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Why Indiana Pacers Fans Should Remain Optimistic About Two-Way Prospect Edmond Sumner

Dakota Schmidt writes about Pacers two-way prospect Edmond Sumner and why Indiana faces should remain optimistic.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In their Monday night game against the Golden State Warriors, the Indiana Pacers put two-way prospect Edmond Sumner in their starting lineup for the first time in the guard’s career. Unfortunately, he struggled mightily as Sumner put up 2 points, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 3 rebounds on an abysmal 1-10 from the field and 0-3 from the free throw line in 28 minutes. Although it was obviously disappointing to see him struggle in his first career start, Sumner actually playing significant minutes for Indiana is a huge step in the right direction compared to how he was just 24 months ago.

Because at that point, Sumner had an abrupt end to his college career with Xavier University as he tore his ACL in a January 29th matchup against St. John’s. Prior to suffering that horrific injury, Sumner was a solid offensive weapon as he averaged 13.6 ponts, 4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 48% from the field.

Despite prematurely ending his college career with that catastrophic injury, Sumner’s play with Xavier still impressed the Indiana Pacers enough that they selected him with the 52nd overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Although the Pacers used 2nd round pick to select him, the Xavier alum’s injury made the team hesitant to give him a full rookie deal. That tentativeness regarding when the wing will be ready to play led to the Pacers signing Sumner to a two-year, two-way contract.

Indiana’s worry made sense as Sumner didn’t actually step back on the court until January 19th, 2018 when he debuted with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in a game against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. In that matchup, he was pretty impressive as he put up 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals on 3-8 from field and 3-4 from the free throw line in only 11 minutes.

That lack of playing was consistent for the remainder of the season as the former Xavier wing averaged 7.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals on 40% from the field in 17 minutes per game in 14 games with the Mad Ants during the 2017-18 season. While those numbers weren’t impressive, Sumner was occasionally able to show glimpses of his old, athletic self.

After a successful offseason where he impressed in Summer League and preseason, Sumner returned to the Mad Ants for the 2018-19 season. That healthy summer seems to have paid off as he has been improved in every tangible way from his best days with Xavier. In 17 games with the team, the Pacers two-way prospect has averaged 23.9 points, 3.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 50% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 5.9 attempts per game. Those solid shooting numbers have allowed him to maintain an efficient 60% True Shooting Percentage.

A big reason behind that impressive TS% comes from how much Sumner has improved as a perimeter shooter since his rookie season. That progression is evident when you actually watch him play as Sumner looks extremely comfortable whether he’s working off the dribble or catch and shoot. That swagger is seen by his work as an off-the-dribble threat as he’s more than willing to shoot that step-back or launch up a shot from well beyond the arc. An example of that is seen in the clip below as he maneuvers his way towards the corner while locking eyes with Doral Moore before hitting a 3 right in the face of the Hustle big.

Another area where Sumner is confident in is as an on-ball driver as he does a nice job of being able to move to the rim with either his left or right hand. Because he really doesn’t have a preference, he’s a tough player to defend as perimeter defenders can’t gameplan about whether to deciding to go in one direction or another.

In addition to that ambidextrous nature, Sumner’s also able to get an advantage over his perimeter defender through a combination of a quick first step and slick handles. Sometimes, that pairing can work in tandem as he can use his handles to lull the defender asleep before using a quick first step to zoom right past them.

Once he gets into the paint, Sumner is a fun player to watch, especially when there’s an opposing player waiting to stop him. When those situations arise, he can either utilize a slick side step or pump fake to create separation. The only real flaw that Sumner has as an on-ball driver are his struggles to finish in contact, which is largely due to his slender 179 pound frame. Despite that singular weakness, Sumner is still extremely efficient from around the rim as he’s shooting 66% from within the restricted area on 7 attempts per game.

Sticking with his work on offense, Sumner shows a lot of upside as a facilitator. While that may not be evident from base stats as he’s only averaging 3.3 assists with a below-average 1 Ast/TO ratio, he does show some traits that should leave Pacers coaches optimistic about his potential in this area. That optimism comes from how comfortable he is with working alongside bigs or forwards in pick-and-rolls as he does a nice job of waiting for them to get open before he can dish it off.

Although Sumner definitely struggled in his first career NBA start, that lone bad night shouldn’t take away from the strides he’s made since he tore his ACL in January 2017. Two years later, Sumner was both able to successfully rehab from that horrific injury and make strides in every part of his game to the point where he stands as one of the best guards in the G League

Perimeter shooting is definitely his biggest area of progression as he went from shooting 28% from beyond the arc during his stint at Xavier to currently maintaining an efficient 40% three-point percentage this season. Him becoming a more efficient perimeter weapon has allowed him to become a better on-ball driver as opponents need to stick closer to him rather than sagging off. With defenders moving closer to Sumner, the Pacers two-way player can just decide to utilize that aforementioned first step to zoom past and get to the paint.

While he has yet to make a positive splash on the NBA level, the Pacers two-way player progressing into an elite G League guard is a huge improvement for a player that had his basketball career in jeopardy just two years ago. That significant progression should allow any fan to remain optimistic about how much Edmond Sumner can continue to grow as a player from 2019-20 and beyond.