Edmond Sumner hadn't played a ton with the Indiana Pacers this season – he averaged 13.8 minutes over 25 games, starting twice – but his value could be higher than ever as the team prepares for its Aug. 1 restart against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The team is in the Orlando bubble, where it has had three days of practices, but star Victor Oladipo has opted out of the NBA restart, and Jeremy Lamb suffered a season-ending knee injury Feb. 22, less than three weeks before play was suspended because of COVID-19.
Down those two important guards, things could be shaping up for Sumner, who has played 42 games with the Mad Ants over the last three seasons, to take on increased responsibility.
“I'm definitely excited for that. I mean, I always want to stay ready,” Sumner said Monday. “Since the (suspension) of the season, we've been dealing with different injuries, so everybody has to stay ready. My mindset going into this is, I've got to prepared for anything. 'Coach, start me or don't start me. If I don't play, I don't play. If I'm coming off the bench, I'm prepared for anything.' If an opportunity presents itself, I feel like I'm ready for it.”
Sumner, 24, averaged 4.6 points, 1.6 assists and 1.5 rebounds before NBA play was shut down. In two games with Fort Wayne, he averaged 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
In Orlando, the Pacers have several players who spent time with the Mad Ants last season, including Alize Johnson, Brian Bowen II, Naz Mitrou-Long, Goga Bitadze and JaKarr Sampson.
Oladipo is continuing to practice, but he decided not to take part in the restart because he hasn't yet fully recovered from the ruptured quad tendon suffered Jan. 23, 2019. He had played in only 13 games after coming back this season, averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3 assists.
“We're involving him (in Orlando). We're not approaching it as if he's not playing,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We are putting him out there with no restrictions. He's been going hard. He was going hard the entire time that he was off. Now that we have the opportunity to put him in 5-on-5, there are no restrictions in how we are using him and he's involved in all of the practices and he's going hard.”
Injuries have been a concern throughout Sumner's career, after he tore his ACL midway through his final season at Xavier, in January 2017. The Pacers' second-round draft pick in 2017, he began getting his feet wet in the G League with the Mad Ants during 2017-18, playing 14 games.
Sumner has played in 49 NBA games, averaging 3.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 11.4 minutes per game. When he's been with the Mad Ants, he averages 17 points, 3.5 assists 2.7 rebounds and 27.2 minutes.
“Health-wise, this is probably the best I've felt, especially knees-wise,” Sumner said. “The training staff says this is the best they've been, treating my knees. So I'm feeling great and moving great.”
It hasn't always been easy for the Pacers to adjust to life in the confines of the Walt Disney World Resort, but they're getting the hang of it on and off the court. Leisure activities have included fishing, golfing, watching movies and playing video games.
“It's what I expected,” Sumner said. “I came down here for business anyways. It's not bad. I mean, everything is fine. I only struggled the first few days – I'm kind of a picky eater – but once I was able to venture off and order my own food, I'm fine. I really have no complaints. I'm not a real high-maintenance guy.”
Practicing has been a welcome thing, though McMillan said some players have suffered soft-tissue injuries that were to be expected after the long layoff. Malcolm Brogdon, who tested positive for COVID-19 last month, hasn't practiced yet.
“I was joking with some of my teammates earlier: I never thought I'd say I actually missed practices,” center Myles Turner said. “But it felt really good that first day to just kind of get up and down (the court), just be together again and see each other's familiar faces.”