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2022 NBA Draft Analysis: Bennedict Mathurin

Pacers podcast and more.

Houston v Arizona Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

With draft season officially in full swing, Mark and Caitlin are back with a fresh episode of “Stock up, Stock down.” Breaking down a different prospect each week, the idea is for the hosts to watch a player, identifying reasons to be both bearish and bullish, with frame of reference from a few specific games as well as for the Pacers. Then, in zooming out with a broader focus, an invited draft expert reacts to the findings.

This week, The Stepien’s Zach Milner joins to talk Bennedict Mathurin, who the Pacers reportedly talked to following the NBA Draft Lottery, through the lens of Arizona’s games against Tennessee, UCLA, and Houston.

Stock up

Caitlin’s pick — Fit

As the Pacers approach an offseason of possibilities, they won’t just assess their options on film; they also plan on doing so in the film room.

We’re going to do some things different,” Kevin Pritchard told reporters following the draft lottery of the team’s approach to pre-draft workouts. “We’re going to watch film with players. And we’re going to get their take on how they feel about how they fit with us.”

That shouldn’t be a difficult task for Mathurin, who ran plenty of NBA-like actions at Arizona, including several which were executed by the Pacers this past season.

For example, there’s already video evidence of him performing the same choreography as Keifer Sykes does, here, against Milwaukee, scurrying along the baseline behind the corner pin-in screen to clear space for the roll-man, while also rising up like a rocket to shoot.

The same also applies to baseline out of bounds plays, as what looks like elevator doors, instead, becomes a stagger for the movement shooter to sprint around the screens on an outside curve as opposed to squirting through. As Mathurin demonstrates, that cut can also produce opportunities for either of the screeners to slip, depending upon the shooter’s degree of gravitational pull.

With plenty of ball screens connected to wide pindowns, Rick Carlisle has also shown a preference for bringing shooters back toward the ball, especially when he still had access to Justin Holiday’s ability to veer and swing into shots with speed.

According to Synergy, Mathurin shot 38 percent on shots coming off screens compared to 26 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoots — an unusual discrepancy, perhaps pointing to the possibility of noisiness with regard to why his overall 3-point percentage dropped from 41 percent as a freshman to 36 percent in his second year, albeit on higher volume. The Pacers, meanwhile, shot 34 percent on shots coming off screens, with Holiday accounting for over a quarter of the team’s usage (26%), as Chris Duarte shot a woeful 7-of-30 (23%) and showed himself to be more comfortable finding windows and pulling from behind stationary flare screens than darting around picks and elevating in a crowd.

In that regard, notice how Mathurin’s feet aren’t even visible among the horde of bodies, here, as he hops into his form with ease, launching his release point above that of the contest from a taller, leaping forward.

In addition to how he projects to match with the playbook, what also stands out about Mathurin is his ability to find gaps and leverage his gravity against defenders.

For the season, despite shooting 28 percent on runners and connecting on only 11 of 43 shots from in-between the paint and the 3-point line, the 19-year-old wing converted 51 percent of his twos, in part, because of his effectiveness as a cutter, tallying more points out of that play-type (77) than any player who finished the season on Indiana’s roster.

Like the Pacers, Arizona regularly deployed Euro-Ball screens, or empty wing hand-offs preceded by 45-cuts, into their offense as a means to facilitate continuity, but watch how, in what typically becomes nothing more than a clear-out to maintain spacing, Mathurin stays active, seeking out the seam with the physical tools to take advantage.

With such a strong sense for timing and selling actions, Arizona also purposefully designed plays for Mathurin as a back-cutter, often with some type of weak-side action occupying the help so as to leave his defender on an island. In that way, picture this elevator misdirection set, only with the forced post-up swapped out in favor of the potential chemistry between Tyrese Haliburton’s eye manipulation and Mathurin’s resourcefulness.

Hint: It would probably look like an augmented version of this.

By nature, Haliburton has a tendency to reward energy with the ball, so it’s easy to imagine him developing a wavelength with Mathurin both in the half-court as well as the open floor, where the former unlocks his athleticism, outrunning multiple defenders without the ball.

Umm, wow.

To that point, even with Haliburton’s overt attempts to jump-start the offense, clapping for faster outlets and immediately heading downhill after catching those passes by comparison to Malcolm Brogdon’s more methodical approach, the Pacers only saw a modest bump in transition frequency after the trade, jumping from 27th (13.3%) to 23rd (13.9%), according to Cleaning the Glass. And, here’s the thing: That’s actually a higher rate than any of Rick Carlisle’s last six teams in Dallas, all of which languished among the bottom-five of the league. As such, given the overall dynamic between Carlisle and letting go of the reins, any uptick in how often the Pacers play in transition will likely depend more so on stocking the roster with players who are wired to hunt opportunities that make defenses pay early, rather than — and, perhaps, at times in spite of — the scheme.

When confined to the half-court, however, second-side pick-and-rolls could potentially offer another mode for Mathurin to play off of Haliburton, as this camera angle provides a clear view of his growth in terms of patience and recognition.

Countering for the switch with communication by pointing for Christian Koloko to seal it off before attacking baseline, that type of mismatch navigation, wherein space is directed to be cleared, was lacking at times for the Pacers over the back-end of last season (see: second clip), when the bigs were more likely to be waved off than called for as shields.

