Kevin Pritchard seems to have created something special in Indiana.
Perhaps not in terms of an abundance of talent on this Pacers team, but in a creation of chemistry that most teams can only dream about having after a few years growing together with little roster turnover. But this team brought in nine new players in a single off-season.
“This is the best locker room that I’ve ever been in,” said Myles Turner. With a mix of seemingly unwanted veterans on short-term contracts and young players traded away before they hit their primes, Pritchard, Pacers president of basketball operations, targeted certain types of players and to this point it looks like he pushed all the right buttons in the off-season.
“My teammates are phenomenal people,” said Victor Oladipo. “When you surround yourself with people that care about you, chemistry comes natural. It’s a special locker room.”
In the team’s off-season press conference that introduced Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, Pritchard said “Both are highly competitive, highly skilled, and both are winners. That is why both were lottery picks. That is why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”
The Indy Star reported that the Pacers put these words on a whiteboard as an exercise for what they were looking for in the players they got in return for Paul George: motivated, toughness, hardworking, togetherness, unselfishness, intelligence, athleticism and chemistry.
Oladipo perhaps more than any other fit the bill exactly.
Who’s more motivated than a former no. 2 pick that’s been traded twice this early in his career?
Hardworking? Even his opponents recognize it. Before the game against Cleveland where the Pacers ended the Cavs 13-game winning streak, Dwyane Wade praised Oladipo’s hard work over the summer in Miami this past off-season.
Togetherness? Oladipo visited Turner’s house at one in the morning after he had a rough game to give him a confidence boost that led to Turner’s best game of the season the next night.
“Vic came over to my house after that Detroit game at one o’clock in the morning,” Turner told Jeremiah Johnson after the Miami Heat game. “We just sat and talked for awhile. When you got guys on your team that care about you that much, that’s big. My teammates have been behind me this whole time. It’s up to me to push myself to play this way every night.”
Athleticism? Oladipo does stuff like this.
He uses his speed to go coast to coast so often an apt nickname would be Space Ghost.
But it’s not just Oladipo. You can apply those whiteboard words to every player the Pacers added in the off-season and those that remain from last year’s roster. The togetherness and chemistry has payed off immensely.
“We’re not just depending on one person or two people to get us over the top,” Thaddeus Young said after a comeback against the Detroit Pistons. “We do it by committee. We all play a vital part on the court in what we do as a team.”
The committee approach has the Pacers with five guys averaging between 12 and 14.9 points (Oladipo leads the team with 23.6 points per contest). Any night could be their turn for a big one. Off the bench the Pacers add two more players capable of big nights in Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson, who both average 8 points per game.
This leads to ball movement that at times is a sight to see.
Effort is never a question with this group. The play hard; they play fast. They never give in even when they’re down big in the second half. They’re more fun than any Pacers team ever.
Hard-working stretches from the top to the bottom of the roster. Joe Young slept on the practice facility floor and got up shots every time he woke up in the middle of the night after coming back from a road win.
Even Old Man Damien Wilkins, who at 37 and previously out of the league for four years, is a prime example of hard work.
Al Jefferson is out of the rotation but lost 40 pounds in the off-season and doesn’t complain about his lack of playing time.
Domas Sabonis plays in a way that allows him to have chemistry with everyone.
Thaddeus Young is the quiet veteran leader that when he has something to say the team listens.
Myles Turner gets more excited for his teammates than he does for himself after big games.
Nate McMillan, heavily criticized here and elsewhere last season, deserves a ton of credit for putting everyone in a chance to succeed with a well-designed offensive scheme for the group he has.
For whatever reason, the Pacers have struggled in the recent past with locker room veterans voices that “don’t resonate” according to Turner and they didn’t seem able to adapt to the fast tempo pace that the Pacers have been trying to go to since David West declined his player option and went ring hunting.
But now with Pritchard’s additions and other subtractions to the team, the Pacers chemistry and speed is propelling this 15-11 start to the season.
“This team clicks,” said Oladipo. “It’s special to be a part of.”