INDIANAPOLIS – From his delivery, and his thoughts, Nate Bjorkgren is definitely a change from the ‘Nate’ he is replacing as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers.
At Wednesday’s (virtual) introductory press conference, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard first explained what he was looking for in a head-coaching search that saw Indiana interview around a dozen candidates:
1. High Character
2. Winning Pedigree (assistant or head coach, in any league)
3. Innovative (Push the envelope in modern basketball, willing to take more risks, playoff basketball)
With Bjorkgren, Pritchard was particularly blown away when the 45-year-old coach got up on the whiteboard. As the Pacers brass grilled Bjorkgren, the new head coach kept rising up their internal board thanks to him combing the ‘art and science’ of Xs and Os, in clearly conveying what he wanted to get done.
Pritchard loves the positivity of Bjorkgren, but also sees a coach who can hold players accountable.
“In the beginning you see a positive person, and you’re like he’s really not like this,’” Pritchard admits. “He brings good nature, fun and joy back to basketball. And that doesn’t mean he can’t be tough. I think the balance of that he’ll bring is he will know when to be tough, he’ll know when to push the players, but he’ll also know when to put his arm around them and say, ‘Let’s listen. We got this.’”
Below are some of the highlights from what Bjorkgren had to say on Tuesday, with a few more Pritchard/roster notes at the bottom:
-On his offensive approach: “Very aggressive in style. You’ll look at our teams and we’ll be a fun team to watch. You are going to see a lot of movement on both sides of the ball. You are going to see weakside movement on the offensive end. You are going to see different players handling the ball and pushing it up the floor. We want to have more possessions. We want to be attacking and utilize the free throw line, getting to the rim, utilize the three-point line and taking the shots that we want in our offense.”
–On his defensive approach: “Defensively, disruptive. We are not going to be crazy just to throw something out there, to throw it out there. All of our defense will have a purpose. My philosophy on the defensive end is to change, and change quite frequently. There are many times throughout a game where you can change, whether it’s out of a timeout, quarter breaks, during free throws. So I think that’s the disruptive part that I mentioned first.”
–On the importance of player development: “The players want to know how you are going to make them better. You’ve got to put them into positions to be successful. That’s what player development is. It’s having success…Player development, that’s where it is. Players want to know how are you going to make them better and as soon as they know that and they trust you in that situation, the sky’s the limit because when they become better as individuals, the team gets better, they trust each other more and you see the ball move and nice things to come.”
-On where the Pacers will lean in bringing an analytical approach to the game: “We want to be at the higher end of that scale. That’s something that we can do with this scheme in utilizing the rim more, get to the free throw line more, utilize the three-point line more. It doesn’t mean coming down and taking the first one that’s halfway contested. You are going to see that ball move. The biggest thing you are going to see is we talked about pressure. Us putting pressure on our opponents is we want them to be on their heels first with that initial thrust. If something is there early, take it. If not, get that ball snapping and get a shot that we want.”
–On playing bigs Domatnas Sabonis and Myles Turner together after what the Raptors did with Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol: ”Very comfortable. When you talk about those two bigs, they are just not two bigs. They are very dynamic and they complement each other very well. From Domas being able to put so much pressure on the rim. I just know coaching against him in the past, his ability to screen and dive hard and how physical he is…and you talk about Myles Turner, who I had a great conversation with yesterday. How versatile he can be on stretching the floor, protecting the rim on the defensive end. He’s a big that you can use as a trigger man, so I feel very comfortable. I compare those two very much to Serge and Marc. Very comparable.”
–On believing Victor Oladipo still has a large ceiling capable of being reached: “Big time. We talked yesterday. He texted me immediately and I called him right back. He was just getting ready to workout. We had a great talk. We talked about what I thought he could do. What I thought he could bring to this team. How I thought he could make this team better. And how he could make us better. I very much enjoyed talking with him yesterday. He’s a big-time player…He texted me first. It wasn’t just, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?’ It was a very nice text. And it was very welcoming. I like his energy. I think our energy fed off each other a little bit during the phone call. I know he has great respect around the league. The guys that I’ve coached and drew a special relationship in Toronto, they had a lot of respect for the players on this team.”
–On coaching T.J. Warren back in his D-League days: “T.J. and I go way back. He’s a big time, big time scorer but a better person. Talking to him yesterday, it was nice to join forces again. I’m looking forward to coaching him again. His development over the years has been great. You see him evolving. He’s using the 3-point line more. He’s getting to the rim more. He’s got this creative ability about him to take a hit and be off the balance and finish shots off one leg or with one hand. That’s nice to have as a coach.”
–Pritchard on where things stand with Oladipo: “He’s doing terrific. He’s full-out cleared and started a couple weeks ago with his offseason regiment…We did see a Zoom with the whole team yesterday and Victor spoke up and was as positive as I’ve ever seen him. Victor gets in this mold of I’m going to get better in the (offseason), so that’s what he’s doing. We have a great relationship. He feels good about the team. He’s talked about how he thinks this team could be very good. But we are just taking it a day at a time. We are doing our best. We hear a lot of things, but until it comes to me, I don’t really worry about that. We have Victor for another year. And then we have a huge advantage at the end of the day in re-signing Victor. We can give him a 5-year deal and major jumps versus other teams. The way the CBA is crafted is ‘home teams, huge advantage.’ That’s a ways down the line (though).”
–Pritchard on the health of Domantas Sabonis, who missed the Orlando bubble due to a plantar fasciitis injury: “Domas is doing well. I know there’s thoughts on him playing some with his national team (in November) so we are looking at that right now. We just got that in an email. He’s doing well. We are watching (the foot). Plantar fascia, over time, it tends to get better. It’s a time related thing. He is getting physical therapy all the time and working on it. We feel pretty good about that.”