Pritchard Believes He's Hit A Sweet Spot

Kevin Pritchard had laid it out during his end-of-season press conference back on May 3. Defense is nice and all, but the Pacers needed more offense. They had given up fewer points on average than any team in the NBA last season but ranked 22nd in scoring. It wasn't difficult to determine the best way to get out of the four-year rut of first-round playoff exits.

"For me this summer came together in a huge way," Pritchard said Sunday. "Something we hoped for. When you look at the theme of what we wanted to accomplish, we wanted to get better on the offensive end."

Pritchard believes he's done that with the acquisition of T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb, who were introduced to the media on Sunday, and Malcolm Brogdon, who will be introduced on Monday. All three were efficient scorers last season with their previous teams and figure to bring improved perimeter shooting.

First-round draft pick Goga Bitadze could do the same, along with other changes to the Pacers' second unit.

Warren, Lamb and Brogdon hit a combined .401 percent from the 3-point line and .877 from the foul line last season. The Pacers' three departed starters - Thad Young, Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison – combined to hit .386 from 3-point range and .760 from the foul line.

Warren, Lamb and Brogdon also are a combined 15 years younger than Young, Bogdanovic and Collison, and offer more versatility and athleticism. As it stands now, the Pacers' roster includes no player older than 27 years old, with Doug McDermott ranking as the team's most chronologically challenged player by having been born on Jan. 3, 1992.

"Very rarely do you find that sweet spot when a player is coming into his own," Pritchard said. "We added a lot of fire power offensively, but we always wanted a team on a good timeline. We feel we have a young team, a very vibrant up-and-coming team that's willing to get better.

"We like guys who love the game. You can always tell when guys love the game, they have these incremental improvements every year."

That seems to apply to all three announced acquisitions. Brogdon and Lamb had career-best scoring averages and Warren's dropped from 19.6 to 18 because his playing time and shot attempts dropped slightly, partly because of injuries.

Lamb averaged 15.3 points last season with Charlotte. He figures to open the season in the starting lineup while Victor Oladipo continues his rehabilitation from the torn quadriceps muscle suffered last season, and then go to the bench after Oladipo is healthy enough to start. He's fine with whatever, having come off bench for Oklahoma City and the Hornets most of his first six seasons until this past one, when he started 55 of his 79 games.

"Whatever role I'm given, whether that's starting, whether that's coming off the bench, whether that's scoring, whether that's defense, whatever it is, I'm going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability," he said.

McMillan likes Lamb's size (6-foot-5), improved perimeter shooting and versatility.

"I love the fact he can put the ball on the floor and get his own shot," McMillan said. "If teams are switching he's capable of creating and getting his own shot, which is needed in the game today. You need a guy capable of breaking the defense down."

Lamb offered a hint of his work ethic when, after sitting through the press conference and two photo sessions, he asked if he could work out on the practice court. That request couldn't be granted because the floors are being refinished, but the point remained.

T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb

Photo Credit: Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

"Every day matters," he had said earlier in the afternoon when asked about his steady improvement. "It's hard work, trying to take care of my body on and off the court through an 82-game season."

Warren flashed his love for the game in an unlikely manner during his playing career at North Carolina State. In an anecdote first related by fellow N.C. State alum Nate McMillan, related to him by former assistant coach Dereck Whittenburg, the Wolfpack were in Chapel Hill to play their primary rival, the University of North Carolina, during one of Warren's two collegiate seasons. He was walking back from a study hall on campus the night before the game when he decided to drop in to Carmichael Hall, the university's recreation facility, and jump into a couple of pickup games with UNC students.

Warren was surprised on Sunday that word of his venture had leaked out, and doesn't believe his coach at the time, Mark Gottfried, ever learned of it. But he owned up to it.

"That's facts," he said. "I just love to play. They were playing and I decided to start playing. I was eager to play. Plus, I knew we were playing Carolina and I wanted to be sharp."

He said he was welcomed by the Tar Heel students.

"They were surprised that I was out there," he said, "but they were excited for me and took pictures and that was that."

Warren echoed the "every day matters" theme. The Suns never made the playoffs in his five seasons there, never won more than 39 games, and won a conference-worst 19 last season. He didn't ask to be traded, but wasn't at all upset when the Pacers acquired him and the 32nd pick in the draft for cash considerations.

"Once I saw it, I was excited," he said. "I don't look at it as a slap in the face, I look at it as a plus for me, to get with an organization to be able to compete for something.

"I feel like every day matters here," he said. "Every day is taking seriously and I'm ready to contribute to that."

The Suns' offer came as a pleasant surprise to Pritchard as well.

"We weren't expecting that one," he said. "But when it came, we made the decision in five minutes. We knew it was the right thing."

Warren should become a capable replacement for Bogdanovic at small forward. Both averaged 18 points last season, and their overall stats from last season are remarkable similar. Warren, though, is five years younger, more athletic, more versatile and more of a shot creator.

He had not been a good 3-point shooter until last season, when he worked with Trevor West – the nephew of former Pacers forward and Warren mentor David West – and honed it to the point of hitting 43 percent of his attempts.

"A lot of repetition," Warren said. "I'm definitely going to continue that through my career.

"I'm only 25 and I'm only getting better. There's a lot of great things to come."

Warren comes highly recommended by David West. Warren began playing for West's AAU team, Garner Road, in Raleigh, North Carolina as an 11-year-old, and has stayed in close communication with him ever since. West was one of the first to contact Warren when news of the trade leaked out, and told him the Pacers were a "world-class organization."

Warren said West's influence has stayed with him throughout his career.

"Just seeing how he goes aboug his business – a no-nonsense guy, somebody who competes all the time, who's passionate … I want to take those traits and bring them here," Warren said.

More moves possible

The Pacers have money remaining under the salary cap as well as in salary cap exceptions, so Pritchard said transactions are possible. He expects some of the major transactions around the NBA, most notably the Clippers' acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, could cause ripple effects that create opportunities.

"We still have some money to play with," Pritchard said. "Whether we wait for the right opportunity now or down the line, I'm not sure.

"We're still in negotiations about some players, but I don't think it happens today or this week. It's more, 'Let's see what comes at us.' There are going to be peripheral moves that happen because of what happened (Saturday). Teams want to get off a contract or maybe want to acquire a player."

Oladipo pleased

Oladipo, while rehabbing in Miami, has remained engaged in the Pacers' off-season moves, and by all accounts approves.

"He's ecstatic, I know that," McMillan said. "He's texting and calling each other every day. He knows what we did this offseason really helped and he's looking forward to getting on the court with these guys."

Warren and Lamb both said Oladipo had reached out to them.

The numbers game

Warren and Lamb have chosen new jersey numbers, selecting one that has special meaning for him.

Lamb, who wore 11 and 3 in his previous NBA stops, will go with 26 because his daughter was born on June 26.

Warren, who wore 12 in Phoenix, wants to wear No. 1.

"I don't want anything I had in Phoenix to come here," he said. "I wanted to start over fresh."

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