When are the games?
With free agency already in full swing, Indiana’s Summer League team headed by Popeye Jones and assisted by Sydney Kings coach Andrew Gaze will open its four-game slate on Saturday, July 1 at 1:00 PM against the Orlando Magic. All games will be televised on NBA-TV. The rest of the schedule is as follows:
Myles Turner obviously won’t be, but he does plan to be in attendance to watch one of his team’s new rookies, three current teammates, three members of the 2016-17 Mad Ants, a senior from Southern Methodist University who Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer pegged as “fitting the mold” of a successful undrafted player, one player coached by old friend Sarunas Jasikevicius, and a slew of other names looking to find a landing spot with a prospective team.
What’s worth keeping a lookout for?
In the field of fifteen, four names stand out as players to keep a watchful eye on:
Joe Young: It’s evident after two seasons that the recently turned 25-year-old would be better utilized as a stop-release than a shot-creating point guard. Though moving him off-ball doesn’t exactly jibe with the emphasis Kevin Pritchard placed on “size for position” while making the media rounds last month, expect the Pacers to make this switch.
Young only shot 21.7 percent from three last season (0.7 attempts per game), but the distance didn’t seem to bother him as much as his lack of touches. The fact that he shot 63.6 percent (3.7 attempts) during his three-game stint with the Mad Ants as a rookie seems to bear this out. Unfortunately, getting plenty of shots in Orlando probably won’t shed much light on how he would fare next season trying to find his in-game rhythm on a more consistent basis presumably as the bench’s fifth-option.
Joe Young’s contract has a $1.4 million team option for the 2017-18 season.
For More: Joe Young isn’t so young anymore
Rakeem Christmas: It’s unclear what role the 25-year-old non-shooting, small-ball center in a 6-foot-9 power forward’s body can consistently play for the Indiana Pacers beyond providing emergency depth. He runs the floor hard and isn’t afraid to scrap on the offensive glass, but he remains foul prone, struggles to finish against more imposing frames in the restricted area (48.5%) and lacks range (0-of-5 from mid-range).
However, if he can show that he is better able to full-out switch on the perimeter against guards in Orlando, then maybe using his speed to sort of reverse space the floor in ultra-small lineups would be an interesting wrinkle for the Pacers when Kevin Seraphin’s bulkier physique prevents him from recovering to stretch-shooting fives.
On that note, take this for what it’s worth: Christmas is currently working with the same trainer who helped Glenn Robinson III hone his skills ahead of Summer League last offseason. The undersized center is going to need to make a comparably noticeable leap with Ike Anigbogu’s similar high-energy and offensively raw game soon to be waiting in the wings.
Rakeem’s $1.4 million salary for the the 2017-18 season becomes fully guaranteed if he isn’t waived on or before August 1.
Georges Niang: Like Christmas, the high-IQ, athletically challenged power fauxward’s long-term place with the Pacers also may depend upon his ability to distinguish himself from an incoming rookie.
Outside of shortening the rotation, Niang’s modest ability to add some space to the floor (35 percent on 5.5 attempts per game with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants) as well as contest spot-up attempts and hedge against the pick and roll was really the team’s only option to avoid the dreaded double-plodder lineups last season. Nevertheless, he really wasn’t ever given even a cursory look, especially considering that head coach Nate McMillan only played him more than seven minutes once while Paul George and C.J. Miles were sidelined simultaneously early in the year.
Carving out a fringe role is probably only going to be tougher now with competition from T.J. Leaf at his position. Without having earned regular minutes somewhere last season, the 23-year-old is stuck on the carousel of needing to demonstrate that his San Antonio-esque pass-first mentality can grease the wheels of a system built upon toughness and high-energy flyers rather than put a wrench in it.
Niang’s $1.3 million salary for the 2017-18 season becomes fully guaranteed if he isn’t waived on or before either July 1 or July 15 (conflicting information).
For More: Georges Niang wasn’t given a chance
T.J. Leaf: It’s been well-documented that the 20-year-old needs to add strength to his narrow frame, so don’t be surprised if he gets bullied by bigger bodies on the glass or while making his way to the basket. However, with that particular caveat aside, showing flashes of greater willingness to absorb some of that contact would be a positive sign for his versatility. Arguably more key than his toughness in a game of zero-consequence, though, will be whether the prospective stretch-four’s shot appears capable of making a relatively seamless adjustment to the deeper distance of the league’s three-point line.
For More: Pacers draft T.J. leaf with 18th pick
What about the rest of the field?
Don’t forget about the advent of two-way contracts. If there’s someone Indiana really likes and there’s mutual interest, it’s possible that player could earn a training camp invitation and then end up sliding back and forth between the Mad Ants and the Pacers with one of the team’s 16th and 17th roster spots.