Aaron Nesmith was at the Pacers’ Summer League opener Friday as a fan rather than a player, still waiting for the trade that sent Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics — in exchange for Nesmith, Malik Fitts, former IU star Juwan Morgan, Nik Stauskas, Daniel Theis, and a 2023 first-round pick — to be finalized.
Nesmith inched closer to the action Monday, attending Indiana’s practice on the UNLV campus but still couldn’t participate with his new team.
On Tuesday, he finally became eligible for the Pacers after Brogdon passed a physical for the Celtics to make the trade official. Nesmith started in Indiana’s third Summer League game and helped it throttle Detroit for a wire-to-wire 101-87 victory at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.
Here are three takeaways from Nesmith’s debut and the Pacers’ second Summer League win:
Aaron Nesmith gets fresh start
Sixteen seconds into the game, Nesmith committed a turnover by throwing an errant post pass to Terry Taylor that was intercepted by Detroit’s Charlie Moore. Not an ideal start for the 6-5 swingman, who was drafted 14th overall by Boston in 2020 yet has struggled to find his way in the NBA. But on the next possession Nesmith looked unfazed as he drove down the lane and threw a floater in over Kyle Foster. About a minute later, Nesmith drilled a catch-and-shoot 3, scoring the Pacers’ first five points of the game.
The 22-year-old finished with 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting with seven rebounds, two steals and four turnovers in 25 minutes. Nesmith’s most impressive sequence came in the third quarter when he stole a pass, threw the ball ahead to Andrew Nembhard in transition and ended the fast break by catching a return pass from Nembhard and throwing down a two-handed dunk.
“This is a perfect situation for him,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said during the NBATV broadcast. “I know what he went through in Boston. When I was drafted there, we were in the Finals three straight years. Anytime a depth player went in the game, the magnifying glass, the microscope is on you. You had to really do your job at a high level, otherwise Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge are coming back in there. He experienced the same thing, but he did have some good stretches. …
“He’s really fired up about the opportunity (to join the Pacers) and so are we.”
Rick Carlisle talks Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, free agency
Former NBA player and current NBATV commentator Greg Anthony put Carlisle on the spot, asking Carlisle what would be the Pacers’ best system for the upcoming season.
With Indiana’s roster in flux, and rumblings of Suns star and restricted free agent Deandre Ayton potentially joining the team, Carlisle was in a bind.
“I don’t think that question can be answered until we know what the roster is really gonna look like,” Carlisle said. “We want to play fast. We want to defend well. We struggled defensively last year, especially the second half of the season because Myles Turner was out (due to a stress reaction in his left foot). Getting him back healthy is gonna do a lot. That’s the best rim-protecting center on the planet.”
Turner is entering a contract season and hasn’t signed an extension. The 26-year-old is the Pacers’ longest tenured player.
Carlisle also praised budding star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, describing him as an advantage in free agency and perhaps unintentionally fanning the Ayton-to-Pacers flames. Indiana acquired Haliburton, 22, in a trade last season that sent two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento. Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists in 22 games for the Pacers and is viewed as a franchise cornerstone.
“Haliburton, yeah, that changed everything for this franchise,” Carlisle said. “Now you got free agents that want to come play for the Pacers because they want to come play with Tyrese Haliburton and that’s a huge deal.”
Bennedict Mathurin: ‘I’m the best’
Bennedict Mathurin comes from humble beginnings, but he’s far from humble on the court. The former Arizona star called out four-time NBA champion LeBron James before he was even drafted, telling The Washington Post, “I want to see how great he is. I don’t think anybody is better than me. He’s going to have to show me he’s better than me.”
Of course, Mathurin has a long way to go before he can be compared to future Hall-of-Famer James, but the 20-year-old has shined so far throughout Summer League,
Mathurin scored a game-high 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including a long step-back jumper over the outstretched arm of Detroit’s Kameron McGusty early in the first quarter. When the shot splashed through the net, Mathurin turned to the crowd while pounding his chest and repeatedly declared, “I’m the best! I’m the best!”
“Just me growing up, I just don’t think anybody’s better than me,” Mathurin said, describing his mindset during an NBATV postgame interview. “I just go on the court and play like it’s my last time playing.”
Mathurin shot 9-for-10 at the free-throw line and had five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The former Pac-12 Player of the Year is averaging 19.3 points and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 48.8% overall and 38.5% on 3s through three Summer League games.
“He’s an NBA scorer right now, and he has tremendous upside because there’s parts of his game that are still very raw and that’s exciting,” Carlisle said. “We view that as an exciting thing and not a negative by any stretch.”
Taylor added 14 points and nine rebounds. Isaiah Jackson tallied 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting and four blocks. Rookie draft pick Kendall Brown totaled eight points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench.