Ben Sheppard

Pacers Notes: Defense, Toppin, McConnell, Workouts

Having already taken one big swing this year by trading for Pascal Siakam in January, the Pacers aren’t opposed to having a relatively quiet offseason and running it back with a similar group to the one that made this year’s Eastern Conference finals, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star (subscription required).

“You always gotta look and see what’s out there on the market,” general manager Chad Buchanan said this week during his end-of-season press conference. “Is there a player or players out there who are available who make sense for your team? You’re also very excited about the young core we have. It’s a balance. It’s going to be a lot of discussion, a lot of debate. Maybe there’s nothing out there that makes sense, and we’re fine with that. We really like this team. If we come back with this same group next year, we still believe there’s a lot of upside with this group.”

Improving the defense will be an offseason priority in Indiana, though it’s possible that could happen without making any outside additions, according to Dopirak, who points to young players like Aaron Nesmith, Andrew Nembhard, Ben Sheppard, Bennedict Mathurin, and Jarace Walker as guys who are capable of getting better on that end of the court. Buchanan acknowledged that the defense will be a focus for the front office after the team ranked 24th in defensive rating during the regular season.

“As you watch the team that eliminates you, it’s always fresh in your mind what they did to beat you,” Buchanan said. “I think Boston, obviously they have more experience than us, No. 1, but they have a tremendous defensive foundation. When we needed to try to score these last couple of games, it’s been very, very challenging. That’s one thing we take away that’s going to be important for us moving forward if we want to make another step.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • While Indiana’s spending power will be limited if Siakam signs a maximum-salary contract, the team hopes to continue its relationship with restricted free agent forward Obi Toppin, per Buchanan. “I thought Obi had a tremendous year for us,” the Pacers’ GM said, per Dopirak. “… I thought he really blossomed this year. We envisioned him being a good with a team that played fast; he was exactly that. His three-point shooting really developed and improved as we saw this year. The way we play, you get a lot of open shots. If you can catch and shoot, you’re going to have some success. His defense grew as the season wore on. He seems to be happy here too. Would like to continue the relationship.”
  • Buchanan also raved about the contributions of backup guard T.J. McConnell, who will be extension-eligible this offseason as he enters a contract year. It sounds as if Indiana will explore an extension for McConnell, as Dopirak relays. “He’s not slowing down. You’re not seeing any sign of an aging player,” Buchanan said. “… His value to us is very, very high, and that has not changed by anything that happened this year and we hope he’s with us for a long time as well.”
  • In a separate story for The Indianapolis Star, Dopirak observes that the Pacers‘ first pre-draft workout on Friday only consisted of prospects who played college basketball for four or more years and started for at least three seasons. As Dopirak writes, Indiana has three picks in this year’s draft but none higher than No. 36, so the team may be targeting seasoned prospects capable of stepping in and contributing right away, rather than focusing on upside. Dopirak notes that head coach Rick Carlisle frequently said during the season that Sheppard’s four years of college experience made it a smooth transition to the NBA for the No. 26 pick in last year’s draft, since he understood his role without requiring much instruction.
  • The Pacers’ second pre-draft workout, scheduled for Tuesday, will feature several more experienced college players, including Reece Beekman (Virginia), DJ Horne (NC State), Lance Jones (Purdue), Cam Spencer (UConn), and Harrison Ingram (UNC), tweets Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. Mantas Rubstavicius, who has played professionally in Lithuania and New Zealand since 2018, will fill out the six-man workout group.

Central Notes: Pacers, Haliburton, Bickerstaff, Bulls

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has a couple of options to rearrange his starting lineup with the absence of Tyrese Haliburton, who will miss tonight’s Game 3 due to an injured left hamstring, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.

One obvious choice is backup point guard T.J. McConnell, who would provide a second ball-handler to pair with Andrew Nembhard. Dopirak notes that they have logged a lot of minutes together this season. McConnell finished seventh in the Sixth Man of the Year voting, and he leads all bench players with 76 assists during the postseason.

