The Indiana Pacers greatest strength last season may have been their chemistry and to this point it looks like it’s only improved over the offseason.
“You know it when you see it,” Myles Turner said of the team’s chemistry after the first training camp practice. “You just feel it.”
Indiana hasn’t played a game yet and you can feel it already. Whether it’s the above picture from media day with most of the returning players laughing together or Bojan Bogdanovic giving Victor Oladipo a huge hug when he first saw him.
Last season was the first year the majority of the team had been with the Pacers as they quickly grew a unique bond. With most of the core contributors returning from last year’s roster, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard thinks those relationships will continue to grow.
“I’m a big believer in continuity and that will pay off,” Pritchard said on Media Day.
With a few new faces added to the group, it’s always possible that chemistry could turn sour. As Pacers coach Nate McMillan said it only takes “one bad apple” to ruin it. But by all accounts to this point, the free agents Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott have worked out well in the locker room.
“Everybody we got, the personalities fit right in with our culture,” Turner said of the new members of the team after a recent practice.
Getting the new guys fitting into the group started with Victor Oladipo inviting the entire team to join him in Miami for a few days in the offseason for weights, scrimmaging and team bonding.
“The interaction, it was like guys didn’t miss a beat,” Oladipo said on Media Day. “It was like we had been together all summer. It was pretty cool.”
For Oladipo, it was about “not leaving any stone unturned.” His desire this year is to not feel like he could have done more, which he said wasn’t the case at the end of the previous season.
Everyone on the team from 2-way contract players to the starting players were able to make it except for Bogdanovic, who was playing for his national team, as they hung out at Top Golf and went bowling after some competitive scrimmages.
“It was good,” said Kyle O’Quinn about the team’s gathering in Miami. “We got a jump start on locker room relationships.”
O’Quinn said the team was able to talk about things like what they did over the summer or favorite places to eat that they would normally talk about, but they were able to start that process earlier by getting together as a group before training camp. O’Quinn also had praise for his new teammates during the scrimmages.
“Guys played the right way,” said O’Quinn. “Guys like me and Doug that weren’t on the team last year, we talked about that. ‘Man, they play pretty structured even in pickup.'”
O’Quinn enjoyed the scrimmages that saw pick-and-roll plays being run, the ball being swung on the outside, everyone getting to see the ball without the typical one-on-one, crazy shots that can typically come with pickup games.
When the Pacers met with O’Quinn and delivered their free-agency pitch, Pritchard didn’t think it was going to come because they laid out to him that he might not play a whole lot but that he would have a role to fill.
“30 minutes after the dinner he called and said ‘I want to be a part of that,'” said Pritchard.
Being honest with the players they acquired should help the process of that chemistry as no one should have any confusion about their role on the team which can help ease possible tensions for guys that don’t feel like they’re getting enough minutes.
One possible rift with minutes could be between Domas Sabonis and Turner, but it seems unlikely with how close the duo has become and the team-first attitude that both players have consistently displayed.
They spent a week together in Texas as Sabonis joined Turner in his yoga workouts. They hope to play together with more success this season and the Pacers have made it a priority to get Sabonis on the court more this season than his 24 minutes per game in his first year with the Pacers.
While this is still just the beginning for this group, they have plenty to build on from last year when they were essentially starting from scratch with nine new players.
Last year, Turner called the previous season’s group “the best locker room that I’ve ever been in,” and Oladipo praised his teammates at that time as well.
“My teammates are phenomenal people,” said Oladipo last season. “When you surround yourself with people that care about you, chemistry comes natural. It’s a special locker room.”
With most of the main players returning to that established culture and the new guys fitting in so far, there’s no reason to think chemistry won’t be a huge strength once again for the Pacers.
“We kind of explained to the new guys, we have a good thing here, we have a great organization, we have some structure, we have a culture that we’ve built,” Thaddeus Young said after a recent practice. “If they can’t get on board with the culture, we’re going to keep this thing moving without them. It’s kind of like one of those tough-love things.”