LAS VEGAS – Ronald Nored isn’t prepared to give Andrew Nembhard a clipboard yet, but in less than three weeks the rookie point guard has apparently made significant headway toward earning the full trust of his new NBA coaching staff.
“He commands us offensively, I let him call plays. He’s smarter than me anyway,” said Nored, an Indiana Pacers assistant who’s coaching the team’s NBA Summer League squad in Las Vegas. “Then on defense, he commands us as well.”
Nembhard’s progress in 16 days with the Pacers should bode well for his future with the organization. It’s one of the reasons Indiana cruised past the Charlotte Hornets 96-84 in a summer league opener Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Playing in Las Vegas for the first time since he collected most outstanding player honors at the West Coast Conference Tournament in March, the former Gonzaga point guard scored five points on 2-of-6 shooting and added five assists, five rebounds and two steals in approximately 24 minutes.
Nembhard finished with the team’s third-highest plus/minus, a +21 that only trailed Chris Duarte and Terry Taylor, who were both +25.
The 22-year-old Nembhard scored his first basket in transition and didn’t make another contribution to the scoring column until the game’s final 45 seconds, when he connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the arc over Charlotte’s LJ Figueroa.
Otherwise, it was a Nembhard performance reminiscent of the ones Gonzaga fans witnessed dozens of times the past two seasons.
He commanded the floor. He led the fast break. He located the open man. He played attentive defense.
Perhaps the most Zag-like component of Nembhard’s summer league debut was the comfortable win.
It drew nothing but positive reviews from Nored, who said Nembhard commanded the floor “amazingly.”
“I don’t remember a day where Andrew hasn’t commanded the floor well,” he said. “He’s just a steady, smart, solid point guard and he does it on both ends.”
Nembhard committed only two turnovers, one of those coming as he was trying to connect with a teammate on a high lob, but he never seemed fazed by the speed of play and repeatedly demonstrated the court vision that made him one of college basketball’s top point guards.
Each of the first two 3-pointers made by Arizona product and sixth overall draft pick Bennedict Mathurin came on assists from Nembhard. In the second half, the 6-foot-5 Nembhard drove to the rim, picked up a double-team from Mark Williams and Ty-Shon Alexander, and dumped the ball underneath to Terry Taylor for the two-handed dunk.
“He’s a great point guard. He’s going to get you shots,” Duarte said. “He’s a great guy.”
The chemistry between Nembhard and Mathurin, Indiana’s top two draft picks, was strong early in the game and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both spent a week together last summer at Canadian senior national team camp, but they’re also tied through their relationship with Tommy Lloyd, the former Gonzaga assistant who helped bring Nembhard to Spokane before moving on to coach Mathurin and Arizona last season.
“He’s really fun. He’s a really great teammate. He likes to share the ball and he’s a leader,” Mathurin said of Nembhard. “Just having him around, talking to me in certain situations, it should help me.”
Mathurin and Nembhard must also trade the occasional Lloyd story, right?
“Yeah, we do sometimes,” Mathurin said. “I can’t say it, but yeah.”
Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle commended Nembhard’s “feel for the game” during an appearance on the ESPN2 broadcast Friday.
“He is always ready to shoot but looking for a teammate,” Carlisle said. “It’s a very rare characteristic for a point guard to have.”
Nembhard and the Pacers continue summer league play at noon Sunday against the Sacramento Kings at Cox Pavilion.
Indiana also plays Detroit on Tuesday (6 p.m.) at the Thomas & Mack Center before concluding the nonplayoff portion of summer league on July 15 against Washington (6 p.m.) at the Thomas & Mack Center.