All of which is to say that, from his existing value as an off-ball prospect to his flashes of upside as a second-side scorer, Mathurin has no shortage of film, both from his own games as well as those of the Pacers, for how his game would, in many cases, directly overlay with the offense as a complement to Tyrese Haliburton and vice versa.

Mark’s pick — Contested Shot-making

Mathurin’s release point is stellar, the height he gets on his jumper is rather nuts, and the ability to get his shot off unfazed regardless of how many players are/aren’t around him stands out as a massive plus skill.

Off movement and contested? No problem.

Late clock self-created pull-ups and sidesteps? Sure!

The shooting is undeniable and arguably even undersold by the numbers at Arizona. He is easily one of the best shooters in the draft. He cuts well. Mathurin is a fantastic outlet scorer and operates well off of screens with his explosiveness and shiftiness without the ball. What he can potentially grow into, and how high you are in its viability, is the biggest determinant for me in projecting who Mathurin might be.

Stock down

Caitlin’s pick — shot-selection/decision-making

Recording only 25 isolation possessions, including those with passes (6), Mathurin has a long way to go as a self-starter. Remember that elevator misdirection play designed for him to back-cut with his defender on an island? Here’s what happens when the defense knows what’s coming and forces him to create to escape from it:

For those counting, that’s a 1-on-1 turned 1-on-4, as he effectively dribbled into a sink hole, with four defenders collapsing on the ball. Granted, he probably wouldn’t draw that much attention on the Pacers, particularly as a rookie, but that’s also sort of the point. He drew that much attention and still opted to shoot no matter what.

With that in mind, focus on the small details of this dribble hand-off set and why they might be necessary. Beginning with a zipper screen for the four to cut to the opposite elbow and set-up in horns while the five acts as the trigger man, notice how the four positions his body, facing the ball with his hand reached out as though he might catch a pass.

That’s intentional and also a red herring, as the four-man’s real purpose is to screen Mathurin into the hand-off. By standing in the opposite direction of how a pindown screen would normally be set, however, the defense is occupied by the potential reversal and less likely to switch, allowing the 19-year-old sophomore to catch the ball on the move with his defender either trailing or ducking under. In essence, for a player who isn’t necessarily going to generate separation without a screen, what may seem trivial actually operates in combination as wheel grease for him to negotiate his way through traffic with a subtle change of speed and then use his athleticism to get to the other side of the basket.

Now, watch what happened out of the same action against UCLA. Again, the play is successful in that Mathurin catches the ball on the move with his man trailing instead of switching up the line, but it’s highly questionable whether this shot should be his when two outlets are readily available as release valves, including in the strong-side corner.

In that regard, although Mathurin showed some signs of progress this season as a secondary creator for others, particularly with regard to making simple reads when no back-side help was available and occasional skip passes, there are certainly spots where he could stand to reign in his trigger. After all, just because a play is run for a specific player doesn’t mean that player has to be, nor always should be, who scores.

Defensively, meanwhile, he has the vertical pop to pitch in at the rim, but he doesn’t always process when to pounce and when not to, which can similarly apply to scramble situations. As of now, he also doesn’t stand out as a consistent on-ball stopper, either, as he could stand to be more active and engaged instead of just hugging the screener and expecting the big to come out of the drop to contest from deep.

For a team in need of sure reinforcements on the defensive end, he isn’t likely to be the weakest link in any lineup with his physical profile, but as can also be said of his feel for shot-selection, serving as foil for the way in which Haliburton can be overly choosy, he would need to improve his decision-making to be considered among the strongest.

Mark’s pick — Handle and uprightness

Mathurin shows a ton of upside and immediate intrigue as a plug and play offensive role player. As we hit on in the pod, the the areas that seem most possible for extrapolating his game would be on secondary pick and rolls. Without a more refined handle however, it’ll be tough sledding.

He had some issue navigating DHO’s and getting around ball-screens. His handle feels much better going straight downhill than when he needs to go East/West.

I don’t mean this to be an unkind blooper! But, it struck me how often he came around screens this season and snagged himself on the screener because of how upright he can play. I think that’s some of the low hanging fruit that exists in movement right now, as even though the handle is clunky, his straight-line burst is really fantastic.

Especially going to his left, he has a bit of a habit to look down at the ball, and that’s often when he gets stripped or losses his dribble.

When he was pressed up on, didn’t receive a screen, or wasn’t stepping into the catch, you could really see some of the mechanical issues in his handle.

Part of the mechanical issue to me is how mechanical it is. For as explosive as Mathurin is, how choppy his handle tends to be really limits his ability to BE explosive with the ball. That’s part of the uprightness for me as well. If he can base his dribble lower, not bring it up as high and wide, I think there’s another gear there. My bigger questions would be about adding in more shiftiness with the ball, because that’s just not an easy thing to develop in the slightest.

Mathurin is a really fun and interesting prospect with a great deal of skill and potential that should be enticing to the Pacers. How they feel about tapping into his upside and building upon his steady foundation as an offensive player is something I’d be very curious about.

Other topics:

  • creating downhill; floater mechanics
  • overuse of the 3-and-D label in general and whether it applies to Mathurin

Enjoy the pod and continue looking forward to more of these episodes as the draft approaches. Also, if you haven’t already, please be sure to Rate and Review the Indy Cornrows Podcast on Apple Podcasts and subscribe anywhere else you can listen!