The Indiana Pacers are in a weird middle spot. They’re probably good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but at the same time, they’re young enough to focus on development and plan for the future.
Tyrese Haliburton is still 23 years old, but the Pacers also have veterans like Myles Turner (27 years old), Bruce Brown (27 years old), and Buddy Hield (31 years old).
As of now, it seems as though the Pacers are prioritizing winning over development, and that’s okay, but they need to be winning for that strategy to make sense.
Guys like Jarace Walker, Ben Sheppard, and Jordan Nwora aren’t seeing any playing time, despite their promising stints in Summer League and last season, respectively.
However, perhaps the most curious case of this win-first strategy is Bennedict Mathurin.
After a promising rookie season in which he played 28.5 minutes per contest and attempted 12.2 shots per game, both of those numbers are down significantly this season.
Through the first seven games of the year, Mathurin is only playing 22.3 minutes per game (seventh on the team) and taking 9.9 shots per game (fourth on the team).
At just 21 years old, Mathurin was projected to be one of the top youngsters on the team. His rookie season provided some hope that he could be a secondary star next to Haliburton, but he’s not playing at that level this year.
Lots of young players go through slumps, and the sophomore slump is a real thing, but the Pacers undoubtedly would have wanted to see Mathurin take a bigger jump to start the season.
Concerns over his playing time and shot attempts are warranted, but in Rick Carlisle’s and the Pacers’ defense, Mathurin hasn’t been efficient this season. He’s shooting just 40.6% from the floor and 22.7% from behind the free-throw line.
If the Pacers want Mathurin to continue on his path toward serious improvement, they need to allow him a bit more freedom and room to make mistakes.
However, that doesn’t necessarily fit in line with their goals of winning now if he fails to meet the expectations that are set for him as a starter on the Pacers.
As the season goes on, Mathurin’s development is going to be one of the most important storylines to watch, especially as Carlisle rides the line of competing and building up young talent.