In order to keep up with the league's Joneses, the formerly slow, deliberate, and oftentimes stagnant Indiana Pacers have to be willing to let go of what they once were and step fully in line with the new age era of small-ball. While present throughout much of Media Day, this sentiment was summed up by head coach Nate McMillan in five simple words: "We've got to reinvent ourselves."
Saying this is one thing, but effectively retooling around the modern NBA's pace and space mantra will require active commitment and demand sacrifice.
"Guys have to understand that we have changed, or we're going to change our style of play, how we want to play, in order to compete against these teams that have already changed their style of play," McMillan said of the need for evolution.
If the Pacers are going to embark on a revolution, here are where the internal battles may be fought.
Running more will result in less overall run time:
Last season, only 21 players in the league averaged more than 35 minutes per game. Tellingly, only one of those players, Rajon Rondo, played a full season on one of 2015-16's four fastest teams. The message from this correlation should be clear: upping a team’s number of possessions necessitates depth.
"Guys are playing less minutes than they used to play," McMillan explained of the new small-ball dominated NBA. "Monta Ellis, I remember coaching against him when he was in Golden State, that guy would play 48 minutes. Now guys are averaging -- starters are averaging --between 25-35 minutes. So, if you're going to play that pace and you're going to ask your guys to play at that tempo, you're going to need depth. We have added that, and adding that depth there could be some issues with guys who are accustomed to playing a lot of minutes."
Per Basketball Reference, Paul George and Monta Ellis played a combined 86 games last season where they logged 35 or more minutes. For the Pacers to fully embrace the running style of play, the starters will need to accept getting less run time (even if doing so runs contrary to their nature).
Avoiding getting touchy about touches:
“The style of play we want to play, a lot more ball movement, sharing the ball, which some guys can get lost in situations like that,” McMillan admitted. “We have a lot of guys who can score the ball, they want the ball, they want touches. But when you’re allowing your team the freedom to play the game, and learn to play the game together, sometimes guys can get lost, and look to talk about touches.”
Over 60 percent of Jeff Teague's field goal attempts came off of 3 or more dribbles during his final season with the Hawks. This number was less, though still relatively high, for Monta Ellis (44%). Whether by making the extra pass, cutting, or in catch-and-shoot situations, it is essential that whichever of the two of them happens to be the off guard avoids disappearing whenever the other has the ball.
Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable:
With Teague and Ellis in the backcourt and Thaddeus Young pegged as the spread four between Paul George and Myles Turner, McMillan, rather boldly, already announced his 9-man rotation before the start of training camp, adding that he expected Aaron Brooks, Rodney Stuckey, and Al Jefferson to comprise the reserve lineup with C.J. Miles splitting time between the wing and power forward positions.
Miles missed 18 games due to an array of injuries last season most likely because he was unknowingly unprepared for the rigors of defending and boxing out bigger bodies. Now, with due warning, he will be expected to make another go at what once seemed foreign.
"C.J. Miles has been a three all of his career," McMillan acknowledged. "(He's) got to learn to play the four."
Indiana's streaky sharpshooter won't be the only player asked to get acquainted with a new section of the floor. Thaddeus Young is expected to spend more time beyond the arc. Paul George has the potential to see actual spot minutes at the four, and Monta Ellis may be asked to alter his shot distrubition.
"...But his (Monta Ellis) game used to be attacking, and a lot of these guys aren't comfortable with shooting the three," McMillan said. "Well, you have to change your mindset, you have to shoot the three. That has to be a part of your attack now because of the way the defenses are playing you."
Coming to terms with less playing time, giving up the ball, or accepting a new role doesn't require physical ability outside of that which the Pacers are capable, but it does necessitate the type of team-first mentality that Paul George is already readily exhibiting.
"The challenge is just buying in Day 1," Paul George said of the obstacles facing his new-look team. "...I think we've got to bring that to training camp tomorrow. There can't be a guy that's complaining. There can't be a guy that doesn't want to do this, doesn't want to do that. I'm hoping that tomorrow is the hardest day we have just because we need to set the standard and start the season right."
The revolution may start tomorrow, but the team's reinvention of itself rests on the diminishing difficulty of each day thereafter.