Notebook: Pacers Will "Let it Fly" From Three
On the first day of training camp, Doug McDermott made a play during a scrimmage that once would have drawn praise from the head coach but now tends to bring a reprimand. He dared pass up a 3-pointer to make the "extra pass" to another shooter closer to the basket.
"What do you think I want you to do there?" Nate McMillan asked at the next dead ball.
"Shoot it," McDermott said.
That's probably the last time McDermott will have to be told to put up an open 3-pointer. Threes are his forte, the primary reason Chicago made him a lottery pick in 2014 and the Pacers signed him to a three-year contract in July.
They're also at the heart of the changes McMillan wants to make in the offense in the upcoming season, the thing he wants to see more often than last season when the Pacers' 3-point attempts were sufficient in quality but lacking in quantity.
"If we're open he wants us to shoot it," McDermott said. "You don't have tell a guy like me twice. I'm really looking forward to letting it fly. We have some great shooters … and we're not going to be shy about shooting it."
"Playing the right way" has been a basketball cliché for decades. Larry Brown brought the concept to the Pacers in 1993 and led them to two Eastern Conference finals appearances. It meant sharing the ball, making the extra pass, getting good shots in the halfcourt offense.
McMillan also uses the phrase frequently, and what coach doesn't want unselfish players who get one another open for good shots? The problem comes when your good shots count for two points and the opponent's count for three. The Pacers have been outscored from behind the 3-point line each of the past three seasons, an undesirable trend in an era when teams are "letting it fly" like never before.
The Pacers made 741 3-point shots in 2,010 attempts last season. Only one other team in franchise history (2007-08) has made and taken more, but last season's team ranked 26th in the NBA in attempts and 25th in makes. It hit .369 of its attempts, the ninth-best percentage in the league, but was outscored by 387 points from behind the line. That's a lot to make up elsewhere, especially when you're one of the poorer teams in the league at rebounding and getting to the free throw line.
The Pacers still managed to win 48 games last season by ranking sixth in field goal percentage, fifth in fewest turnovers and third in steals. McMillan doesn't want that to change, but making a few more 3-pointers each game likely provides the clearest path toward improvement.
More specifically, making a few more of the shorter 3-pointers from the corner.
"I felt we passed up some of those last year," McMillan said following Tuesday's practice at St. Vincent Center. "We weren't really looking for it."
The Pacers appear to have at least nine legitimate 3-point threats for the upcoming season. Darren Collison merely led the NBA with a .468 percentage last season. T.J. Leaf shot .429 in limited action. McDermott shot .426, and would have hit 50 percent in his 26 games with Dallas had he missed one less attempt. Bojan Bogdanovic hit a career-best .402 and Tyreke Evans hit a career-best .399 for Memphis.
Victor Oladipo also hit a career-best percentage (.371). He's improved every season since entering the league with Orlando in 2013-14, when he hit just .327 from the 3-point line. He won the four-man 3-point contest at Fan Jam on Sunday, although Collison and McDermott were noticeably absent from the competition, and is the last player off the practice court each day. He's confident he'll continue to improve.
"At the end of the day I just let it fly," he said. "The reason my percentage keeps getting better is that I just shoot it and don't really think about it. I'm just concerned about shooting it with confidence and make sure my preparation is right."
Myles Turner (.357), Cory Joseph (.353) and Domantas Sabonis (.351) also qualify as shooters who need to be defended on the perimeter. Thad Young could as well if he shoots like he did two seasons ago (38 percent) rather than last season (32 percent). And, first-round draft pick Aaron Holiday shot better than 40 percent each of his three seasons at UCLA.
"We have the personnel to shoot threes," said Turner, who appears to be putting less arc on his 3-point shot. "Hopefully we can take advantage of it. But that's not all we can do. We can mix it up."
McDermott, given the way he finished last season with the Mavericks, offers one of the greater weapons for mixing up the halfcourt offense. He thrived under coach Rick Carlisle because he moved well without the ball. That set him up for open 3-pointers, but also for layups after running off screens.
"Coaching against him, I know how he likes to play," McMillan said. "Some of the things we had to prepare for, we're going to try to use that."
The Pacers' offense often became stagnant last season, as Oladipo and Lance Stephenson were permitted to try to take their defender off the dribble. They often were effective, but that limited the overall 3-point opportunities. McMillan wants Oladipo and Evans to become better catch-and-shoot scorers this season so they can help create – and benefit from – better ball movement.
"We have a lot of different sets where guys are coming off pin-downs and double screens, just to start the offense," McDermott said. "I think it gets us into a rhythm.
"It's important that shooters are making shots, but it's even more important that they're moving around, because it puts so much pressure on the defense."
Oladipo gives back to IU
Oladipo and former Indiana University teammate Cody Zeller left their mark as players, and now have made an indelible mark as donors.
IU has announced the opening of the Oladipo Zeller Legacy Lounge within Assembly Hall, funded by the No. 2 and No. 4 picks in the 2013 NBA draft. The two played together at IU for two seasons and led the Hoosiers to a combined 56-16 record, two Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament and one Big Ten championship.
What they didn't do was lead IU to a national championship in 2013 after being ranked No. 1 in the nation part of the season.
"Just wanted to give back to the school, do something big and be remembered," Oladipo said. "We feel we left IU with something missing. Giving back to them doesn't necessarily fill the void but it makes you feel a little better."
Oladipo said university officials reached out to him and Zeller, now with the Charlotte Hornets, to present the naming rights opportunity.
"They definitely brought it to us and we were on board right away," Oladipo said.
Young might play on trip
McMillan said Young, who has missed most training camp activities with a bone bruise in his foot, might be able to play on the upcoming four-game preseason road trip.
The Pacers leave Wednesday and will play every other day - in Houston on Thursday, Memphis on Saturday, Cleveland next Monday and Chicago next Wednesday.
"He wants to (play)," McMillan said. "We're hoping somewhere on this road trip he gets out and practices with us and gets in a game or two."
Young shoots after practice, but has not scrimmaged with the team.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.