INDIANAPOLIS – The start of the NBA season is still more than three months away; the confetti has barely been cleared from the streets of Toronto after the Raptors' championship parade.
This week, however, there will be NBA basketball, if only in a modified format. The Indiana Pacers begin their Summer League schedule today with a matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies – a team that features former Purdue Fort Wayne star John Konchar – in Las Vegas, the first of four already-set games before the Summer League Tournament begins Friday.
“Just calm, be calm, play our game out there,” coach Steve Gansey said of the expectations for his team. “We're going to make mistakes, as long as we don't make the same mistakes twice.
“Go out there and enjoy it and have fun. Showcase your strengths out there.”
Gansey, who has been the Mad Ants coach since 2015, is in his second year coaching the Pacers' Summer League team and is familiar with several of the players on the roster already. The team features three players who suited up for the Mad Ants last season – Alize Johnson, Edmond Sumner and Travin Thibodeaux – and 2018 first-round pick Aaron Holiday, who was on the Summer League roster last season.
Those are the known commodities on the team. One of the unknown commodities is 2019 first-round pick Goga Bitadze, a 6-foot-11 19-year-old from the Republic of Georgia. It's also unknown if Bitadze will be able to play in the Summer League. The Pacers have had some problems getting him a work visa, and it's unclear whether he'll be able to enter the country in time to suit up.
Gansey is hopeful that the 18th overall pick can make an appearance.
“I'm waiting, man, I've got the same information as (the media),” Gansey said of Bitadze's status. “Every day I'm 'Is Goga here today? Is Goga here today?' Hopefully we'll be able to meet him in Vegas. I told (the equipment manager), 'You're bringing a jersey, right?' And he said yes, so we'll go off of that.”
Of those who will definitely take the court with the Pacers, Johnson, who had 25 double-doubles in 31 games for the Mad Ants in 2018-19, will be one of the most critical. Gansey said he's watched the Missouri State product gain confidence in his time in Fort Wayne and he expects Johnson to have a leadership role on the Summer League team because of his knowledge of the Pacers' system.
Johnson, 23, averaged 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in Las Vegas last year.
“I'm very comfortable (in Summer League),” Johnson said. “I got out there last year and got an opportunity. Just coming into this year being out there again, I know a lot more than I did, so that's a good thing too. I'll let everything come kind of natural this year.”
While Johnson will likely control the boards and provide scoring punch, Holiday will be the team's main playmaker. The No. 23 pick in the 2018 draft out of UCLA averaged a 14.5 points per game in the 2018 Summer League, adding 6.8 assists and 2.8 steals. Gansey plans to unleash him on unsuspecting rookies.
“You know, Aaron's the quarterback out there,” Gansey said. “One of the things we kind of talked about earlier was him picking up a little bit of full court (defensively). That's going to be his role, getting guys coming in off that bench and that's what we're trying to showcase.”
NBA basketball is back, at least for the next week.
Today: Memphis Grizzlies, 7 p.m., NBA TV
Monday: Detroit Pistons, 5 p.m., ESPNU
Tuesday: Atlanta Hawks, 5:30 p.m., NBA TV
Thursday: Toronto Raptors, 6 p.m., NBA TV
Friday-Monday: Summer League Tournament – TBD
All games in Las Vegas