| Indianapolis Star
It’s not too early to look ahead to what the Indiana Pacers can look like when T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert return.
As coach Nate Bjorkgren showed again in Wednesday’s comeback win at the Minnesota Timberwolves, he’ll go with the players/unit that is playing best. Eventually, he’s going to have more options.
Doug McDermott and T.J. McConnell didn’t play in overtime. Myles Turner only appeared for 29 seconds for defensive purposes.
It seems likely that it will be either Turner or Domantas Sabonis on the floor late in close games. Seeing both will be rare.
Pacers 134, T’wolves 128: Aaron Holiday sparks Pacers as they escape with overtime win at Timberwolves
That’s just the hunch from the cheap seats, of course. There’s no way of knowing but 29 games of regular-season evidence shows Bjorkgren has been true to his word and will try anything, such as the 2-3 zone that worked for stretches in Minnesota to box-and-1s and triangle-and-2s vs. others.
He went big Monday, but that failed with Turner and Sabonis against a small lineup of the Chicago Bulls who had the undersized Thad Young in the middle. They not only outrebounded the Pacers but dominated them inside.
Sabonis played the entire overtime in that game. Turner played in all but 8 seconds.
Wednesday, it was Sabonis posting his seventh career triple-double with a career-high 36 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. He played the entire OT and punished the Timberwolves.
Turner, who only had 8 points but 4 blocks, remained a necessary component, though his usage was situational. His contest of Anthony Edwards’ shot at the buzzer to end regulation probably saved the game. The high-arcing shot rimmed out as Turner’s superior length and athleticism made him the better option vs. the 6-4 guard.
Go back to Saturday, when Turner had 19 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks in a comeback win vs. the Atlanta Hawks, and Bjorkgren’s tactics differed.
Sabonis played just 3:24 of the final quarter and didn’t score while Turner scored 7 points in 8:36.
Being a successful coach in the pros is about more than Xs and Os. This isn’t college where the coach runs every facet of the operation and can bench a player for “disciplinary reasons” without any more explanation. There’s no union to intervene. In the NBA, players make more money than coaches. There will be push back if that coach doesn’t manage personalities and egos.
How easy is it to tell Sabonis, an All-Star last season and likely again this season, that he’s not playing?
Losing the board game: A more detailed look at Pacers’ weak rebounding efforts and how to fix them
Turner has contract incentives tied to performance, expressed a desire to be Defensive Player of the Year and yearns to be respected more. That’s hard to achieve when sitting.
Warren and LeVert probably will find themselves in the same spot, too.
Justin Holiday will return to the bench when the roster is healthy, but the spot starter didn’t play in the 41-point fourth in Atlanta and just 1:37 in the fourth quarter Wednesday.
Bjorkgren went back to Holiday for the entire OT even though he didn’t attempt a shot. A career role player, he’s more accustomed to dealing with it. Everyday career starters are a different beast.
Only 6.5 games separate the Pacers (15-14), currently the No. 4 seed in the East, from 15th and last. Another 4-game losing streak could drop them near the bottom just as the start of a 4-plus game win streak can create separation.
What the Pacers will have going for them is the scouting reports will have to be revamped. They’ll field combinations that haven’t been seen yet with more than half of a 72-game season complete.
If they’re going to make a move, that would be the ideal time as the playoffs draw closer.
Malcolm Brogdon pointed to Bjorkgren’s demeanor after they’d given up a 73-point first half to Minnesota. He didn’t beat them down verbally in the locker room.
“He was extremely positive with us. That was huge for us,” said Brogdon, who had 32 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. “Him not to come in there and cuss us out and really get on us, he was positive. He was like, ‘Look we already know what we need to do. We need to pick it up defensively and get stops.’ That’s what we did.”
The Timberwolves were playing better with Karl-Anthony Towns back in the lineup but they’re still a last-place team. Their record — 7-22 — isn’t an aberration.
Bjorkgren is exactly the kind of coach he said he’d be. As the Pacers get used to his methods, the expectation is that the results will improve along with their options.