The Indiana Pacers weren't expected to make much noise during the 2022-23 season. Pundits and fans alike thought that the Pacers were destined to finish at or at least near the bottom of the standings, especially after Indiana closed out the previous season by losing 10 games in a row.
However, the Pacers have been off to a stronger-than-expected start, posting a 6-6 record in the early goings of the season, much to the surprise of many. Myles Turner, despite being embroiled in trade rumors for basically his entire career, has remained focused, and he's putting up solid stats to begin the year. Buddy Hield is still one of the most reliable marksmen in the league, capable of lighting up opponents on any given night.
Meanwhile, Tyrese Haliburton has emerged into one of the best pure point guards in the league; he's currently averaging 20.5 points and 10.3 assists on an efficient 48.3 percent shooting from the field.
Nonetheless, this kind of improvement was, by and large, expected out of the third-year point guard, especially after he began putting up similar stats following the midseason trade that saw Domantas Sabonis get shipped to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the talented floor general.
Tyrese Haliburton's leadership of the offense has made the Pacers one of the most exciting teams to watch in the entire league, and their offensive rating has backed up the eye test. The Pacers are currently posting the seventh-ranked offense in the NBA, capable of exhilarating fans with immense scoring efforts and eye-popping feats of athleticism.
And one major, if not the biggest, reason, behind the Pacers' rise into must-see basketball is the surprising readiness of Bennedict Mathurin, who is firmly in the running for the Rookie of the Year honors despite not starting a single game.
The sixth pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Bennedict Mathurin was highly-touted coming out of Arizona for his ability to put the ball into the hoop in addition to his ability to jump out of the building. Mathurin had all the physical tools needed to compete on the wing at the highest level of play, standing at 6'7 with a 6'11 wingspan. Still, many fans scoffed at Mathurin's bold proclamation leading up to the NBA draft that he thinks “no one is better” than him, including LeBron James.
Not many people outside of Mathurin's inner circle expected the 20-year old to be this good, this fast. But Mathurin is well on his way to being one of the best players in the association.
Through 12 games, Mathurin has averaged 19.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, and he has done so at an efficient clip, as he's shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 45.3 from deep on 6.3 attempts per game. The primary criticisms of the rookie's game as he entered the league was his inability to create for himself consistently off the dribble, but with Tyrese Haliburton as his backcourt mate, he has thrived in more of a complementary role to begin his career. Mathurin has posted a 60 percent effective field-goal percentage off catch-and-shoots, excelling as the perfect fit alongside the pass-first point guard.
Nevertheless, Mathurin's scoring off the bounce has been solid in the early goings of his career, which should only bode well for his long-term development. He is second in the Pacers roster in points per game on pull-ups, at 4.1, and he is shooting a solid enough 44.7 percent on such shots. In addition, he has shot the ball at a scorching level from deep off the bounce at 53.6 percent, and it's extremely frightening to think about what Mathurin's game will look like the more he gets accustomed to playing against NBA-level defenses.
It remains to be seen just when Mathurin would be named the starter, especially after his run of solid performances, his best one being a 32-point effort against the Brooklyn Nets on October 29. Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle has said that he's been impressed with Mathurin's work ethic and willingness to learn the ropes on how to be a star in the NBA, so it should only be a matter of time before he cements his place as the Pacers' starter for years to come.