Pacers: Bennedict Mathurin has a chance to become Indiana’s next superstar

Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports) /

One of the traits that stand out most in an NBA Draft prospect is their capacity for growth. Players who aren’t able to deliver consistent improvement at lower levels pose a greater risk of flaming out in the pros. However, those who take steps steadily in their pursuit of the NBA have a better chance of continuing the trend once exposed to broader opportunities. Consistent development was a significant factor in Indiana Pacers wing Bennedict Mathurin rising on draft boards before going sixth overall in the 2022 NBA Draft.

A 6-foot-7 wing from Montreal, Mathurin showed marked improvement from his freshman campaign to his sophomore year at Arizona. His fluidity as a ball-handler improved while he adjusted to a primary scoring role with greater volume. That improvement accomplished wonders for his draft stock, as did a prestigious pre-draft process in which he solidified himself as a top option outside of the clearly-defined top three of his class.

Through Summer League and Preseason, Mathurin is showing his true capabilities with high-volume scoring upside — largely coming from off-ball work. This culminated with a 27-point outing in a close victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. Mathurin put on a masterclass, navigating space off the ball and making quick decisions resulting in efficient shot opportunities that columnated with an 11-of-12 finish from the charity stripe.

Bennedict Mathurin has legitimate star upside for the retooling Indiana Pacers.

It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Bennedict Mathurin might be the next star centerpiece for the Indiana Pacers franchise. He checks all of the boxes: Ample shot creation, defensive talent, sound instincts, proven work ethic, size, versatility and a track record of growth. Even on a night when his 3-point shots weren’t falling, Mathurin managed to impact the game in other ways, coming off the bench with fury in his eyes against a feisty Knicks team.

Through all of his success early on, there were red flags in college that will need to be addressed in the pros. Mathurin wasn’t always focused on defense, oftentimes losing track of his man off the ball or falling a step behind on the perimeter. His mid-range efficiency plummeted as a sophomore at Arizona, causing concerns about his viability as a shooter. Yet through it all, Mathurin has yet to have a bad game in the pros, putting his doubters to rest with high-IQ decision-making at 20.

The progress we’re seeing from Bennedict Mathurin might be an indicator of why the Pacers haven’t committed to a full-blown tank just yet. If they genuinely believe their most recent draftee and his running mate, Tyrese Haliburton are ready for the next level, they’ll retain the infrastructure of a team that could compete for a Play-In spot. Whether that’s the right decision is a different conversation entirely, but having high-level role players in the rotation certainly help this tandem develop winning habits.

Ironically enough, it’s not farfetched to say that Mathurin has shades of Paul George in his game. They’re each slithery off-ball players with immense shooting potential, large frames and relentless physicality when attacking the basket. Neither of these players is afraid of big moments or picking up their teammates’ slack when need be, displaying selflessness on and off the court.

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The long, winding road of a rebuild that Indiana underwent since trading George has led them to a player whose game is reminiscent of its former superstar. It just goes to show that time is a flat circle.