Dopirak states that Carlisle could choose to go with power forward Obi Toppin or rookie guard Ben Sheppard instead to get more size in the starting lineup. That would keep McConnell in a reserve role and may provide more minutes for Doug McDermott, Jarace Walker and possibly Jalen Smith, who were all used in Game 2.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • In his pregame press conference, Carlisle told reporters that Haliburton lobbied to play tonight, but the medical staff determined that it’s best for him to sit out, tweets Jared Weiss of The Athletic. “He very much wants to play. Desperately wants to play,” Carlisle said. “But the decision on tonight was taken out of his hands earlier in the day. It was determined that tonight was not an option. He’s feeling better and we’ll see where he is on Monday. And that’s it.”
  • Carlisle, who serves as president of the NBA Coaches Association, reached out to J.B. Bickerstaff after the Cavaliers fired him on Thursday, according to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Carlisle said Bickerstaff did “an amazing job” with a “culture makeover” in Cleveland, but all NBA coaches understand the realities of their jobs. “I have great respect for him. I’ve been in touch with him,” Carlisle said. “In our profession, no one likes it, but teams, ownership, they can hire and fire who they want to. Our business has got to be a very resilient one. And he’s been through a lot in his career and he’s grown so much as a coach. J.B. will be fine and he certainly will be a head coach again, sooner than later.”
  • Even if executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas makes the changes he has promised this summer, Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times is skeptical that the Bulls can rise very far in the Eastern Conference standings. Cowley looks at the eight teams that finished ahead of Chicago this season and concludes that they all have staying power.

Pacers Notes: Haliburton, Carlisle, Bench, More

After Tyrese Haliburton left Game 2 early due to left hamstring soreness on Thursday, the Pacers have listed the star guard as questionable to play in Saturday’s Game 3 (Twitter link). While Haliburton was also said to be dealing with a chest issue in Game 2, the hamstring soreness is his only ailment mentioned on the official injury report.

Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star (subscription required) explores how the Pacers might try to make up for Haliburton’s absence in the event that he’s unable to play in Game 3. As Dopirak notes, the team has solid alternatives at point guard in Andrew Nembhard and T.J. McConnell but might have to dig deeper into its rotation at other positions to cover Haliburton’s minutes. Nembhard and McConnell also wouldn’t be able to replicate the play-making and outside shooting that the All-NBA guard provides.

“He does so many things for our team where everyone just has to move the ball more and get in the paint more,” McConnell said. “The ball movement, like I said, just has to be at another level. He gets 10 assists in his sleep. It’s hard for another person on our team to replicate that. It’s a group effort when he goes down to kinda get people the ball and get moving.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • Whether or not Haliburton is healthy, the Pacers won’t have any hope of beating pulling off a comeback and beating Boston in the Eastern Conference finals if they play like they did on Thursday, Gregg Doyel writes in a column for The Indianapolis Star (subscription required).
  • Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle raised some eyebrows in Game 2 by leaning on little-used bench players like Doug McDermott, Jarace Walker, Kendall Brown, and Jalen Smith in the fourth quarter while sitting Myles Turner, Aaron Nesmith, and Pascal Siakam for most or all of the final period. Carlisle explained why he went to his bench so early despite facing a deficit that didn’t seem insurmountable. “To look at some guys that I thought needed a look,” Carlisle said, per Dopirak. “McDermott went in there and played well. Isaiah Jackson brought a lot of fight to the game. Jalen Smith hasn’t had much of an opportunity to play in the playoffs, so I wanted to see where he was at. We weren’t giving up, but it was an opportunity to get some energetic fresh guys in there to fight. They did some good things. … The guys who had played to that point, Pascal was very tired. Aaron had four fouls and he was tired. That was it.”
  • Prior to Game 2, Haliburton told reporters that Indiana has the “best bench in the NBA,” Dopirak writes in another Indy Star story (subscription required). McConnell, Obi Toppin, and Ben Sheppard are the Pacers reserves who have seen the most action this postseason, leading a second unit that ranks No. 1 in the playoffs with 33.4 points per game.
  • While many NBA fans didn’t assign much meaning to the league’s first in-season tournament earlier this season, making the championship game in that tournament benefited a Pacers team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2020, says Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “There were some real playoff simulations — our quarterfinal game at home, on a Monday night, against (the Celtics), had the feel of a conference finals-matchup atmosphere,” Carlisle said. “The part about going to Vegas and playing there, that was different, but there was certainly the exposure, the stage, all that. So, all those experiences help a young team.”

Central Notes: Mathurin, Gibson, Pistons Guards, Bulls

Losing Pacers reserve shooting guard Bennedict Mathurin for the year will have an intriguing ripple effect on the team’s bench as it prepares for the postseason, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.

