Why Nate Bjorkgren’s flexible coaching style suits a changing Pacers team

There’s a new Nate in town. After dismissing the head coach Nate McMillan and conducting an exhaustive search, the Indiana Pacers have hired Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as the franchise’s next head coach, reports Athletic’s Shams Charania.

“We are very happy and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement to Pacers.com. “It was a thorough and thorough search, and when we came to the conclusion, we felt strongly that Nate was the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has had league success, is innovative and his communication skills and positivity are terrific. We all look forward to a long and successful partnership to help the Pacers move forward.

before joining Nick Nursein Toronto and winning an NBA championship, Bjorkgren also helped longtime friend Nurse four years with the energy of Iowa, where the two won a G League title together in 2011. When Nurse moved to Rio Grande Valley, Bjorkgren then accepted a head coaching position with the then Dakota Wizards, which later became the Santa Cruz Warriors. In the team’s inaugural season as the Warriors, Bjorkgren led Santa Cruz to the Finals, losing 0–2 to the Nurse’s Vipers. From there, the longtime G League alum returned to Iowa Energy for one season before later signing a new contract to coach the Bakersfield Jam and eventually being hired as both coach of player development and assistant with the Phoenix Suns under Jeff Hornacek and Earl Watson. You can listen to him tell the full (and meandering) story, here.

When it comes to his Pacers hire, however, what might be even more telling than his longtime ties to Nurse are his ties to Phoenix. Not only because he was credited with developing four Suns players, including TJ Warrenduring the first single affiliate season between Phoenix and Bakersfield, but also following what can be inferred from what was also his last season in charge of his own team in the G League.

Coaching a young Jam roster full of first- and second-year playoff players against an Austin Spurs team that occasionally featured Orlando JohnsonJonathan Simmons and Kyle AndersonNurse’s former right-hand man put his team in position to steal a win, despite being at a huge talent disadvantage, by trying to make the most of the unpredictability.

Rather than using strict rules and play calls, Bjorkgren made his players hard to keep by allowing them to play freely under simplified actions and guidelines.

For example, consider for a moment that the 45-year-old tactician used a stoppage at the free-throw line as a de facto time-out to converse with his point guard, and look at what happened in the first 10. seconds of the shot- the clock:

With Xavier Munford dribbling a high pick, notice how MacKoshwal rolls from the perimeter to the paint at the same time as the other large movements of the paint to the perimeter. In addition to putting tons of pressure on all four opponents to make a choice between taking the riddle and staying home on the three-point line, this action opens up a matrix of fast-striking and freewheeling possibilities that is essentially Bjorkgren and could easily be reproduced by Warren, Turnerand Sabonis or just Warren, Sabonis and a corner shooter.

Think of it this way: As in the example above, if Sabonis rolls and Warren substitutes, then whoever is placed in the corner could sneak up behind the defense. Stick to the shooters and Sabonis rumbles in the 2v1 lane. Engage with him on the roll though and be prepared to face him as a weak side passer.

Here Koshwal leaves the defense to their own devices by failing to make contact on the screen and he still manages to get an easy 1v1 opportunity simply due to opening up the lane like a track by the positioning of his teammates .

As well as emphasizing the importance of starting and ending possessions with consistently re-established spacing, what these two possessions show is that playing “faster” doesn’t have to be the product of a runaway or simply a rush. a fast race in transition. .

If anything, it’s the unifying quality of all of Bjorkgren’s G League teams, none of which have placed below fifth place. For the season, Bakersfield was plus-37 in 123 minutes than Koshwal and forward/center ground spacing Alec Brown, who can be seen appearing in the clip above and who only joined the team in mid-February after months of rehabilitation from a shoulder injury, shared the floor together. But, here’s the thing: Playing double-big, as weak minutes show, while highly effective, wasn’t a mainstay of the Jam offense and shouldn’t necessarily be projected onto the Pacers as an absolute for sure. what to expect next season.

Rather, aside from playing with tempo, arguably the most defining characteristic of Bjorkgren’s tenure in the G League is that his teams were the most similar in that they were different. With an offense based more on reads than play calls, his coaching philosophy through the Dakota/Santa Cruz, Iowa and Bakersfield stoppages was often an expression of the players he had available, relying sometimes heavily on making points out of stops, as was the case. the case where he led the Warriors, a brave defensive team to the Finals, while devastating the paint with the Wizards, and teaching a young Jam team to take care of the ball and live on the line.

That’s why, given that the Pacers are currently looking at a somewhat uncertain future in terms of personnel depending on what happens this offseason with Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner, Bjorkgren’s soft-spoken flexibility and exposure to tactics Nick Nurse’s audacious training plans could prove to be the right form of guidance at the right time for a team looking to level up while in the midst of change.