Foul trouble continued to plague Rakeem Christmas on Thursday as the Mad Ants lost their fourth-straight game, coming up short against the Westchester Knicks by a score of 98-86
After scoring six of Fort Wayne's first 13 points, Indiana's rookie, while matched up against the more imposing 7-foot-2, 254 pound frame of Jordan Bachynski, picked up two first quarter fouls and was forced to watch the final 4:30 minutes of the period from the bench. Christmas picked up his third personal with more than nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, effectively ending his involvement in the first half. He finished the night with five fouls.
Fouling out or falling one foul shy of disqualification has not been an exception to the rule for Christmas of late. It's very nearly been the mandate. Over the last eleven games, he's committed 54 total fouls (4.9 per game) and has racked up 5 or more seven times.
As is shown below, the undersized center can play stout defense against bigger bodies when he stays on the ground and resists the urge to be baited by shot fakes.
More often than not, it's when he is tempted to reach from behind or go over the top that he gets himself into trouble.
"It's still a process and he's got to continue to get better. He's still fouling a little too much," Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey told The Journal Gazette's Justin A. Cohn on February 10, after his starting center fouled out of back-to-back games. "It's the little ticky tack (fouls), swiping down and pushing and being a little bit too aggressive. It's frustrating for him."
Beyond foul trouble, here are a few more numbers you should know about No. 25's recent play with the Mad Ants.
47.8: Field-goal percentage from mid-range during the month of February, the highest of any month this season.
With March on the horizon, Christmas needs to prove he can string together multiple months of 40 percent or better shooting outside the paint, rather than being bogged down by fits and starts.
As was explained here, the rookie's ability to hone his shooting touch with the Mad Ants could be a game changer when it comes to earning a call-up. Due to his smaller stature, there are no guarantees that Christmas' post-oriented game will translate to the NBA. Capable of utilizing his explosive first step to take opposing big men off the dribble, defenders tend to hang back in the paint and give the Syracuse alum plenty of room to line up his shot. His ability to consistently knock down those looks will not only force opponents to stay honest; it will make his size less of a liability and more of an asset.
"We've been throwing him the ball in the post a little too much," head coach Steve Gansey told the New Sentinel's Reggie Hayes during the first week of February. "He needs to be able to work offensively without the ball in his hands in the post, because that's not what he's going to do with the Pacers. We're trying to fit him in a role that the Pacers see him as, and help them while he helps us."
3.0: The number of turnovers Christmas has averaged per game during the month of February, the most of any Mad Ant. Once Indiana's rookie was named D-League Performer of the Week in December and selected as a D-League All-Star, it was only natural that opponents would shift their attention toward him on defense. It doesn't appear that the assignee has adjusted to this change, yet.
- The Pacers aren't the only team readjusting to a change in system. The Mad Ants are trying to follow their parent club's lead from afar. Something the team's head coach admitted is challenging to the News Sentinel's Reggie Hayes before the All-Star break, "It's tough because I'm here and they're there," Gansey said. "They're reverting and going back a little bit, and I wasn't there for that. We communicate and everything but I wish I had a week down there to be with those guys and see what their message is."
- Starting Rakeem Christmas and Shayne Whittington in the front court, Fort Wayne's starting lineup looks like the Blue & Gold's, but the similarities stop there. The Mad Ants average over 100 possessions per 48 minutes (which ranks eighth in the NBA's Developmental League) and still intermittently use the second-year Pacer to run 4-out offense. Over 30 percent of Whittington's field-goal attempts during the month of February have come from behind the 3-point arc.
- Whittington is still shooting below 35 percent from distance, but his average has, for the most part, trended slightly upward with each passing month he's spent in Fort Wayne: November (25.0%), December (23.1%), January (32.0%), February (33.3%).
Paul George was in attendance at the D-League All-Star game to support Rakeem Christmas.
- Walter Lemon Jr. (26.0%), Anthony Harris (22.5%), Terran Petteway (22.1%), and John Lucas III (21.6%) are all posting higher usage percentages than Rakeem Christmas since the Mad Ants announced they had acquired John Lucas III on January 14. Shayne Whittington's usage percentage is the seventh highest on the team over that same span of time.
- After competing in the NBA D-League Finals the past two seasons, the Mad Ants (15-20) currently sit last in the Central Division and rank eighth in the Eastern Conference. Only the top four teams from each conference make the playoffs.