Indiana Pacers guard Edmond Sumner (5) plays against the Chicago Bulls during the second half of an … [+]
The Indiana Pacers were about 15 minutes removed from dropping their third straight game on Saturday when forward Doug McDermott sat in front of a camera for his postgame media availability. After answering some questions about the team’s struggles and inability to close games recently, McDermott threw in a line about one of his teammates when discussing the team’s health status.
“Edmond Sumner played unbelievable tonight,” he said.
McDermott was spot on. Sumner played for only 17 minutes, but he dropped in nine points on only four shots while providing aggressive defense and endless energy. He made a few key plays that kept the Pacers in the game, including two different shots that tied the game up in the fourth quarter. His contributions were needed.
Despite similar performances occurring often when Sumner is in the rotation, his playing time has been inconsistent for the Pacers this season. He’s only hit the floor in 19 of the team’s 32 games, and in seven of his appearances he received fewer than five minutes of playing time. The young guard hasn’t gotten many opportunities to make an impact.
Yet in the 12 games in which the Xavier product played for more than five minutes, the Pacers have outscored their opponents during his minutes. He plays winning basketball and makes unique plays; he needs to get more minutes for this Indiana team.
“I thought he was great,” Pacers Head Coach Nate Bjorkgen said of Sumner on Friday after Indiana lost to Boston. “He always stays ready to play. He’s really energetic, bouncy, and moves great out there.”
The most obvious skill Sumner provides is defense. His 2.6 steal percentage would be top-10 in the entire NBA if he qualified for the league leaderboards, and that figure ranks second on his team behind the quick-handed T.J. McConnell. His matchups have to deal with his 6’8 wingspan on a nightly basis; Sumner’s arms are everywhere and disrupt other team’s lines of sight. Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry mentioned how aggressive Sumner and the Pacers were on defense earlier this season after Indiana held Curry to 20 points. Curry was Sumner’s matchup frequently in that game.
When you put all that together and combine it with an endless motor, you have a solid defender. Indiana has a tidy 108.9 defensive rating when Sumner is in the game. For reference, only five teams in the league have a better defensive rating than that this season.
“You can ask him to guard about anybody,” Bjorkgren said earlier this season. “He’s a defensive guy for us, an energy guy for us.”
The Pacers need energy guys right now. The team is on a three-game losing streak for the second time in a month, and they look out of sorts at times. They go on long runs of stagnant, unimaginative play. Sumner can help energize those stretches.
“Any time I get the opportunity [to play] I’m going to try to bring the energy,” Sumner explained this year. “That’s probably the greatest thing I can bring to the team is just lifting our energy up.”
Indiana Pacers guard Edmond Sumner against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA basketball game … [+]
In February, a month in which the Pacers had multiple three-game losing streaks, the Pacers offensive rating ranked 21st in the league. Sumner being solid on defense is a boon for the team, but his energy and burst are needed more on offense right now.
Sumner’s offensive game was unrefined in his first three years in the league, but this season he has shown improved talents on that end of the floor. His shooting percentage is over 50% for the first time in his career, and he’s finally hitting shots from beyond the three-point arc at an acceptable rate. He has blended his improved efficiency with his already-stellar transition game and improved his offensive impact.
The Pacers scored 75 points on 66 possessions in two games over the weekend when Sumner was in the game. That’s a 113.6 offensive rating, a number that Bjorkgren’s team could use over extended stretches. If Sumner can consistently play at the level he did over the weekend going forward, then he needs to play more often.
“I liked his assertive moves he had to the rim,” Bjorkgren said of Sumner’s offense last Friday.
Sumner worked hard during the NBA shutdown last spring, and his growth is clear this season. Now, the Pacers need him more than ever. He can’t sit on the bench any more, the currently-stale Pacers need the spark that Sumner can provide.
Should the fourth-year guard finally break into the rotation, others will have to play fewer minutes. It may be easy to find Sumner minutes in the short term, guards Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb are both currently dealing with knee pain. If they miss time, Sumner will be needed in the guard rotation.
But even if Brogdon and Lamb are able to go the next time the Pacers suit up, Sumner should still play. If he does crack the rotation, he will take minutes from somebody, and the two most likely candidates are bench guards Lamb and Aaron Holiday.
Holiday has struggled for much of the ongoing season, but in the last few weeks he has really come alive. His poor shooting has been a factor in the Pacers’ second unit struggles, so siphoning off some of his minutes to Sumner might improve the teams offense. But it would come at the cost of development, Holiday is young and growing.
Lamb has shot the ball incredibly well this campaign, and yet the Pacers are still getting outscored by about three points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Lamb’s defense has been putrid all season long, Indiana concedes over 117 points per 100 possessions when he is in the game. Perhaps shifting some of Lamb’s minutes to the younger Sumner would improve the Pacers chances of winning.
Taking six minutes from Lamb and four minutes from Holiday (or doing something similar) would get Sumner to ten minutes per game and would still allow the other guards to play enough to get in a rhythm. That structure could be a win-win for the blue and gold. It would get the team ten-plus strong minutes each night with Sumner on the floor and still allow Lamb’s offense and Holiday’s impact to see the light of day.
Make no mistake, though, the most important part of that playing time balance is making sure that Sumner plays. If it means removing one of the other guards from the rotation entirely, that might be worth it. His potential is enormous, and his talent is obvious. The Pacers need to get him playing time.
Sumner recognizes his own growth. He’s feeling more confident recently, and it shows on the court. He’s flying around on defense, literally dunking over opponents, and making winning plays. The Pacers need more of that.
“You always want to build on things. For me it’s a confidence booster,” Sumner said of playing well earlier this season. If he can continue to build on his recent performances and get some playing time in the rotation, the Pacers, and Sumner, will be better for it.
I cover the Indiana Pacers and NBA players from the state of Indiana. I have done so for many years with written content, both as the Site Expert for the Fansided