Nate McMillan Gives Update on Victor Oladipo

Oct. 18, 2019 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan announces All-Star guard Victor Oladipo has been cleared to begin participating in halfcourt five-on-five action in the next couple of days.

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Nate McMillan Gives Update on Victor Oladipo

Oct. 18, 2019 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan announces All-Star guard Victor Oladipo has been cleared to begin participating in halfcourt five-on-five action in the next couple of days.
Oct 18, 2019  |  00:53

Pacers Focused on Communication on Court, Bonding Off Court

Oct. 18, 2019 - Pacers coach Nate McMillan, forward Doug McDermott, and center Myles Turner discuss the areas of focus in final days of practice leading up to the start of the regular season on Oct. 23.
Oct 18, 2019  |  01:05

Pacers Facing Chemistry Test

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

Nate McMillan tapped the bottom line before training camp even began, amid the sunshine and cool breezes at the annual golf outing at Brickyard Crossing.

"The chemistry is going to be the whole thing," he said.

The whole thing, indeed. Chemistry matters for all teams, of course, but especially for a team such as the Pacers — a team without a just-give-the-ball-to-him superstar in the starting lineup, but also a team without a he-doesn't-care-if-he-scores role player.

It can become a delicate balance, keeping five guys happy. Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner all are capable and willing scorers. Each has a career-high of at least 30 points on his resume', and each is still in the growth phase of his career. There isn't a downshifting, past-his-prime player in the bunch who might be willing to step back and assume a lesser role.

Making it work won't be easy and will only become more challenging when Victor Oladipo — the only player with an All-Star Game appearance on the roster — returns from rehab to replace Lamb in the lineup.

The Pacers' front office made a point of improving the team's scoring punch in the offseason, but for that to translate to playoff success the scorers will have to adjust to playing together, both strategically and emotionally. That will require some sacrifices, but also can create opportunities.

"There's only one ball," McMillan said. "They're going to have to learn to trust each other and play the game for the right reasons. Sometimes that's not easy, to put a lot of offensive guys out there. If they're not willing to sacrifice and play in the best interests of the team..."

Then trouble will ensue.

Most of the impressions to be taken from the four preseason games are positive. The Pacers showed no selfishness with their ball movement, as indicated by the fact they averaged 119.5 points and had at least 26 assists in each game. But they also kicked it around some, averaging 22.5 turnovers, with a "peak" of 27 against Chicago.

If it comes down to merely learning the offense and adjusting to one another's playing style, the greater part of the battle has been won. It should help that none of the players are in a contract year, unlike last season when six rotation players were impending free agents. None of the starters or anticipated rotation players have expiring contracts, although Sabonis is eligible for a qualifying offer and could be extended by the end of this month.

Padding stats in anticipation of free agency didn't turn out to be a significant problem last season. It should be even less of an issue this time around.

"All our guys this year, they have their contract," McMillan said. "They should be happy. It should be about doing whatever it takes to win games. It shouldn't be about numbers."

T.J. McConnell, Victor Oladipo

Photo Credit: @Pacers

The greatest burden for greasing cohesion falls on Brogdon, although he would call it an opportunity. As the point guard and most natural leader, he can most effectively set the tone for an unselfish offense. He became the eighth member of the 50/40/90 club last season while with Milwaukee, shooting .505 from the field, .426 from 3-point range, and .928 from the foul line while averaging 15.6 points.

But he's willing to step back and facilitate.

"We have so many scorers," he said. "Everybody can get their own shot. It's important for me as a point guard to put people in the right positions and make sure everyone is touching the ball. The (emphasis) will be on Victor and getting him his touches, but other than that you have guys...who need shots, too. It's going to be up to me to get them the ball."

"I'll find my spots. I've always been a guy who finds my spots. I don't think that means I become more aggressive or less aggressive. I do what the team needs."

Beyond the contractual situations and an unselfish point guard, it should help that this appears to be a mature group that accepts coaching and feedback from teammates.

"Everybody can take criticism," Warren said. "We can all talk about it and be on the same page. Guys are very receptive to criticism and that's good."

"There's no egos on this team; that's always great to have," Doug McDermott said.

The India trip also could turn out to be a positive influence. Two 16-hour flights and a few days in a foreign country couldn't help but bring the players closer together, and they have continued to gather since returning home. Some of them will be sitting together at the Colts game on Sunday, and group dinner dates have been fairly commonplace.

"We've done a lot of stuff together this year compared to years past, at least the teams I've been on," Doug McDermott said.

Still, chemistry is a difficult course that must be aced if a basketball team is to win big, and it doesn't often come quickly. Although McMillan is entering his fourth season as head coach, having so many new players — including four new starters — is the equivalent of a coaching change. And change takes time to overcome. The Pacers started 1-6 in Larry Brown's first season as Pacers coach but reached the conference finals. They started 2-5 in Larry Bird's first coaching season but reached the conference finals.

The adjustments for this team will be made on the fly, a process that won't end with the start of the regular season. It hasn't helped that first-round draft pick Goga Bitadze, the anticipated backup center, missed the first three preseason games with a sprained ankle, or that TJ Leaf, the likely backup power forward, missed the first two games. Oladipo's return, whenever that occurs, will bring another set of modifications.

McMillan wishes he had the old schedule of eight preseason games to work things out but has had to settle for devoting more time to the halfcourt offense and fullcourt scrimmaging in practice and to watching video with players. Unlike many coaches, he didn't hold starters out of any of the exhibition games and played each of the starters at least 30 minutes in the first one.

Beyond that, there's nothing to do but ride out the process.

"It's going to take time for them to learn tendencies and sets and for me to put them in position to play to their strength," McMillan said.

How much time it takes will have a major bearing on the season.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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.

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