Why Ben Sheppard is back in Summer League after earning playoff role with Pacers (2024)

INDIANAPOLIS -- For the most part, the Pacers want Ben Sheppard to use the NBA Summer League to just be himself.

Of all the returning Pacers players who will be traveling to Las Vegas this week, Sheppard might be the player who needs Summer League action the least. The No. 26 pick out of Belmont in the 2023 draft started the Pacers' last two playoff games after Tyrese Haliburton went down with a hamstring injury and he was part of the team's rotation throughout the playoffs. He played 288 minutes off the bench in the playoffs, the third-most by a rookie behind Derek Lively II and Chet Holmgren.

Sheppard earned those minutes because he carved out a role and performed well by simply being steady. He didn't force action on offense but got his points by out-running opponents in transition and hitting open 3s, simply moving the ball when he wasn't open. On defense, he showed discipline, staying in front of ball handlers, fighting through screens and sticking with his man off the ball but not overly gambling. And he reliably chased after loose balls.

So his basic responsibility in Las Vegas is to do that and to show rookies and otherwise young free agents how it's done.

"I think in games like this, my motor will really pop," said Sheppard, who will turn 23 on July 16 while the team is in Vegas. "I'm just doing things, working on my game, not trying to change anything. Shooting open shots, taking advantage of my opportunities and leading the team on defense. I'm excited for the veteran role I'm playing right now."

Still, there will be opportunities for the Sheppard to have more of an offensive presence than he did this season surrounded by veterans such as Haliburton, Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner. Sheppard averaged just 4.4 points per game in the regular season and 5.2 per game in the playoffs, but none of the players who averaged more will be participating, as most of them are no longer eligible. He averaged just 4.0 field goal attempts per game in the regular season and 4.2 per game in the playoffs, but again, no one on the roster averaged more in NBA games. Sheppard doesn't consider it an explicit goal to take more shots, but he knows he will be granted more offensive freedom without the necessity of putting the ball in the stars' hands.

Sheppard made 56.2% of his 2-pointers in the regular season but shot just 31.4% from 3-point range. In the playoffs, he was markedly more efficient, shooting 57.1% from 2 and 38.0% from 3.

"I don't think it's about points," Sheppard said. "But they definitely want me to be more aggressive. Taking shots that sometimes I'll maybe pass up. I wouldn't say it's jacking a bunch of shots up, but it's always trying to make the right play and be aggressive in my own speed."

That means always looking for the opportunity to shoot even if not forcing it. It also means attacking off the dribble more and trusting that his speed will carry him to the rim for open layups. It still doesn't necessarily mean being ball dominant but it means having the ball in his hands a little more than usual.

He'll also get opportunities to take on top players on the defensive end. He drew top assignments off the bench in the regular season and playoffs, and in Summer League he will obviously be guarding less established players. However, with ace defenders Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith not around, Sheppard will get more extensive work against ball-handlers trying to prove themselves either as first-round picks pushing for rotation spots or more experienced players trying to earn a roster spot.

"There's not going to be a lot of plays called," Sheppard said. "Honestly it's a lot of one-on-one stuff, stay in front of your man. And obviously like we did last year, that mentality that we pick up fullcourt, that's something that not a lot of teams do."

Sheppard is one of just three players who were on the 15-man roster last year who will be on Summer League, the others being Jarace Walker and Kendall Brown. They also have two players who were on two-way contracts -- Oscar Tshiebwe and Quenton Jackson. All the rest of the players will be trying to learn how the system works and how to play within it, and Sheppard looks forward to teaching them.

"I'm just trying to be one of the leaders out here," Sheppard said. "As a second-year player, I got a taste of it last year, last summer and got a lot of NBA experience this past season. I'm just trying to do what I always do, bring energy to every day out here."

Why Ben Sheppard is back in Summer League after earning playoff role with Pacers (2024)
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