Only a couple of days after saying that Pacers “haven’t started yet” on the team’s coaching search, Larry Bird surprised everyone; the Vertical reported last night that the Pacers are finalizing a deal to promote Nate McMillan to head coach.
McMillan has been with the Pacers as the Associate Head Coach or lead assistant for Frank Vogel for the last three seasons. He took the job after Brian Shaw left the same position to be a head coach with the Denver Nuggets.
McMillan has been a head coach previously with the Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trailblazers. His performance with both teams is summarized below.
McMillan made the playoffs 5 times in his 11 full seasons as a head coach, including 3 straight years with the Trailblazers. His teams have only made it out of the first round once.
By all accounts, Nate McMillan is a fine, good head coach, but does this match up with the reasons Bird gave for getting rid of Vogel? Is Nate McMillan the coach for scoring more points and playing small ball like Bird desires?
As Zach Lowe points out, McMillan does not have any history of playing the way that Bird seems to want. His teams in Portland routinely ranked last or next to last in terms of pace.
The bright spot here is that his teams were very efficient. They made the most of their few possessions, even ranking in the top-5 three times. A far cry from Vogel’s teams that routinely ranked around 20th in the league in offensive efficiency.
McMillan is known as a defensive coach, but his team’s defensive efficiency were always middle of the road. Bird said in his Vogel-firing press conference that he expects the defense to remain very good with assistant coach Dan Burke remaining with the team. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pacers defensive schemes remain very similar to what they did under Vogel.
The most puzzling part of the decision by the Pacers to hire someone on Vogel’s staff is That Bird started off his press conference by saying, “I think it’s time for a new voice around here.”
That new voice that Bird hired has already been with the team for three seasons. Obviously, the responsibilities are much different from assistant to top dog and the Pacers players haven’t seen McMillan in that role, but how much of a new voice will this really be? If Bird believes in his 3-year coaching rule, why give the job to someone whose already been with the team that long?
The Vogel press conference from Bird has more and more statements that questions his “straight shooter” status. It seems now that Bird simply didn’t like Vogel. These statements about McMillan from the press conference say a lot now that he’s got the job.
Bird also said he had a list in mind of coaches since the All-Star break, but no interviews with coaches were ever reported before it was confirmed McMillan was getting the job.
McMillan does have a history with Pacers Kevin Pritchard as they worked together in Portland. When McMillan joined the team in 2013, Pritchard had high praise for him (via Scott Agness of vigilantsports.com: “His experience is invaluable. Especially when you go through tough times because every year you go through tough times. And so you want some really solid people. We call it calm waters. I think Nate will be terrific just keeping the waters calm.”
Jared Wade of 8 points, 9 seconds speculates that maybe this hiring of a Pritchard guy is a sign that Bird will step down soon, and Pritchard will take over.
Time will tell if this choice was the right one to make. Lots of questions that won’t be answered until the Pacers get closer to the new season. Will McMillan go against his usual style and play small and fast? Will Bird be fine with this team grinding out wins slowly, but with a more efficient offense? Is the PG at the 4 conversation completely dead, or is Bird still stuck on that idea?