Indiana Pacers: Nate Bjorkgren kept his promise

Indiana Pacers: Nate Bjorkgren kept his promise

Since Indiana’s every year emergence as a top-candidate to make the postseason, the Pacers seemed to be in a basketball limbo. In particular, under head coach Nate McMillan, the team adopted a brand of basketball that was not always attractive, but definitely productive in the regular season.

They were second in FG%(47.6%) behind only the 2020 NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers. McMillan’s squad was also a good defending team being exactly in the middle of the pack in opponent’s FG%. They were also cautious with the ball limiting turnovers to the minimum.

Despite being the worst team in three-point attempts with just 28 per contest had a good defensive record. The Pacers did not play fast in the offensive end being 22nd in pace(99.41) scoring 109.4 points per 100 possessions. Indiana was also near the bottom of the league in scoring having the 8th worst offense putting up 109.4 points per contest. However, they had also qualities to get through the regular season.

The Pacers made it the postseason as the fourth best team in the East, but they experienced their fourth first round exit in four years. Therefore, the front office decided to shake up things and make changes personnel wise, after the 4-0 series loss to the Miami Heat.

So, they decided to part ways with the veteran coach Nate McMillan in August, despite signing a contact extension with him earlier in the same month. After months of searching, the Pacers’ front office ended up hiring Nate Bjorkgren as the head coach. Bjorkgren was a peculiar name for the fans, as he was relatively unknown, however in the NBA the promising coach was a known quantity.

Enter Nate Bjorkgren

Less than 24 hours after accepting the job, the 45-year-old head coach started explaining his plan. He set the goal for his Pacers to moving the ball faster and taking more three-points shots.

We’ll be a fun team to watch,” he said, via TSN. “You’re going to see a lot of movement on both sides of the ball, different guys handling the ball, pushing it up the floor. We want to utilize the 3-point line. My approach to defense is you change and change quite frequently, between quarters, after timeouts, during an 8-0 run, I think that’s the disruptive part.”

Nate Bjorkgren, Pacers’ head coach via TSN.ca

The former Toronto Raptors’ assistant held his promise. The Pacers started to play a more modernized version of the tough-nosed style of the McMillan era. Bjorkgren change the way Pacers were earning the points leading the team to take more aggressive decisions in the offensive end. He also pointed out to the direction of becoming more fluid in the defensive end hoping to adhere a more versatile style there.

Since the start of the 2020/21 campaign, the Pacers maintain one of the best records in the East attempting five more threes(33.9) than last season(28.0) jumping all the way to 19th from 30th in the NBA ranks. Despite amping up their threes attempts, Indiana remained a top-10 team in FG percentage (47.5%, 7th), while they jumped in the Top-10 of the league in points production with 113.6 per game (23rd last season).

One of the main reasons, the franchise hired Bjorkgren was his ability to motivate and communicate with players coming from an environment like the Raptors that they are preaching the values of players being close to the coaching staff. Bjorkgren, who worked under Nick Nurse the last few years, seems to follow in his steps regarding his communication and motivation skills. That approach resulted in several Pacers’ players coming hot off the gate.

Explosive Start

Malcolm Brogdon is playing the best basketball of his career under Bjorkgren guidance. The President is leading the team in scoring (22.7) shooting career highs from the field (45.5%) and three-point range (40.3%). He’s also dishing 7.1 assists on just 2.1 turnovers along with 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 36.8 minutes per contest. However, Brogdon is not the only player producing on high standards.

High basketball IQ players excel in the Nate Bjorkgren system with Domantas Sabonis being another player who started the season strong under the rookie head coach. Sabonis also has a breakout season registering career-highs in points (20.4) and assists (5.6). He is also shooting a career-best 34.9 percent from long range making his coexistence with Myles Turner in the front-court more effective.

At the same time, Myles Turner seems rejuvenated in the new system being a defensive juggernaut in the paint. The Texas product earns four swats per contest during the season recording also a career-high 1.4 steals per game. The front-court tantrum of Turner and Sabonis is outscoring its opponents by 2.6 points when they are on the floor for the Pacers. Turner is also offering 14.5 points per with Pacers being in +4.0 when he takes the floor.

Postseason bound

Indiana will be in the conversation for the Playoffs once again this year. Despite their hot start in the season, the Pacers will need to prove that they can be effective in postseason basketball, when the time comes. The team hasn’t faced yet the top teams in the East and the West with the Clippers, the Celtics and the Suns being the toughest opponents they played against so far.

Indiana went on to win one out those four games, while they had a 4-4 record against the tougher Western Conference competition. Nate Bjorkgren will face many challenges in his first season as a head coach. One of those challenges will be to help his team, when it faces adversity going through ups and downs in the regular season and especially the playoffs that remained an unsolved puzzle for the franchise under the former head coach.

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