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What the Pacers are looking for from Ike Anigbogu

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Say it with me, DEE-FENSE.

NBA: Indiana Pacers-Media Day Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After assigning and, then shortly thereafter, recalling Ike Anigbogu to and from Fort Wayne for training camp, the Pacers decided to send the 20-year-old center back up I-69 again to open the season with their affiliate on Friday.

In 20 games with the Mad Ants last season, Anigbogu averaged 8.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 24.5 minutes per game.

That being said, much of what he chipped in on the offensive end of the floor was by and large a bonus, and he had a tendency to get exposed on defense when he wasn’t blocking shots.

“We’re not going to judge Ike by how many points he scores,” General Manager Chad Buchanan told Brett Rump of WKJG-1830 AM in Fort Wayne while discussing what the 47th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft needs to show while with the Mad Ants. “But we’re going to judge him by how many points in the paint the other team gets, how many rebounds did (he) get, how many shots did (he) challenge, how many shots did (he) deter because that’s where his value is.”

In order to make his presence felt more consistently around the rim, however, his recognition and awareness defending the pick-and-roll needs to demonstrate some signs of growth beyond his nascent years.

Here, for instance, with Edmond Sumner in rearview pursuit after trailing his man through a maze of picks, Anigbogu was forced to defend 2-on-1 until the slashing guard could recover.

But, alas, instead of backpedaling to stay in front of the roller while focusing on containing the ball as the dropper, he literally turned his back to the ball-handler; thereby, ceding a wide open driving lane to the basket.

Here, Sumner iced the screener and guided the ball-handler into his path while cutting off the passing lane to the roller, and the inexperienced big man still failed to impede the ball-handler’s direct line to the basket.

Even if it’s assumed that fixes to these types of team-defense flubs will come with age and experience, the ease with which he got left in the dust by big men off the dribble was concerning if not directly related to him being hampered by a leg injury.

“He wasn’t completely healthy last year,” Buchanan said. “He had a procedure done on his shin in the offseason that’s gotten him feeling better.”

That’s a good thing, because a simple pass fake was all it took for Shaun Long to blow past him on the baseline for an easy bucket on this possession.

And when he got left alone on an island with Christian Wood, the athletic power forward didn’t have to exert much effort to drive right around Anigbogu for a layup.

Likewise, when his drop coverage got caught on the wrong side of the keeper on a dribble hand-off set, his attempt at lateral movement made it appear almost as if his feet were stuck in wet cement as he conceded yet another open drive with the big easily gaining shoulder-to-chest advantage.

Not necessarily maximizing his physical tools in any of the above-cited examples, Buchanan indicated that they’ve made it known to the developing center that they want him to hold himself accountable for, as well as take pride in, locking down the paint.

“When we talk to Ike about playing with Fort Wayne, we want to know post-game when he walks to the locker room that he can look back on how he played and feel like, ‘I dominated that game defensively.’”

With Kyle O’Quinn on-hand to provide emergency depth behind Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, Anigbogu should have plenty of opportunity to settle-in with the Mad Ants and show what he can do outside of garbage time when healthy.

“I think you’ll see some strides from Ike,” Buchanan said. “We saw it during camp already, and I think as he matures and gains more confidence you’ll see a guy who really starts to blossom for us.”

As it pertains to the Mad Ants, Anigbogu’s germination process begins on Friday at 8:00 PM against the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

More notes:

  • This season may be the most symbiotic yet for the one-to-one relationship between Fort Wayne and the Pacers: Having implemented the same system as Nate McMillan while emphasizing togetherness and trust, Steve Gansey compared being called up by the Pacers on a two-way contract to being a receiver and running routes as far as making an easy transition. Gansey also indicated that in addition to Anigbogu being with the Mad Ants in training camp that there have been discussions about Alize Johnson and Aaron Holiday getting reps with the Mad Ants as well.
  • Don’t expect to see Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner play much together in Fort Wayne, though: “Both of those guys will see game minutes in Fort Wayne at various times during the year,” Buchanan explained. “There may be times where they’re down there simultaneously, but more than likely there’ll be times when one of them is there with Fort Wayne and one of them is with us with the Pacers.”
  • Buchanan on the course of action for getting Aaron Holiday the development he needs to potentially be ready to play next season: “For this season, it’s going to be a balance of learning from those two veteran players in front of him in practice, it’s going to be some playing with the Mad Ants in Fort Wayne and getting some game minutes, and it’s going to be doing a lot of work in practice with our coaching staff — learning the game, learning the league, and learning the position so he’s ready to hit the ground running come next year.”
  • Davon Reed was asked to describe his game at Mad Ants Media Day and, suffice it to say, he sounds like a fit for the Pacers’ 3T (togetherness, toughness, and trust) culture: “Somebody who is going to bring that hard-nosed, winning approach. Give it my all every game, every single possession that I can. Somebody who is going to make my teammates better, expect a lot of my teammates.”