As Dopirak notes, Indiana is now without two of its top-scoring reserves from the start of the season, between Mathurin and Buddy Hield, who was dealt to the Sixers at the trade deadline. Forward Doug McDermott, the Pacers’ own sharpshooting acquisition added at the deadline, continues to rehabilitate his right calf strain, though he’ll be a big part of the bench when he does play. Rookies Ben Sheppard and Jarace Walker seem likely to get significantly more responsibility as the season winds down.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Workaholic new Pistons veteran power forward Taj Gibson, 38, is over a decade older than most of his new teammates. Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press writes that the 10-53 club appreciates Gibson’s daily grind, even in his 15th NBA season, and hopes that he can inspire the Pistons’ young, talented lottery pick core. Gibson is on a 10-day deal, so there’s no guarantee he’ll remain with in Detroit for the rest of the season.
  • The Pistons’ decision to, at last, stagger young guards Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey so that one of them remained on the floor at all times seemed to work wonders on Thursday in a 118-112 win over the Nets, writes James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. Head coach Monty Williams opted to employ a lineup of Cunningham alongside his second unit in the third quarter that really helped the club hold serve against Brooklyn.
  • Young Bulls guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu have each taken big leaps in their development this season, with White in particular enjoying a breakout year. A lot of their growth has happened with star shooting guard Zach LaVine, the team’s priciest player, sidelined due to injury. Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic thinks the improvement of the young guards could be negatively impacted by a LaVine comeback next year, and wonders if the Chicago front office will look to offload the two-time All-Star.

Pacers Notes: Sheppard, McDermott, Nesmith, Walker, Haliburton, Siakam

An illness forced Ben Sheppard to remain in New Orleans after missing Friday’s game, and the Pacers aren’t sure if he’ll be ready for Sunday’s contest in San Antonio, according to Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Sheppard will also stay in New Orleans tonight, and the team won’t decide his availability for the matchup with the Spurs until Sunday morning.

“If he feels better in the morning, he may join us here,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “If not, he’ll meet us in Dallas (for a game Tuesday).”

The Pacers have already announced that they’ll be without Doug McDermott, who will miss his third straight game with a strained right calf. The game marks a homecoming for McDermott, who was acquired from San Antonio at the trade deadline.

“It’s going to be a few more games,” Carlisle said of McDermott’s status. “He’s not doing any activity other than rehab.”

There’s more on the Pacers:

  • Aaron Nesmith was able to return to the court Friday night after sitting out the previous four games with a sprained right ankle, Dopirak adds. The team’s starting small forward said he’s “never felt that sensation before” when he injured the ankle on February 14, but tests showed the damage wasn’t as serious as he feared it might be. “I put a lot of work in the last couple of weeks so wind-wise, I felt pretty good,” Nesmith said after posting nine points and three rebounds in 20 minutes. “I didn’t feel out of shape or out of breath. It took a second to get warmed up and catch up to the game and let the game come to me.”
  • A depleted bench and a lopsided loss provided extended playing time for rookie forward Jarace Walker, Dopirak adds in a separate story. The lottery pick logged nearly 27 minutes, and Dopirak notes that it’s the first time since January 21 that he has played more than seven minutes in an NBA game. “He’s got much more solid defensively,” Carlisle said. “In his last stint with the G League team, we asked him to concentrate more on rebounding. He did that. He had double figure rebounds in at least a couple of those games. I like his feel and his vision in playmaking, and there were a couple of times he got to the rim tonight and that’s another thing we’ve been talking to him about. He did many good things and he was ready.”
  • Earlier this week, Tyrese Haliburton talked about building chemistry with Pascal Siakam, who was acquired from Toronto in a mid-January trade (YouTube link).

Central Notes: Rivers, Bucks, Haliburton, Sheppard, Cavs

Asked on Saturday what compelled him to return to the NBA’s head coaching ranks less that one year after being let go by Philadelphia and just a few months after joining ESPN as an analyst, Doc Rivers pointed to the Bucks‘ two superstars as a primary motivating factor.

“You know the answer. Giannis (Antetokounmpo), Dame (Lillard). Really, that’s the answer,” Rivers said at an introductory news conference, per Jamal Collier of ESPN. “Like, you look at their team. What is it, eight teams that have a legitimate shot (at a championship)? And I don’t know if it’s that high, but the Bucks are one of them, right?

“The other thing is the way they’re built with the veterans and their grown-ups. I thought that if you’re going to jump into this at this time of the year, this would be a type of group that you have the best opportunity to connect and change the quickest.”

For their part, Antetokounmpo and Lillard expressed excitement on Saturday about Rivers’ arrival, with Giannis citing the veteran coach’s “great energy” and Dame noting that Rivers won’t be afraid to challenge the team.

