Bennedict Mathurin is just five games into his NBA career but he’s already making a difference with his skill, polish and advanced scoring tools.
Unsurprisingly, Paolo Banchero looks like the early favorite for Rookie of the Year — averaging 24.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per game for the Orlando Magic. But Bennedict Mathurin of the Indiana Pacers seems determined to keep things interesting in the race with the No. 1 pick.
Through five games, Mathurin has averaged 20.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just 27.6 minutes per game. He has filled the box score but his scoring, both quantity and quality, have stood out most. Mathurin has scored in a variety of ways — pull-ups outside the arc, attacking in early offense and finding open perimeter looks off movement and screens. But the most impressive method so far has been his ability to draw fouls.
Through five games, Mathurin has already been to the free throw line 29 times in just 138 minutes (about 7.6 per 36 minutes). His current free throw rate (.387) would be the fifth-highest of the last 25 years by a high-usage, rookie guard — trailing only Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Tyreke Evans and Luka Doncic.
Bennedict Mathurin is not playing like your average NBA rookie
Drawing this many fouls, this early in his career speaks to Mathurin’s confidence and skill level but also his ability to his physical tools to his advantage even against bigger and more experienced players. Here, he beats James Harden with his first step, takes a push in the back and a body blow from Paul Reed and still gets to the other side of the rim and finishes easily despite the foul.
Here’s another example, where he’s aided by plenty of runway but is still able to finish through the contact from Joel Embiid.
You can see his physical tools manifesting in other ways as well — he’s in the 89th percentile in scoring efficiency in transition and chipping in nearly two offensive rebounds per game from the wing. Altogether, he’s made 63 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket, about the same as much bigger players like Pascal Siakam, Bam Adebayo, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond.
Mathurin still has a lot to work on as he grows towards a primary creator role. He’s just 1-of-4 on shots that have come after a touch time of six seconds or longer and he’s 0-of-6 on pull-ups inside the arc. Being able to hit from the mid-range and attack off the dribble in a primary action, rather than just an unsettled defense in early offense or from the weakside against a defense that’s already shifted, will unlock him as a primary scoring option.
But for now, his outside shooting touch, advantages in transition and ability to get himself to the free-throw line make him an ideal secondary option next to Tyrese Haliburton. The Pacers are a long way from a playoff spot but they appear to have their backcourt of the future already in place.
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