJ McConnell - Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

In pursuit of one day reaching his ultimate dream, Keifer Sykes has a fascinating story that led to him landing a roster spot with the Indiana Pacers.

From South Korea, to Turkey, to Italy, to China, to Greece, to Australia, and now to the Indiana Pacers, Keifer Sykes hopes to have found a place he can call his basketball home.

On his journey to the NBA, The now 28-year-old (on December 30, 2021) point guard’s final stop before being signed to the Indiana Pacers’ roster, was with the Pacers G-League affiliate, the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants.

Sykes has been instrumental for the Mad Ants this season, leading them to a 9-4 record in the 13-games he has played. Sykes leads the team in assists at 7.5 assists per game and is averaging 16.5 points per game on 40.9% shooting.

Former Indiana Pacers beat writer, J Michael, wrote an article in the Indy Star about Sykes’ chances of making the Pacers roster as a 2-way player or possibly the 15-man roster.

With Indiana prioritizing the need to find a third-string point guard, Michael wrote this, “league sources have told the Indy Star, Sykes is likely to stick in some capacity.”

Sykes is a favorite of Carlisle’s and after watching him play in the NBA Summer League, Carlisle preferred Sykes’s ability to run and set up the offense, pressure the ball on defense, and handle the pressure from opposing defenses over keeping another wing.

This led to the release of Cassius Stanley.

After a few roster moves, the Indiana Pacers decided to sign free agent Brad Wanamaker and gave their open two-way roster spot to Dejon Jarreau.

While Sykes didn’t make the 15-man roster, nor did he get one of the available 2-way spots, the Pacers signed him to their G-League team, knowing his leadership and experience would help their young core develop.

Sykes spoke with the media Monday after practice and had this to say on his journey to getting to the NBA: “I’m more excited to have this opportunity to prove again and to prove to myself, that I can produce at this level, and I can help this team win.”

With several call-ups from the G-League due to the league-wide Covid-19 outbreak, Sykes did confirm that he had been contacted by other teams. However, he told his agent “I’d rather be patient.”

The patience from Sykes paid off and he is now a member of the Pacers 15-man roster.

When asked about playing for the Pacers and watching them play throughout the season, Sykes had this to say:

“This feels like the right place at the right time. I’ve been sacrificing my whole life. From high school to college to playing overseas, I gave up more money to follow my dreams. I always had faith my time would come.”

Before training camp this season, I had Keifer Sykes on my podcast: Setting The Pace. During our conversation, he discussed how he was a leader to rookies Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson:

“It’s really exciting for me, being a leader, an extension of a coach and how much I want to win and all the experiences that I have, it really seemed like those guys gravitated towards me just because of the mentality I have and how serious I was about the game. I’m 100% I can help Chris and Isaiah, and we can help each other.”

Later, he shared a great story that happened between him and Isaiah Jackson.

“Before the game against Oklahoma City, I’m telling him to roll to the basket. Obviously, everyone loves to shoot threes, to show scouts they can play in the NBA. For him, I was like, it’s important for you to roll right now to open the floor up. We went back and forth for a little bit, but that’s why the play when I threw the lob and he caught the left-hand slam, it was so exciting to see such a talented young player sit and believe what I say. For us to converse and figure things out before the game was cool.” 

The last question I asked Sykes on the podcast, was to best describe his game so Pacers fans can know who he is as a player:

“You’re gonna hear the passion that I play with. You’re gonna see me locked in all the time. I like being the leader and I like winning. I haven’t won at this level, but I have a winning attitude and a winning mindset to do whatever it takes to win. Defensively, I’m gonna make it a 94-foot game. Offensively, I’ll make open shots. I’m going to find guys; I’m going to create for guys and I’ll be an extension of the coach on the floor.”

After the signing became official Monday, I was able to have a one-on-one conversation with Sykes This is what he had to say about joining the Indiana Pacers.

Q: First and foremost, I am excited for you and this opportunity. Can you talk to me about how you are feeling right now after receiving a (non-guaranteed) contract with the Pacers to be on their 15-man roster?

“I feel good. The terms of the deal are non-guaranteed. For me, I am just excited, but also just ready to work and help this team. I have been with this team since training camp. My goal was just to make an active roster one day when I first signed here in July.”

Q: With Brogdon dealing with an Achilles injury, and McConnell sidelined for a significant amount of time, this is a great opportunity for you. What have you heard from the coaches that your role will be moving forward?

“They just told me to be ready to play. I don’t know when that is, or when that will be exactly but, getting to learn the plays, getting to learn the team, and getting some practices under me will help. I’ve been trying to be one of the better players here in the G-League with their Mad Ants team, just be prepared for whatever comes.”

Q: How similar is the Mad Ants offensive system to the Pacers offensive system?

“We have some of the same calls, so that helps. What also helps is me going to training camp, and I am just trying to get up to speed on things. We have some of the same terminologies, but this is the NBA, and the level of play is higher than the G-League.”

Q: What was it about Indiana that made you and your agent decide to be patient, rather than signing elsewhere?

“I just felt like I was really close here after the feedback I had gotten since day one. With me playing abroad on so many teams in a short amount of time, I’m looking for a home. This is a convenient situation. Indiana is a blue-collar, hardworking city and state and I know how deep basketball runs with them. I just want to do well for these fans.”

Q: How can your role with the Mad Ants translate to the Pacers?

“The way I play, I do whatever to win. Three of our guys got called up from the Mad Ants, and I lead the league in assists, so that’s a blessing. I just sacrifice so much, so I will do whatever it takes to win. I am going to play defense; I am going to lead, they just told me to be me. I can do a lot of different things on the court”.

He continued, “This team hasn’t been winning, and their goal as a team is to make the playoffs in some capacity, for me, I will be excited for this uphill battle of where they are now. I want to come in and help this team win.”

Sykes made his NBA debut against the Charlotte Hornets and will look to face his hometown Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Eve at 3:00 PM ET.

Next. One defunct trade front could make a comeback this season. dark