“He’s a strong voice. He’s going to demand more from our team,” Lillard said. “He’s not going to be afraid to challenge myself, he’s not going to be afraid to challenge Giannis…all the way down the line. I think when you’re dealing with a team that’s full of vets and as talented as we are, I think that’s something that you need if you want to reach the level that we want to reach.”

Rivers is on track to make his Bucks coaching debut on Monday in Denver.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton will miss a fifth straight game on Sunday due to his left hamstring injury, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. According to head coach Rick Carlisle, Haliburton will practice on Monday and will be considered day-to-day going forward.
  • After playing almost exclusively garbage-time minutes in the first half, Pacers rookie Ben Sheppard has averaged 18.4 minutes in the past seven games. While Sheppard’s numbers in his rotation role have been modest, his impressive hustle has served as a reminder of why Indiana liked him at No. 26 in last year’s draft, Dopirak writes for The Indianapolis Star.
  • Pete Nance‘s 10-day deal with the Cavaliers expired overnight on Saturday, so he’s no longer under contract with the team. Cleveland now has 13 players on standard contracts and will have up to two weeks to add a 14th man, whether that’s Nance on a second 10-day deal or someone else. If the Cavs take the full two weeks, they won’t be able to drop to 13 players for the rest of 2023/24, since teams can only carry fewer than 14 for up to 28 days in a season. The Cavs already used up 14 of those days after finalizing Ricky Rubio‘s buyout and before signing Nance.

Central Notes: Holiday, Bucks, Pacers, Allen

The top two teams in the East — the Celtics and Bucks — face off on Wednesday night in Boston. It will be All-Star guard Jrue Holiday‘s first matchup against his former club this season.

Holiday, who was traded to Portland in the Damian Lillard blockbuster before being rerouted to the Celtics, says he has no hard feelings towards the Bucks, though he would’ve appreciated a heads-up that he might get dealt, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Holiday expressed a desire to be a “Buck for life” just days before the trade was made.

I think that they got what they wanted, so I can’t be mad at that,” Holiday said. “A warning would’ve been cool. But other than that, I’m in the best place that I can be to compete against them, which is for the top team in the East and, hopefully, the top team in the league.

Holiday helped the Bucks win their first championship in 50 years in 2021, but he says Wednesday’s matchup doesn’t hold any particular significance to him other than two of the best teams in the league competing against each other.

It’s not like I circled this one on my calendar or anything,” Holiday said. “I think that this is a big game because of the two teams that are playing, I think because of the caliber players that are on the court and all that, so that’s what I would like for it to be about, not me playing against the Bucks.”

Here’s more from the Central:

  • The Pacers made a change to their starting lineup on Tuesday, replacing Bennedict Mathurin and Obi Toppin with Buddy Hield and Aaron Nesmith. Hield and Nesmith started most of last season, but had been coming off the bench in 2023/24. As Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star writes, head coach Rick Carlisle said the move was designed to give the starters more shooting, with the Pacers trying to clinch their in-season tournament group — which they did after defeating Atlanta. All four players performed well in a game that didn’t feature much defense — the final score was 157-152. However, Carlisle wouldn’t commit to that new starting five going forward, and Nesmith will be sidelined for Wednesday’s game against Toronto with a right wrist sprain, Dopirak tweets. Second-year guard Andrew Nembhard will also miss his third straight game with lower back soreness.
  • The Pacers selected Jarace Walker No. 8 overall and Ben Sheppard No. 26 overall in June’s draft, but neither player has been in the team’s rotation this fall. On Wednesday, the two first-round picks were sent to the G League to play for Indiana’s affiliate, the Mad Ants, and were recalled ahead of tonight’s matchup with the Raptors, per Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. “I was happy,” said Walker, who scored 30 points in a Mad Ants win. “Hooping is hooping to me at the end of the day, no matter if it’s NBA, G-League, JUCO, I just love basketball. Just being out there, even with an awesome group of guys that I got to get closer with today, I had a good time today.”
  • A slow 2-3 start for the Cavaliers this fall coincided with the absence of center Jarrett Allen, who was dealing with a bone bruise in his ankle. As Chris Fedor of details in a subscriber-only story, the Cavs have started to climb the standings upon Allen’s return, going 6-3, including four straight victories, despite other players being injured. While he doesn’t always put up gaudy individual stats, the 25-year-old is the defensive anchor for Cleveland, according to Fedor, who notes that Allen did an admirable job slowing Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid the past two games.

