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Can Indiana Pacers’ rookie Bennedict Mathurin be in line for two NBA awards?

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Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This season for the Indiana Pacers has been a roller coaster of a ride. One thing that has been constant through all of this is their rookie No. 6 overall pick, Bennedict Mathurin.

The Pacers had a strong start to the season, jumping out to a surprising 23-18 record. During this time, the team had a five-game and four-game winning streak. 

Then on Jan. 11, All-Star Tyrese Haliburton suffered a knee and elbow injury. The Pacers went on a seven-game losing streak afterward and are 3-16 since then. When the season began, the rebuilding Pacers were not considered ready to be in contention for a playoff berth. 

So, instead of being aggressive at the trade deadline, they were able to successfully navigate the deadline to add another young and intriguing player. Regardless of all this, Mathurin has appeared in every game this season, and at times he and Haliburton have shown they’re going to be a problem.

Bennedict Mathurin’s rookie season for the Indiana Pacers

bennedict mathurin
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of hype surrounding Mathurin coming out of college at Arizona. During a pre-draft interview in June, Mathurin had some things to say about NBA career scoring leader and four-time MVP LeBron James telling the Washington Post.

“A lot of people say he’s great. I want to see how great he is. I don’t think anybody is better than me. He’s going to have to show me he’s better than me.”

-Bennedict Mathurin

This statement automatically made the Los Angeles Lakers vs Indiana Pacers Nov. 28 game in L.A. a must-watch.  

In the end, it was fellow rookie Andrew Nembhard who stole the show with his buzzer-beater. But in that game, Mathurin scored 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and got one assist and steal, while shooting 45 percent from the field. For his part, James had a pedestrian 21 points and seven rebounds on 8-of-22 shooting.

NBA’s best bench scorer this season

FBennedict MathurinIndiana Pacers17.2 ppg
GNorman PowellLos Angeles Clippers17.0 ppg
GRussell WestbrookLos Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles Lakers)15.9 ppg
GMalcolm BrogdonBoston Celtics14.7 ppg
FBobby PortisMilwaukee Bucks14.4 ppg

The fact that he’s coming off the bench and having this kind of success makes his rookie season all the more impressive. It’s also allowed him to be more of the main guy with the second unit and focus more on scoring. If he was starting it’s possible that he could range anywhere from the second to fifth scoring option depending on the lineup around him. 

“Benn had all the ingredients. “And one of the things was the edge, the tenacity and the attitude.”

– Head Coach Rick Carlisle

Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Myles Turner would all be ahead of him as the scoring options. But by him coming off the bench, he gets to be the focal point of the offense. This has allowed him to be one of the NBA’s top scorers who is getting less than 30 minutes per game.

In fact, he leads the NBA in bench scoring and it’s the fifth time in Indiana Pacers history that they have a rookie who’s scored 1,000 points since 1987. He’s ahead of NBA veterans like Russell Westbrook, Norman Powell, and Malik Monk as a sixth man. This only makes what he’s doing even more impressive.  

Competing for two NBA awards

bennedict mathurin
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Most rookies that are drafted in the lottery are typically starters seeing lots of minutes and opportunities to be featured. In fact, four out of the five players drafted ahead of Mathurin are starters; the other, Chet Holmgren, is out for the season. Yet, despite all of this Mathurin is currently second on the Rookie of the Year list. He also is considered a leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Subsequently, he has a 5-3 record against the players that were drafted ahead of him with six games remaining against them this season.

“Five guys were drafted ahead of me. I know exactly who was drafted ahead of me. I just keep it in my mind every time I get the chance to step on the court it’s another opportunity to prove myself.”

– Bennedict Mathurin

For the season, Banchero and Mathurin are tied for the most total points scored. Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick, is the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the year award. Something that could help Mathurin’s chances of winning the award is if he’s able to help lead the Pacers to reach the play-in tournament. They are currently 2.5 games behind Toronto for the final spot.

Earlier in the season, there was a lot of conversation about Mathurin being up for not only the previously mentioned award but also the Sixth Man of the year award. This had Pacers fans drooling over the possibility of him winning both awards. Since then, things have changed in the NBA. 

“Just being consistent. I watch a lot of film, so I know how the defense is going to play me, and I just try to take advantage of it. I’m just staying confident and knowing what to do at the right time.”

-Bennedict Mathurin

Best Pacers’ rookie season

Even if Mathurin doesn’t win either of these awards he’s most likely going to go down in Indiana Pacers history for having one of the best rookie seasons, if not the best. He’s on pace to score more than 1,400 total points. And he’s already having a better rookie season than former Pacers greats Paul George, Reggie Miller, and Danny Granger. 

The best rookie season for a Pacer will remain with Clark Kellogg. Regardless though, the Pacers haven’t had a rookie make this much of an impact in their rookie since they drafted Jamaal Tinsley in 2002. To be fair, most of the Pacers’ first-round draft picks have been players drafted outside of the lottery.

And when teams are drafting outside of the lottery consistently it usually means they’re a playoff-caliber team. It’s much harder for a rookie to make such an impact on such teams.

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