Jarace Walker’s performance vs. Celtics sparks questions among Pacers fans

Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Jarace Walker
Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Jarace Walker /

The Indiana Pacers just came off their second-worst loss in franchise history to the Boston Celtics. Despite not having Tyrese Haliburton, the Pacers did not even put up a fight against Jayson Tatum and company, losing by 51 points. Despite this loss and the whole team playing relatively poorly, there was a lone bright spot in 20-year-old 2023 lottery pick Jarace Walker.

Walker is an interesting case this early into his NBA career. Despite Indiana trading with Washington to acquire Walker with the eighth pick of the draft, he has seen limited minutes in the first four games of the season.

Jarace Walker’s performance vs. Celtics sparks questions among Pacers fans

In fact, prior to this game, Walker’s only regular season minutes came in garbage time of the Pacers’ season opener against the Washington Wizards, where Walker and fellow first-round rookie Ben Sheppard played around six minutes each and failed to score any points.

Following this game, Walker and Sheppard both logged DNPs in the next two games, a win against Cleveland and a loss against Chicago where Walker’s defense and energy could have been of use during the closing stretch where the Pacers seemed to tire out on defense, and more or less gave the Bulls the win.

Despite the historic loss against Boston, Walker didn’t even get minutes until the tail end of the game, where he was subbed in at the start of the fourth quarter with Indiana down 38 points and played all 12 minutes, along with Sheppard.

Walker wasted no time after getting subbed in, immediately making plays out of the short roll, and it wasn’t long until he saw the ball go through the net for the first time in his NBA career, getting his first points 22 seconds into the fourth quarter with a right-handed floater in traffic.

In just 12 minutes, all of which were in the fourth quarter, Walker produced a respectable statline of eight points (4/6 FG, 0/1 3PT), two rebounds, three assists, and one block.

These are impressive numbers for a player who was previously not even getting playing time despite being selected with the eighth pick of the draft just a few months ago.

Walker demonstrated his offensive prowess during this short stint, showcasing the skills that initially led Indiana to trade for him on draft night with some nice-looking buckets, including this stepback pull-up, flashing some shot-creating ability.

Walker’s performance in the game raised numerous concerns among Pacers fans, including myself. Despite his evident skill set and readiness for the NBA, there appears to be severe reluctance from Rick Carlisle to grant him playing time.

His on-court abilities and physical readiness make him a potential instant asset to the team, with this being one of the reasons Indiana acquired him, choosing Walker over a more developmental player like Bilal Coulibaly, whom they traded to the Wizards to get Walker in the first place.

Although he possesses the tools to make an immediate impact, it seems that Carlisle either underestimates Walker’s potential or knowingly sidelines him. The team’s struggle with wing and perimeter defense has been evident throughout the season, as highlighted in the recent game where the Pacers conceded 30 points to Jayson Tatum and 18 to Derrick White while the Celtics shot an exceptional 57.1% from the three-point line.

Despite this, Carlisle only introduced Walker into the game in the fourth quarter when the Pacers were already significantly behind, a decision that left fans confused, as it seemed that Carlisle was still reluctant to give Walker minutes despite the game already being over and there being no reason why Walker should not be getting some minutes.

While it is true that Rick Carlisle is known for his tendency to limit rookie players’ minutes unless they are considered exceptional talents (Luka Doncic), I find it perplexing that the Pacers traded down for a draft pick only to minimize the playing time of that pick and exclude him from the regular rotation, going as far as to wait until the fourth quarter of a historic blowout to give him minutes.

In the recent game, Jarace Walker was only given playing time in the fourth quarter and would probably have faced a third consecutive DNP had Jalen Smith been available to occupy the backup center position, a position that he has excelled at thus far into the season.

Despite Smith being out, Carlisle still tried to find any excuse to limit Walker’s minutes, even giving Isiah Jackson minutes before him, despite Jackson usually being the third-string center on the team and some fans calling for the 21-year-old to move to a different team soon.

Carlisle should recognize the potential of Walker before it’s too late and give him some more playing time. It’s highly unusual for a 20-year-old to join a young team and get a minimal amount of playing time, especially when said 20-year-old was specifically sought out and traded for by the organization.

Walker has an absurd amount of talent that he showed in college and in Summer League, which is frequently being underutilized due to Carlisle’s assistance to sit him on the bench, despite Indiana possibly benefiting from his contributions on the defensive end alongside Myles Turner, or in generating scoring opportunities alongside Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin.

In addition to Jarace Walker, Ben Sheppard also had a decent 14-minute run, putting up six points (2/4 3PT), two rebounds, and two assists, showcasing some of the shooting ability that helped him have such a strong preseason and be seen as a future asset in the eyes of Pacers fans.

Next. 1 positive, 2 negatives from Pacers blowout loss to Celtics. dark

What made it even sweeter for Sheppard is that he got his first NBA points in front of his friends and family, with over 50 people gathered in Boston to watch the Atlanta native play. In a game with few bright spots to be seen, the play of Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard stands out and will hopefully lead to them getting more minutes going forward as Rick Carlisle’s rotation changes start becoming more permanent.