SAN FRANCISCO — Indiana Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle stared sternly at the stat sheet to begin his post-game conference, moments before unleashing an avalanche of praise for his rookie drive. No, not Bennedict Mathurin — the No. 6 overall pick in the 2022 draft who leads the NBA in benching standings.
The other rookie guard.
After an improbable victory on the road against Golden State Warriors in early December without their top two players, the conversation focused only on Andrew Nembhard, whom Carlisle quickly called a “top 10” talent in his draft class despite being a second-round pick.
Nembhard was the best player on a court he shared with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, collecting 31 points and 13 assists in a 112-104 win. At one point late in the fourth quarter, Nembhard left Curry with no recourse but to shake his head in disbelief after a demoralizing 3-point pullback that all but sealed the game.
It seems fitting that Nemhard ended up with 31 and 13, as the numbers “3” and “1” were crucial to the early success of a Pacers team, which many believed would sell off its remaining veteran pieces and voluntarily dive in. in the Victor Wembanyama- Henderson Scoot Contest. Instead, they’re sitting above .500 nearly 30 games into the season, and their leading guards are a huge reason for that.
In Nembhard’s outburst against the Warriors, he compiled 13 assists against four turnovers, just slightly above a 3:1 ratio, which is the gold standard for ball control – a benchmark similar to shooting 50% from the field or 40% from the 3-point line. Throughout his rookie season, Nembhard has been around a 3-to-1 assist-to-rotation ratio, an excellent mark for any guard, let alone a first-year player who has grown quickly. earned a spot in the starting lineup.
“That’s always been my thing. I’ve always had a pretty good assist-to-spin ratio. I’ve been kind of known as that type of guy,” said Nembhard, whose assist-to-spin ratio was a hair under 3 to 1 as a senior at Gonzaga. “I had to figure out when to be aggressive and figure out when to just be solid and play a solid game for us.”
As formidable as Nembhard is, however, he was overshadowed by the remarkable ball control of third-year goaltender Tyrese Haliburton, who leads the league in assists and made headlines in late November by delivering 40 assists in three games without committing a single one. turnover. No player had accomplished the feat since the league began recording turnovers in 1977. Not to mention, Haliburton also leads the Pacers in points.
Overall, Haliburton’s assist-to-rotation ratio was better than 4-to-1 in Wednesday’s rematch with the Warriors, tied historically with ball-safety gods like Chris Paul, John Stockton and Steve Nash. .
“Taking care of the ball is something that should matter for a player. It must be important to him,” Carlisle said of Haliburton. “That’s one of the things that makes him a savvy guy in this position. Efficiency, with all the touches and all that stuff, isn’t easy. But he’s proud of it. He knows that it’s important to win and, as I said, it’s important for him.”
Haliburton’s accomplishments are all the more impressive considering the Pacers have played at the fastest pace in the league this season, with more than 102 possessions per game. Being able to make those kinds of quick decisions without turning the ball over is critical to the Pacers’ offense, and just as difficult with the length and versatility of modern NBA defenders.
Steve Kerr’s Warriors have been at the forefront of picking up the pace over the past few years, and he understands that turnovers can be the cost of doing business when you encourage that style. So what Haliburton is doing has certainly caught Kerr’s attention.
“He’s a very smart player. He pushes the ball, but he usually makes a lot of single plays,” Kerr said of Haliburton. “I saw recently where [Haliburton] had a three-game streak with 40 assists and no turnovers. I’ve never even seen anyone come close to it. So quite remarkable ball control and for a guy who has the ball in his hands and is playing at this pace.”
Haliburton has a handful of assists and plays with an infectious, enthusiastic flair, but Kerr is right to keep the game simple. While generals on the ground like Trae Young and Luka Doncic collect their assists by dribbling and waiting for plays to develop, Haliburton quickly finds the open man, even if he isn’t necessarily immediately in scoring position.
According to NBA.com, Haliburton averages just over four dribbles per touch, compared to nearly six per touch for Doncic and Young. In fact, of the top five guard assist leaders in the league, Haliburton dribbles and holds the ball by far the least. Nikola Jokic is third in the league in assists, but as a center he operates more from the post and in dribbling transfers, so his numbers for touches and dribbling are much lower. When it comes to high-assist guards, though, Haliburton’s numbers jump out at you.
Making the play simple is sometimes easier thanks to Indiana’s pair of big 3-point shooters in Myles Turner and Jalen Smith. Everyone is adept at pick-and-pop, and while Haliburton’s passes aren’t usually of the highest degree of difficulty, the timing and accuracy must be perfect, like on this bouncing pass to Smith for a 3-pointer against the kings.
Smith and the other Pacers have benefited from the presence of not only Haliburton and Nembhard, but also veteran backup TJ McConnell, who has a 3.4-to-1 assist-to-rotation ratio since joining Indiana. before the 2019-2020 season. .
“It’s amazing, I mean they have a lot of open eyes for everyone,” Smith told CBS Sports. “They get attention, and they see a lot of things that most people don’t, and just find us when we’re open. They control the attack, so it’s good to play with them.”
Haliburton, Nembhard and McConnell have amassed 493 assists this season, compared to 151 turnovers – an impressive 3.3-to-1 ratio. almost as many turnovers as assists – or worse. This only puts more emphasis on the trio of guardians tasked with protecting the basketball like a priceless Fabergé egg.
“We’re blessed. We have three very effective point guards in Halliburton, McConnell and Nembhard,” Carlisle said. “That position is your nerve center for decision-making on the pitch. So all of these guys have a really good idea of the game and a really good idea of the teammates that they’re working with. And they’re great people, so it’s are a really fun group to work with.”
The pride the Pacers guards take in limiting turnovers has paid off well as they’re in play position heading into Christmas — a shock to many who put them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in start of the season.
“One hundred percent, we certainly all heard those kinds of notions that we were the worst team, one of the worst teams in the league,” Nembhard said. “I think we have a lot of competition and we weren’t really too focused on the headlines and stuff. We want to work on ourselves and keep improving day by day, week by week. We’ve had a good small burst to start the season, but it’s early. We want to keep improving.”