Bennedict Mathurin's recent resurgence and what it means for the Pacers

After a slow start, Bennedict Mathurin is back on track, and it means good things for the Indiana Pacers.

Indiana Pacers, Bennedict Mathurin, Milwaukee Bucks
Indiana Pacers, Bennedict Mathurin, Milwaukee Bucks / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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Ladies and gentlemen, Bennedict Mathurin is back, and it's about time.

After a poor start to the season where he didn't score well, shot poorly from the field, and played horrible defense, Mathurin has found his groove. He's back to his old ways of scoring and is improving every aspect of the game he worked on during the summer.

Heading into his rookie season, Mathurin's words put the Pacers in some headlines as he called out LeBron James before even playing a game in the NBA. He made many bold statements that showed how confident he was in his abilities as a rookie entering the league.

To be fair to the youngster out of Montreal, he backed up most of those statements, as he had a fantastic rookie season, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting and second among rookies in scoring while having 27 games of 20 or more points, including two games of 30 or more points.

One of these 20+ point games was perhaps his biggest night of the season media-wise, as he finished second on the team with 23 points as the Pacers beat LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, with Mathurin outplaying LeBron James the whole time.

That said, Mathurin's rookie year was not all sunshine and rainbows, as he did struggle in certain areas, namely his shooting at times, his playmaking, as he had a negative assist/turnover ratio, and his defense left a lot to be desired, especially given his athletic frame and clear ability to defend if he wanted to.

These flaws led to him eventually hitting the so-called "rookie wall" midway through the season, as his scoring and efficiency went down, and he didn't have much to fall back on during this time. This may have been the reason why Rick Carlisle insisted on bringing Mathurin off the bench for the majority of the season instead of making him the full-time starter that Pacers fans wanted him to be.

It was clear what Mathurin needed to work on, and during the preseason, it would appear that he did precisely that. In the 2023-24 preseason, Mathurin came out the gates looking like a completely different player, as he was making fantastic reads on offense, passing the ball more, and playing some great defense not only on the ball but off the ball.

This was a great surprise to many Pacers fans and furthered Rick Carlisle's confidence in the youngster, leading to Mathurin being the full-time starter for the 2023-24 season.

However, the regular season would not bring the same fortunes as the preseason. While Mathurin did start strong, with 18 points in the opening night win against Washington and 15 points in the following win over Cleveland, the next five games were concerning.

In this five-game stretch, in which the Pacers went 3-2, Mathurin averaged a meager 9.8 points on rotten 39/21/71 shooting splits, and he looked completely lost on offense and defense.

To his credit, Mathurin wasn't utterly hopeless during this stretch, as he did have two five-assist games, but for the most part, his shots weren't falling, he was barely getting any up, and his defense somehow looked worse than it looked the previous year.

By far, the most concerning part about Mathurin's slump was how few shots he was getting. For a guy who averaged 12 shots a game coming off the bench as a rookie, he slipped to just over 10 shot attempts a game as a sophomore in the starting lineup. This also may have had to do with the fact that Mathurin was somehow playing fewer minutes as a starter (22) than he was in his rookie season, where he was primarily a sixth man (28).

Something had to change, and a good sign came in Indiana's 41-point blowout of San Antonio, where Mathurin only had 10 points but did so on 4/8 shooting and looked far more comfortable. A resurgence was on the horizon, and that's exactly what we are seeing so far.

Following the Spurs game, Mathurin had his best game in two years, according to Rick Carlisle, as he put up 22 points on 9/18 shooting (4/7 from three), pulled down nine rebounds, dished out four assists, and got two steals as the Pacers took control in the fourth quarter to beat the Utah Jazz by 16.

Mathurin was not done, however, as the very next night, he outdid himself with a season-high 26 points (9/18 FG, 3/7 3PT) and 11 rebounds, as well as some fantastic defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the closing minutes of a thrilling two-point win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Not only was Mathurin hitting his shots again at a high rate, but he was doing everything he improved on during the offseason, as his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of the main reasons Indiana won the game in the first place. Giannis had 54 on the night but was held scoreless in the final five minutes.

In addition, while the stats may not jump out of the screen, Mathurin has taken significant strides in his playmaking, as he is now making reads that he would not even think to make as a rookie.

Moreover, Mathurin has been more willing to pass the ball in a tough situation as of late instead of trying to do it himself and missing a shot or committing an avoidable turnover. In addition to his scoring revival, these are very valuable traits to learn, especially for a 21-year-old in his second season on a potential playoff team.

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A lot of Pacers fans were quick to write Mathurin off after a slow start, and some have even put his name in potential trade talks for a second star to pair alongside Tyrese Haliburton. In my opinion, this is entirely unnecessary. When Bennedict Mathurin is on his game, which we have seen recently, he himself is the perfect co-star for Haliburton.