(Cream of the Crop is a recurring series that zeroes-in on something super cool that hasn’t been talked about enough. And, yes, we realize there is more than corn in Indiana, but this is Indy Cornrows and you have to let us live.)
Significant hangups have plagued the prospects that the Pacers have sent to the G League over the last several seasons. Rakeem Christmas ran the floor hard and wasn’t afraid to scrap on the offensive glass, but he was a non-shooting, small-ball center in a 6-foot-9 power forward’s body. Undersized, score-first guard Joe Young would show up and get buckets, but there never seemed to be much of an emphasis on developing the other areas of his game that would make him playable — especially when he didn’t get buckets. Georges Niang demonstrated plenty of know-how as a gravity-challenged power forward, but was hampered by his lack of physical tools, the reverse applies to chiseled center Ike Anigbogu.
Edmond Sumner is an amalgamation of the opposite of all of those caveats, a 6-foot-6 point guard with hops, turbo speed, and size for position putting up eye-popping numbers while gaining increasing dominion over his sprawling limbs.
There’s just more there there.
Recalled on two-way contract to provide guard depth in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury, his next step is proving that what’s there is translatable. An opportunity he could get as early as tonight with Tyreke Evans sidelined with lower back soreness.
Sumner, who impressed during preseason play with his change of speed and improved finishing touch, averaged 23.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.7 steals in 17 games with the Mad Ants.
With Fort Wayne, he scored at least 25 points in each of his last six games. He also knocked down 40 percent of his shots from three, a considerable improvement over the 28 percent clip he registered for his career at Xavier.
Continuing to develop his pull-up jump shot at the NBA-level, particularly in transition or when opponents go under screens, will make penetrating the lane even easier for a player who already appears as though he’s been shot out of a cannon when he attacks in transition or explodes around screens.
His gaudy stat lines and jaw-dropping highlights don’t lack for substance, either. He’s started meshing skilled finesse with his unbridled athleticism.
No longer a raw ball of energy setting course for the rim like a meteor hurling towards earth, Sumner has shown an improved knack for slithering around defenders in traffic with bounding euro-steps.
Or, how about this step-back jump shot? Rejecting a screen and stopping on a dime to create space doesn’t happen without balance and control.
That’s more than empty calories. Those are moves that will elevate his off-the dribble game when he dresses with the varsity.
The Xavier product struggled to see the floor outside of garbage time when Oladipo missed significant time earlier in the season, logging just eight minutes of action across the entirety of the 11-game stretch. With the team’s star out for the season, Sumner will reprise his role as the fifth guard on the team’s depth chart when Evans is back in the lineup, but the door has been left open for his length to get the nod over Aaron Holiday’s more diminutive frame against certain match-ups.
That’s for good reason.
Sumner single-handedly prevented Agua Caliente from getting into their offense until there was less than 10 seconds on the shot clock on this possession because he stayed skinny through the initial ball screen and then transformed into a full-on menacing ballhawk up until he iced the screener and mercifully switched assignments.
On the nights when the Pacers call for his size (like, say, tonight against Golden State’s Shaun Livingston), he’ll have smaller bursts of opportunity to avoid making some of the mistakes he was given the freedom to play through in the G League.
The dynamic scorer turned the ball over 3.4 times per game with the Mad Ants. That’s a lot, especially considering he only averaged 3.6 assists. The bulk of his sloppiness doesn’t tend to stem from being out of control and running out of ideas as much as it is a product of failing to protect his dribble (he still needs to work on staying low as a ball-handler) or struggling to make plays for others when he draws multiple defenders to the ball.
Sumner won’t be expected to initiate offense as much if he’s out on the floor with Cory Joseph in spot minutes, and the Pacers could benefit from making use of his acceleration away from the ball.
Imagine, for example, unleashing his speed off an Iverson cut against smaller guards or laterally-challenged bench wings with an off-ball shooter relocating to the corner.
Fort Wayne also routinely had him break free from the corner into dribble hand-offs or cut backdoor to receive blind passes from the high-post when he wasn’t running point, both of which are actions that complement what Domantas Sabonis already does.
Regardless of how he ends up factoring into the team’s rotation plans for the rest of the season, Sumner will likely be in-line for the team’s 15th roster spot once the 45 days he can spend with the Pacers on two-way contract expire.
If he continues to show promise and can cutback on the turnovers, his physical attributes as a slasher and lanky defender could turn out to be a bargain replacement off the bench in 2019-20, pending free agency decisions from Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans.
For now, as long as he can stay healthy after being sidelined by a hamstring injury back in December, Sumner has his foot in the door with a chance to show what he can do as the team’s best-kept secret.