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Third Annual Pacers Summer League Primer

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The meaningful guide to generally meaningless basketball.

Chicago Bulls v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When are the games?

Indiana’s Summer League team headed by Steve Gansey will be in full-swing at camp on Sunday before opening its three-game preliminary slate on Friday, July 6 at 3:00 PM against the Houston Rockets. All games will be available for streaming via the ESPN app. The rest of the schedule is as follows:

Who’s playing?

Steve Gansey, whose contract to coach the Mad Ants expires this summer, will have plenty of familiar faces in tow. Tra-Deon Hollins, Ben Moore (two-way contract), Edmond Sumner (two-way contract), Alex Poythress (two-way contract before being signed by the Pacers), and T.J. Leaf (assigned for three games) were with Fort Wayne in varying degrees last season, as was Travis Leslie (Sydney Kings, Levallois Metropolitans) during the team’s 2016-17 campaign.

Beyond player personnel ties, another parallel to the Mad Ants is the scarcity of centers. Brimming with players 6-foot-9-and-under, Fort Wayne embraced making the move toward interchangeability last season, and it appears as though the summer league team will follow suit and do some experimenting with smaller lineups as well.

“We hope Steve will come in and show us some new ideas. He’ll have an opportunity to run the summer league team with those ideas both the Pacers and Mad Ants want to instill in our players,” Nate McMillan told Pacers.com when Gansey was named as head coach. “We’re looking for him to be creative with some of the things he has done with the Mad Ants.”

Ike Anigbogu, nonetheless, is a conspicuous absence.

The 19-year-old is under contract for $1.37 million next season, but only $650,000 of that figure is guaranteed if the Pacers waive him before July 15, which is two days before the conclusion of tournament play.

Per Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports, the 2017 second-round pick is “dealing with an injury.”

Because his post arsenal and shooting range (12-of-36 from mid-range with the Mad Ants) are limited, Anigbogu’s scoring, likely by means of setting screens and finding crevices in the defense, is somewhat of a bonus. At issue, though, is that he had a tendency to get exposed on the other end of the floor with Fort Wayne when he wasn’t blocking shots (1.8 per game).

He’s only 19, so it’s too soon to overreact about his recognition and awareness defending the pick-and-roll looking every bit his age. However, even if it’s assumed that fixes to those types of team-defense flubs will come with maturity, the ease by which he got left in the dust by big men off the dribble last season is at least moderately concerning in terms of his ability to provide emergency depth next season.

Had he been able to play in Las Vegas, it would’ve been encouraging if it appeared less like his feet were stuck in wet cement when defending in isolation while witnessing him continue to build his game on dunks, rebounds, and blocks.

The Pacers already have 11 players under contract (including Al Jefferson’s partially guaranteed deal) before signing Aaron Holiday or Alize Johnson, so additional roster management, as it pertains to the end of the bench, may be necessary depending upon what happens in free agency.

What’s worth keeping a lookout for?

Defense doesn’t tend to be a staple of summer league games, as it is often a casualty of rosters supplemented with mercenaries and fraught with unfamiliarity in an environment which breeds getting buckets, but the individual effort staged on that end of the floor by Indiana’s pair of drafted UCLA alums needs to standout — and, preferably, not for the wrong reasons.

T.J. Leaf: On the season, opponents scored 9.1 points per 100 possessions more when Leaf was on the floor as opposed to off, which was the worst differential among Indiana’s regular rotation players. The 20-year-old has the makings of a “real” shooting four on offense and Kevin Pritchard expects him to play next season, but his, at times, bungling execution of pick-and-roll coverage and rotation assignments makes him too dependent upon the ability of his stretchy shooting to compensate for his inelastic defense.

For the reasons mentioned above, summer league isn’t a particularly fair setting to assess Leaf’s progress as a team defender. As such, zero-in on his footwork. Has he become less clunky and clumsy traversing space? Is his lateral movement getting overwhelmed closing out in 1-on-1 situations because he’s lunging or flat-footed?

