Currently, the Indiana Pacers are 3-3, coming off a pretty disappointing loss to the Charlotte Hornets in a game that came down to the wire but ultimately ended in Charlotte’s favor despite a career night for Tyrese Haliburton. There were many factors to this loss, including some more questionable officiating and an undeserved tech given to Aaron Nesmith. However, one player on Indiana’s side that underperformed and has been relatively disappointing so far this year has been second-year man Bennedict Mathurin.
Let’s go back to the start for a second.
When Bennedict Mathurin was drafted by the Pacers with the sixth pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, he was seen as an NBA-ready prospect who still had some work to do, mainly in regard to his defense and playmaking abilities.
This showed during his rookie season. Although he started quite strong with plenty of 20+ point games and fantastic performances against big names (LeBron James being one of them), Mathurin eventually hit the dreaded ‘rookie wall,’ and his production began to stagnate.
That’s not to say he was completely useless during this time, but he definitely slowed down a bit, shooting worse from the field, getting more turnovers, and overall looking sloppier than before.
Of course, there wasn’t much thought of this as a slump for rookies was expected, and the Pacers weren’t exactly looking to compete at that point either, with Tyrese Haliburton’s injury leading to multiple losses and another trip to the draft lottery.
Over the summer, it was clear what Mathurin needed to work on, and it seemed that he did exactly that, coming into preseason looking like a completely new player. In the four preseason games, Mathurin looked far less sloppy with the ball while also improving his on and off-ball defense and taking a giant leap in his playmaking ability, looking like a complete two-way star in the making.
However, his performance in the regular season has left a lot to be desired on both ends of the court so far. In six games, Mathurin’s averages have taken a nosedive compared to last season. Following the Charlotte games, his averages sit at 11.2 points on dreadful 39/25/78 efficiency, 2.7 assists, and 2.8 rebounds on a mere 22.3 minutes per game.
While the averages don’t always speak for themselves, Mathurin hasn’t exactly passed the eye test with flying colors either, as he has often looked lost on defense, especially compared to the preseason. This was especially evident in the first Cleveland game, as he was losing his defensive matchup multiple times and gave up too many easy points because of it.
This was also evident during the Charlotte game, as Mathurin did not do a great job on Gordon Hayward. Hayward scored 23 points on 10/17 shooting with Mathurin as his main defender.
Hayward turned it up in the second half as well, scoring 13 of his 23 points there and shooting 5/7 from the field as he continued to take Bennedict Mathurin to school.
This performance, combined with how he has looked thus far, clearly shows that Mathurin has a long way to go before he becomes a complete player. While he certainly is a good player at this point in his career, there are clearly parts of his game he still needs to work on some more, with that defensive improvement from the preseason seemingly vanishing, as he somehow looks worse on defense in his second season than he did as a rookie.
However, this is not to completely discourage Mathurin, as he is still showing improvements in certain aspects of his game, mainly his passing and playmaking. For one, Mathuirn is averaging 2.7 assists per game so far compared to the 1.5 from his rookie year, as well as having two straight games with five assists, only one shy of tying his number from his rookie season only six games in.
In addition to the playmaking improvements, Mathurin’s playing time and touches still leave a lot to be desired. It is certainly concerning that, as a starter this season, he is averaging fewer minutes (22.3) compared to his rookie year, where he mainly came off the bench (28.5).
In addition, it has been quite evident that Mathurin usually has big scoring nights when he is left on the floor for longer, as indicated by his points average of 20.5 whenever he plays 35+ minutes in a game.
Of course, the touches also play a big part in this. Due to the increase of talent in Indiana’s rotation and the number of shots being distributed to more players, Mathurin is taking fewer shots this year per game (10.2) than the previous season (12.2).
While the shots needing to be distributed among more players is understandable, Mathurin also needs extra shots, as his calling in the league is mainly to put the ball in the basket, and right now, he is simply not being given that chance, regardless of efficiency.
There are some concerns to be had with Bennedict Mathurin’s overall game, but they are not something to be too worried about. Some fans are calling for Indiana to try and trade for a second star alongside Tyrese Haliburton and even contemplating throwing Mathurin in a trade package, completely disregarding the fact that he is only 21 years of age and is still learning as he goes.
Indiana is still a young team, and the main trait the fans need to have at this point in their development is patience. Superstars do not form overnight, and it is important fans recognize the improvements Mathurin is making in areas such as playmaking and take them as positives.
After all, the ‘sophomore slump’ is a very common thing, as it is affecting players like Paolo Banchero as well, and it is hard for players to avoid it as they struggle to build upon their rookie years.
Bennedict Mathurin will pick it up eventually. His skill set is perfect for the NBA level, and he still has a chance to grow into a fantastic three-level scorer who can provide some defensive help and function as a secondary ball handler if the situation calls for it.
Pacers fans need to realize what they have on their hands with Bennedict Mathurin, and some need to give the youngster some time and let him fully grow into his shoes. After all, it is hard for a 21-year-old to adjust to being the secondary scorer on a playoff team. I am not overly worried about Bennedict Mathurin, and you shouldn’t be either.