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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Assertive Andrew Nembhard scores 13 points, overcomes early lapses in Indiana’s loss to Sacramento

July 10, 2022 Updated Sun., July 10, 2022 at 8:44 p.m.

Indiana’s Andrew Nembhard takes the ball up the floor during a Summer League game against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.  (Courtesy/Andrew Boyd)
Indiana’s Andrew Nembhard takes the ball up the floor during a Summer League game against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. (Courtesy/Andrew Boyd)

LAS VEGAS – The majority of NBA rookies are encountering the biggest challenge of their basketball careers this week at Summer League in Las Vegas. For Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard, in some ways, the pro game is actually coming easier.

That isn’t to say the Indiana Pacers rookie won’t hit speed bumps – Nembhard committed five turnovers in his second Summer League outing – but through a handful of practices and only two games, the point guard is already finding ways to create advantages that weren’t always available to him in college.

“It’s almost easier in a sense at this level because there’s so much spacing,” Nembhard said after a 103-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings Sunday afternoon at Cox Pavilion. “I can kind of, in those drop coverages, play with the ball and kind of read the defenders and kind of manipulate the game.”

Speaking about his pace of play, Nembhard said “at this level it can show even more.”

Nembhard’s second game in Vegas started sporadic, but after the former GU point guard committed five turnovers in the first half he made sure to tidy things up, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds, zero turnovers after halftime, five fouls and one steal in 27 minutes.

“I think it was a solid game, I thought I was off to a slow start when it came to turning over the ball,” Nembhard said. “Kind of had to get my feel for it. I think we made some good second-half adjustments as a team. I think we really locked in on defense at times when we were down and came together, had good energy on the bench and it just didn’t fall our way at the end of the game.”

After scoring five points on six shots in his Summer League debut, Nembhard made a conscious effort to attack the basket in a more aggressive manner on Sunday.

He made one of his three attempts from 3-point range and converted twice at the free throw line, but scored the rest of his points in the paint. On consecutive possessions in the second quarter, Nembhard was able to beat the initial defender, maneuver through traffic and finish at the rim, reversing under the hoop for the second layup.

“We’re always talking about putting pressure on the rim, getting the paint touches and then kicking it out to get that ball movement,” Nembhard said. “I think definitely a point of emphasis, I try to stay aggressive.”

Ronald Nored, head coach of the Summer Pacers, also saw a more assertive version of Nembhard.

“I think that was just because of their pressure,” Nored said. “They did a great job picking up pressure, making it tough and what do you do against pressure? You drive the ball. So he was able to pick those spots a little better and created some good stuff for us by doing that.”

Nored said Nembhard, who was taken by the Pacers with the first pick of the second round, has been a quick learner since arriving in Indianapolis. It was the same at Gonzaga, where Nembhard received an eligibility waiver two days before the Bulldogs’ 2020-21 opener, then played in 32 games averaging 4.4 assists for a team that advanced to the national championship game.

“I think Andrew, he separated himself from day one just with his feel for the game, his toughness on both ends of the floor, his ability to read the game,” Nored said.

The Pacers view Nembhard as a dependable ball-handler who can set up the offense, but also as a versatile defensive option who can guard multiple spots on the floor.

“He distributes the ball real well. He got to his spots, he didn’t really take any bad shots,” said former first-round draft pick and second-year Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson. “He also plays defense. I feel like he’s going to be a big part of the team too, defensively. He’s locking up, guarding, communicating.”

The courtside contingent for Indiana’s second Summer League game included standout point guard Tyrese Haliburton, head coach Rick Carlisle and rapper 50 Cent, who sat near Sacramento coach Mike Brown, owner Vivek Ranadivé and other members of the organization.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few also had a bleacher seat to watch Nembhard less than 24 hours after he and assistant Roger Powell took in Chet Holmgren’s Vegas Summer League opener from the baseline at Thomas & Mack Center.

“That’s my guy, I love that guy,” Nembhard said of Few. “He’s always going to support me, I’m always going to support him so just so appreciative of him taking time out of his day to come watch me.”

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