Central Notes: LaVine, White, Ivey, Sasser, Pacers

Bulls guard Zach LaVine is optimistic about his health heading into the season, Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times writes. LaVine was being held out of several early back-to-backs last season, including the season opener against the Heat.

Outside of Lonzo Ball, this might be the healthiest the Bulls have been since Arturas Karnisovas assembled the core of the roster in 2021, Cowley writes. Now, LaVine and others are aiming for an improved season.

I’m in shape; I’m not rehabbing, so you’re not second-guessing things,” LaVine said. “I feel like myself, like I did from December on. I had a full offseason. It’s always good to come into camp in shape and not have any extra ailments.

LaVine averaged 26 points on 50.7% shooting after December 2 compared to 20.9 points on 40.9% shooting before that point last season, as Cowley notes.

Cowley also writes the Bulls are still experimenting with what works for them in head coach Billy Donovan‘s new-look offense, including potential lineups. All indications are Coby White won the starting point guard position over Ayo Dosunmu and Jevon Carter, Cowley adds.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pistons coach Monty Williams faces several difficult decisions as the season draws near, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic writes. Edwards predicts the starting lineup to be Cade Cunningham, Ausar Thompson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, with Jaden Ivey notably coming off the bench. Edwards points out Ivey hasn’t started in the preseason yet and Thompson has impressed on the defensive end, which has been an emphasis for Detroit.
  • Rookie guard Marcus Sasser is pushing for a rotation spot with his play in the preseason, per Edwards and Omari Sankofa II of Detroit Free Press. Sasser had 17 points and eight assists in an October 12 preseason game against the Thunder. “He’s a guy that plays with a great edge,” Williams said. “He competes every single day, in practice. He understands with me that if you compete and defend, you’ll find yourself on the floor. That’s what you’re seeing with him.
  • Pacers rookie Ben Sheppard is making an impact in the preseason and saw run with the second unit in the team’s Monday preseason game against the Hawks, Dustin Dopirak of IndyStar details. “Sheppard is playing a mature game for a rookie,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is older. He did play four years [of college basketball at Belmont] and it shows. But he understands what we need of him. … He’s a little bit like Buddy [Hield]. He’s doing a lot of good things.” Dopirak also notes Jalen Smith and T.J. McConnell are standing out and pushing for rotation spots.

Players Who Signed July 1 Are Now Eligible To Be Traded

The peak of the NBA’s transactions season has calmed down after an active start to July, but a few more players have become eligible to be traded on the final day of the month, notes Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link).

The 30-day trade restriction window has expired for draft picks who signed their contracts on July 1, along with six players who inked two-way contracts on that date.

The designation won’t matter for those at the very top of the draft, as the Spurs and Trail Blazers obviously won’t consider trading Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, respectively. However, it could come into play for a few others, especially if more big-name players are on the move as the summer winds down.

In addition to those top-three picks, first-rounders who signed on July 1 are the Magic’s Anthony Black and Jett Howard, the PacersJarace Walker and Ben Sheppard, the Trail BlazersKris Murray and the Heat’s Jaime Jaquez. The No. 18 pick out of UCLA, Jaquez has been mentioned as a potential asset in a trade to bring Damian Lillard to Miami.

Two-way players who signed on July 1, according to’s transactions log, are the SixersTerquavion Smith and Ricky Council, the Heat‘s Dru Smith and Jamaree Bouyea, the Trail Blazers Ibou Badji and the RocketsTrevor Hudgins.

Most veteran free agents who signed this summer won’t become eligible to be traded by their teams until December 15 or January 15, depending on their circumstances. Those signings didn’t become official until July 6 or later because of the NBA’s summer moratorium.

Pacers Sign Jarace Walker, Ben Sheppard

The Pacers have announced the signings of first-round picks Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard.

As the eighth overall choice, Walker will receive a little more than $6MM, which is 120% of the rookie scale, in the first season of his four-year contract. The 6’8″ power forward averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds during his lone season at Houston and was named Freshman of the Year in the American Athletic Conference.

The Pacers were believed to be targeting Walker at No. 7, but they selected Bilal Coulibaly in a pre-arranged deal with the Wizards and traded him to Washington for the No. 8 pick.

Sheppard made a strong impression during the pre-draft process and was able to work his way up to the 26th choice. He’ll be eligible to receive $2,537,160 in his first season of his four-year deal.

A 6’6″ guard, Sheppard averaged 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a senior at Belmont and was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection.