Going back to his years in Seattle and Portland, Nate McMillan’s teams have almost always played slow. Unable to consistently create space and pressure through speed, the Pacers never ranked better than 18th in pace during his tenure — a stark contrast to Dave Joerger’s final season in Sacramento, when the Kings skyrocketed from dead-last in possessions per game the previous year to third in 2018-19.
And, here’s the thing: With a league-high 20 percent of their shots coming from between 22 and 18 seconds on the shot-clock, Joerger’s Kings didn’t just rely on stops to establish their tempo; they busted it up the floor off of makes, too. In fact, at 15.9 seconds per possession, Sacramento had the NBA’s third-fastest offense that season after taking the ball out of the net, according to advanced stat site Inpredictable.
By comparison, the Pacers have ranked in the bottom-half of the league in that category for four years
plodding running, struggling even to take advantage of early offense during Victor Oladipo’s first All-Star season, when the high-octane guard averaged a top-10 mark among individuals with 4.3 fast-break points per game. As such, given that Joerger is reportedly among the long list of candidates expected to interview for Indiana’s head coaching vacancy, his proven track record for dialing up the pace around the lightning-quick speed of De’Aaron Fox poses an important basketball question about the transferability of his transition schemes, as well as their potential side effects.
To that point, there’s a moment from a regular season loss that the Kings suffered in Houston that provides practical application for the Pacers. With shooters spaced out around James Harden, watch as Buddy Hield flies out of range of the camera on the closeout and then continues to race to the other end of the floor.
Granted, his teammates all have inside position against an opponent that isn’t exactly known for pursuing the offensive glass; but, with long shots, come long caroms, and if not for Fox’s fast hands, what ended up being a quick score at the other end easily could’ve turned into a number’s advantage for Harden.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, either. In addition to capitalizing on Fox’s speed in the open floor, the Kings made it a point to spray out in front of him, which means they routinely displayed all of the confidence of Steph Curry turning around on a shot before it goes in — only not as the shooter, but rather the leaker.
Look at Bogdan Bogdanovic contesting this corner three. He’s already headed in the opposite direction, full-stride, before the ball even hits the rim.
Admittedly, per ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry, missed corner threes tend to exhibit a weak-side bias in terms of where rebounds go, but even if the ball doesn’t immediately ricochet back to OG Anunoby, he’d still be wide open for a kick-out if the Raptors secure the board.
The same was the case, here, when Bogdanovic bolted for the other end long before the ball had re-entered the earth’s atmosphere on this high-arching missed layup.
This sort of blind faith also extended to the center position. Checkout Willie Cauley-Stein on this possession against the Wizards. Not only does he look like a sprinter lowering his head out of the blocks on the closeout, but he’s also nowhere to be found thereafter.
Those camera pan closeouts, especially when Buddy Hield exits completely out of frame, are great when they result in fast-break points, which was the case with all of the above-cited examples, but what about when a back tap leads to a second-chance opportunity with the defense outnumbered?
Without a running emphasis, the Pacers ranked 28th in the league this season in 3-point defensive rebounding percentage on missed shots, per PBP stats, and while in the Orlando bubble without Sabonis, they were dead-last in opponent offensive rebounding rate, not even trailing the micro-ball Rockets. To be fair, some tinkering could probably be done in terms of who is — and isn’t — allowed to leak-out (i.e. not Sabonis), but there’s still ample reason to question if Indiana’s wing rebounding could support this style of play.
There’s no denying that the Kings were worse at grappling with opponents on the glass in 2018-19 than they were the previous season. Over that year-over-year span, Sacramento’s opponent offensive rebounding rate plummeted from 15th to 26th. Even accounting for personnel changes, with Zach Randolph never playing before eventually being traded and Kosta Koufos seeing his minutes (rightfully) slashed in favor of youth, that’s a considerable drop-off that directly coincided with their meteoric rise in pace and should probably strike a chord with a team that is already exhibiting rebounding woes.
After all, though Joerger deserves credit for improving Sacramento’s transition attack in a way that hasn’t carried over under Luke Walton, his teams have never been particularly efficient in the half-court, topping out at no better than 17th in five of six seasons, just as Nate’s have never been particularly fast. Of course, not all of that falls on Joerger, as he did sprinkle in some elements of Spain pick-and-roll in his most recent season that could potentially hit better with a more seasoned roster less dependent on playing through mistakes, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has yet to conclusively demonstrate proof of product on that end of the floor.
All of which is to say that if it turns out the Pacers can’t justify transforming into avid runners while toting two starting centers in the absence of reliable perimeter rebounding, then they at least have to be confident in their next hire that they’ll get better at walking at their own pace.