Indiana Pacers rookies Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard recently played in their second G League game together. The Pacers selected both players in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, taking Walker at No. 8 and Sheppard at No. 26.
In their Nov. 28 outing with the Indiana Mad Ants, the rookie duo excelled en route to a 131-97 beatdown of the Windy City Bulls (Chicago’s G League squad). Walker led all Indiana starters in scoring with a 20-point performance. The versatile forward added four assists and four rebounds while shooting 7-of-13 from the field and 2-of-5 from three.
This summer, Walker became the highest-drafted University of Houston product since the great Hakeem Olajuwon. The 20-year-old has a sky-high ceiling thanks to his defensive intangibles and freak athleticism. At 6-foot-8, Walker anchored an elite Houston defense during his first and only year of college.
Sheppard also cooked Windy City with 18 points and nine rebounds on 4-of-10 shooting from downtown. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard played four years at Belmont, averaging 18.8 points on 41.5% shooting from three as a senior. In 32 minutes of action, Sheppard led the Mad Ants in plus-minus with a +26 mark.
Walker and Sheppard have earned minimal opportunities to flash their talent on the big stage so far. The youngsters have played a combined 11 games with the Pacers this season, but their per-minute production has been promising.
Per 36 minutes, Walker has averaged 14.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists across four appearances. Meanwhile, Sheppard has averaged 16.4 points per 36 minutes across seven contests.
Many Pacers fans would like to see head coach Rick Carlisle give his first-round talents more meaningful run. Garbage time minutes can only do so much for a rookie’s development, and the Walker-Sheppard tandem could provide some two-way help for a team in dire need of it.
In an exclusive October interview with Scott Agnes of Fieldhouse Files, Sheppard explained the pride he takes in his defensive intensity and his smart brand of basketball. He also emphasized the sharpshooting boost he can give Indiana.
"I think conditioning is a huge part of my game, and if you watch Buddy, every game he is just moving around and creating for others. That’s kind of what I want to model my game after. Especially the way he shoots the ball — that’s what I do, and I think that’s why the team brought me here. Just doing my best."- Ben Sheppard
To turn their underwhelming defense around, the Pacers may need to unleash Walker soon. Walker’s per-36 averages of 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks hint at a bright two-way future for the lottery pick.
In his preseason debut, Walker already put his lofty potential on display. The bouncy rook is oozing with promise, and the Pacers should consider deploying him as he gains more experience from his time with the Mad Ants.
If Walker and Sheppard fail to crack Indiana’s main rotation soon, the rookies will still have the chance to see heavy minutes in G League action. Down the road, the Pacers may not have a choice but to play them.