3 reasons Pacers are headed for banner year with Rick Carlisle at the helm
It was disheartening to see the Indiana Pacers underperform in the 2020-21 NBA season. They were pretty stacked with players like Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, Myles Turner, and Caris LeVert. Yes, injuries and coaching issues marred their chances, but the fact that they failed to make the NBA Playoffs was simply unacceptable.
Good for them that they made a quick coaching change. Their hiring of Rick Carlisle didn’t get the hype it deserved for whatever reason. Perhaps this is the curse of small-market teams like the Pacers. However, looking at the 61-year-old’s coaching history and the team’s solid core, it won’t be a surprise to see the Pacers thrive next season and possibly even win the title.
There’s an eerie resemblance with the current Pacers roster in relation to Carlisle’s coaching success vis-a-vis the type of players he’s coached in the past. Yes, despite coaching the Pacers before, Carlisle will be working with a new set of guys. But the fact that he’s coached players who share a similar if not a composite of playstyles will make his job smoother.
Knows How to Work With Traditional Guards/Playmakers
At the helm of the Pacers offense is Brogdon, a crafty guard who has a knack for setting up his teammates. Last season, amid controversies with former coach Nate Bjorkgren, Brogdon managed to average 5.9 assists. In the previous season under coach Nate McMillan, Brogdon averaged a career-high 7.1 assists. So clearly, Brogdon has that playmaking gene in him. Given Carlisle’s history with crafty guards, the two parties seem to be a match made in heaven.
Let’s walk through some of the traditional guards Carlisle has worked with. Obviously, there’s Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic who some believe is the next face of the NBA. Carlisle was quick to identify that Doncic, even at such a young age, already has a great understanding of the game. It was wise of him to give Doncic the keys to the offense very early on. Before Doncic, Carlisle coached the great Jason Kidd and even won a title with him in 2011. And we all know that Kidd is one of the greatest basketball minds out there.
Before his stint with the Mavericks, Carlisle was the coach of the Detroit Pistons and the Pacers. He led both teams to the Eastern Conference Finals, which is already a great testament to his coaching prowess. A quick look at his past rosters reveals prominent guards like Chauncey Billups and Jamaal Tinsley. Between the two, Tinsley was the more adept playmaker. It would take Billups a few more years to develop into a traditional guard. Either way, Brogdon seems to fit the mold of previous Carlisle guards—someone who can score and also set up his teammates.
Scoring Wings Will Thrive
The Pacers have a pair of scoring wingmen in Caris LeVert and TJ Warren. Both have their own playing styles. LeVert is more of a slasher who utilizes his strength and size to get what he wants. Warren, meanwhile, has that mid-range pull-ups and post-ups going for him. Both are relatively young and so they struggle with consistency from time to time. Under Carlise, they might experience a jumpstart in their offense.
After all, Carlisle has worked with the likes of Rip Hamilton and Jason Terry—two incredible scorers who were the focal points of the offense. Hamilton was legendary for his midrange shooting. Almost every coach he’s played for made him run through countless screens because he’s just so quick and crafty. Terry, for his part, is a three-point assassin. It was amazing to witness him embrace a bench role at the tail-end of his career but still thrive as a scorer and a leader as well.
We’re not saying that Carlisle will turn LeVert and Warren into Hamilton and Terry. We’re saying that Carlisle knows what to do with guys who have an inherent scoring ability. It would be exciting to see how Carlisle will use LeVert and Warren with the Pacers.
Stretch, Mobile Bigs
Way before the term “stretch big” was being thrown around, Carlisle already had Austin Croshere in the fold. Croshere was a 6-foot-10 power forward for the Pacers who had that reliable stroke from mid-range and behind the arc. He shot a decent 38.9 percent from deep under Carlisle. He would absolutely still thrive in today’s NBA. Of course, who could forget about Dirk Nowitzki, who’s probably the greatest stretch big of all time. Carlisle was the coach that guided Nowitzki to his first and only title.
He also worked with Al Harrington, a 6-foot-9 power forward who simply outmaneuvered his matchups through his killer instincts on offense. Under Carlisle, Harrington was still working on his mid-range and three-point shot. He got his points mostly through low and high-post setups. He had the strength to get low, down, and dirty in the paint. Harrington also had that impeccable footwork which allowed him to beat literally anyone from the dribble.
Carlisle’s previous experience with these guys will be imperative when he starts working with Sabonis. He stands 6-foot-11 but has the mobility of a small forward. He has that incredible strength that allows him to practically bully anyone in high or low post situations. He doesn’t have that Nowitzki’s touch from deep but he’s the type of player you can’t leave wide open. What sets Sabonis apart from the aforementioned players is that playmaking seems to come naturally to him. He averaged a career-high 6.7 assists this season. This opens up so many things for Carlisle to play around with as he makes his Pacers return.