With the benefit of steadier minutes and the freedom to play through mistakes against untested rookies in a lesser talent pool, perhaps Leaf’s defensive principles can begin to show some preliminary signs of growth and development.

For More: T.J. Leaf’s offense was ahead of his defense

Aaron Holiday: Indiana’s newest first-round draft pick averaged nearly four turnovers per game during his junior season with UCLA and Kevin Pritchard noted that his passing needs some refinement in terms of making pocket passes out of the pick-and-roll, but improving his decision-making and playmaking at the NBA-level is going to be a process and shouldn’t reasonably be expected to happen over the course of a week’s worth of exhibition games.

Instead, while avoiding jumping to conclusions, watch to see how the 6-foot-1 first-team All-Pac 12 defender fares pestering bigger guards at the point of attack, as far as getting “under the ball” and “turning” his man “in the backcourt.”

Also, after hitting north of 40 percent of his threes in each of his three seasons at the collegiate level, (hopefully) enjoy observing him splash some long-range shots off the catch as well as the dribble.

For More: Aaron Holiday is the real deal on offense

As for the non-UCLA’ers, be on the lookout for Alize Johnson to pursue rebounds outside of his position (his total rebound percentage ranks No. 2 overall in Missouri Valley Conference history) and see if Alex Poythress can knock down some threes to go with his mobile defense.

For More: Alex Poythress epitomized how the Pacers managed minutes in blowouts, Pacers select Alize Johnson with 50th pick

What about the rest of the field?

Don’t forget about the players signed to two-way contracts.

Edmond Sumner didn’t debut for the Mad Ants until January after tearing his ACL while at Xavier, but his highlight-worthy bursts of athleticism (yes, his explosiveness is still there) along with his slashing and ability to force his man away from the pick on defense make him an intriguing option for the Pacers to keep in their back pocket in the event that the depth-chart at guard takes a hit.

Per 2ways10days.com’s Adam Johnson, Ben Moore’s two-way contract is a one-year deal, so the team’s 17th roster spot is worth monitoring.

With Thaddeus Young returning and the team’s brass expecting T.J. Leaf to play next season, maybe the Pacers will consider signing Johnson to a two-way contract while he irons out the “mechanical” issue with his jump shot?

Links:

Alize Johnson tells Hoops Hype’s Bryan Kalbrosky that he likes to “fix iPhone screens,” plus a bunch of other stuff about his pre-draft process and work ethic.

Hey, Bryce Alford is another player from UCLA. Perhaps you remember his dad. (Too bad Anigobgu isn’t playing, one of the former Bruins could’ve got in on the ground floor of a trademark for the “UCLA-4” nickname.)

Elijah Stewart is USC’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made, and he signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Pacers — allowing him to receive a bonus of up to $50,000 if he signs with the Mad Ants. It can also be converted to a two-way contract by the first day of the regular season, but the bonus gets rescinded. Fort Wayne here he comes, probably.

The Mad Ants’ fourth overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA D-League Draft was Travis Leslie.

Tra-Deon Hollins stepped up when Walter Lemon Jr. and Trey McKinney-Jones were signed to 10-day contracts last season. He’s also on the Fort Wayne Champs roster, which received an invitation to play in The Tournament after the team Rajon Rondo was slated to coach dropped out.

Henry Sims talked with The Undefeated about his decision to remain overseas last season rather than pursue an uncertain return to the NBA.

Ben Moore worked on his shot. He went 19-of-54 from three with the Mad Ants, after only attempting five total threes during his senior season at SMU.

C.J. Wilcox thanked the Portland Trail Blazers, who signed him to a two-way contract, for “going above and beyond expectations” to figure out what was wrong with his knee after undergoing arthroscopic surgery last October and credited them for helping him through his battles with depression.

Steve Gansey has coached Levi Randolph, too. At the 2016 NBA D-League Elite Camp in Chicago, Fort Wayne’s head coach opted to go small and played him at four.