2. Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard highlight solid rookie showings
While Toppin and Brown both had impressive flashes in their own right, the real stars of the night were the two first-round rookies the Pacers took – Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard.
Walker, in particular, was spectacular. Despite not playing the entire first quarter, Walker still ended up with a fantastic stat line, putting up 19 points (7/15 FG, 4/9 3PT, 1/1 FT), nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block in 27 total minutes on the floor, including every overtime minute, in which he scored four points in an attempt to will the Pacers to victory.
Perhaps the best indicator of Walker’s performance was not how many points he scored but how exactly he got his points. His 19 points were quite versatile, as he scored in a variety of ways including driving to the rim, floaters, mid-range shots, and three-pointers.
The three-pointers were quite surprising, as Walker hit four of them despite shooting only 18% from behind the arc in Summer League. And exactly known as a knockdown shooter in college, either.
Walker not only showed his clutch shot-making abilities but also some range on his threes, as this one to tie the game was a few feet behind the three-point line.
In addition to the threes, Walker also showed his improving off-dribble game and shot-making ability as he showcased his impressive first step and drove to the rim for a soft floater for his second bucket of the game.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jarace Walker game without some impressive defensive highlights, and he delivered for sure, recording two steals and one thunderous block in the fourth quarter.
Another great thing about Walker against Memphis was how effective he was as a ball-handler, as he was another player who took over some facilitating duties with Haliburton and Nembhard both out for the night.
Walker took over some point guard duties and ended up with four assists, including a few to fellow rookie Ben Sheppard, who also had Pacers fans very excited for the future.
Speaking of Sheppard, he was also very impressive on the night. Despite also not playing in the first half, Sheppard put up an impressive statline of 15 points (6/16 FG, 3/10 3PT), three assists, and three rebounds in about 25 minutes of action, with both rookies leading the Pacers in minutes played on the night.
Perhaps the best thing about Sheppard’s night was the range he showcased, as he hit three three-pointers and seemed to look like a natural doing it.
One of the reasons why Buddy Hield staying is a good thing is because he now has the ability to mentor young guys such as Sheppard, and you have to imagine that with Hield’s mentorship, Sheppard is going to be just fine in the league as a knockdown shooter, as this was his specialty at Belmont.
Prior to the season starting, it was unknown how Sheppard would factor into the rotation, as the Indiana Pacers have quite the deep team with players who can get minutes on any given night. That said, if he plays anything like how he played against Memphis, Sheppard should have no problem finding minutes in his rookie year.
In addition to Walker and Sheppard, second-round pick Isaiah Wong also found himself taking on some point guard duties in Haliburton and Nembhard’s absence, hitting a couple of free throws and grabbing an assist and a rebound.
Free-agent rookie Oscar Tshiebwe out of Kentucky also played eight minutes, including the entire overtime period, and put up two points and two rebounds, while getting the bench excited with his play.
Overall, it was a pretty good showing for the rookies, especially Walker and Sheppard, who showed what exactly got them into the league and what can help them stay in it for the foreseeable future.