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Agness’ Observations: Training Camp 2013

Agness’ Observations: Training Camp 2013

The Pacers opened training camp at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sept. 28. The team will have three two-a-days — Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday — before hosting the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 5.

In addition to my stories from camp, I’ll share my daily observations from each practice below.

Friday, Oct. 4 — Practice No. 10

+ Camp was a huge success for the Pacers number one, because they survived without any real injuries. Granger tweaked his back on Tuesday and said he’s fine, but that’s it.

+ Granger’s left knee surgery was exactly six months ago. After practice, he said he feels really, really good, thinks his workload soon won’t be an issue and that he’ll be 100 percent before the regular season. Vogel anticipates playing him 20-30 minutes on Saturday but he plans to meet with team trainers in the morning.

+ Vogel confirmed that last year’s starters, which includes Lance Stephenson, will take the court first against the Chicago Bulls.

+ Once again, media was able to watch the final scrimmage of practice and George Hill led his team to a win, again. Down one, he nailed a 3-pointer at the top of the key but it came just after the time expired. Coach Vogel, who coached the blue team, signaled to count it, grinned and said,”Replay’s broke!” The victorious blue team (23-21) consisted of Hill, Orlando Johnson (or Solomon Hill), Danny Granger, Chris Copeland, and Luis Scola.

+ Granger, by the way, had seven points, a handful of rebounds and a couple turnovers. He was 2-of-6 from the field (both makes were layups) and 3-for-4 at the free throw line. His missed shots came from 3-point range, a 15-foot fadeaway, a one-handed shot in the post against Johnson and a jumper.

+ Something I never thought I’d see: Danny Granger (6-foot-9) in the center circle jumping for the opening tip against 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert.

+ More and more, we’ve seen Copeland-West and Scola-Hibbert matchups. I’m very curious to see the lineups the coaching staff chooses to use. Vogel thought finding minutes for Jeff Pendergraph was hard last year. Orlando Johnson, for example, has looked great in camp, but is there enough playing time to go around? Even though Scola isn’t starting, I’m under the impression that he’ll receive starter minutes. So many weapons, but only five can play at one time.

+ I wrote about it earlier this week, but George Hill continues to impress. He’s more assertive, looking for his shot and taking what the defense allows. Vogel agreed and noted that Hill has been the “loudest and most prevalent voice” in camp. In the two scrimmages media has allowed to watch, Hill’s team not only won, but he led the way.

+ While guys like Vogel and Paul George admitted to feeling the hype surrounding Saturday’s game, Roy Hibbert downplayed it and said the keys were to not get injured and work on some things. After taking numerous questions about Derrick Rose from a Chicago media member, Hibbert laughed then goes, “This is all D-Rose stuff.” His short take on the Bulls with Rose back, “Pretty damn good.”

+ Solomon Hill may be a rookie, but he wasn’t shy about shooting in the scrimmage. Twice he fired uncontested wing shots after rubbing off a screen. He’s a real contender for some minutes.

+ I had a great conversation with assistant Popeye Jones after practice. Look for a piece on him joining the Pacers next week.

+ IUPUI head coach Todd Howard and Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing watched part of practice.

Thursday, Oct. 3 — Practice No. 9

+ After eight practices in five days, plus an upcoming preseason game and a long flight to Asia, Thursday was a planned light practice for the team. Prior to taking the floor, Frank Vogel showed the “#Hashtag” skit (watch below) by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Multiple players said they found it hilarious, and felt like it got everyone in the right mood to start the day. Afterwards, the team watched 20 minutes of video on how to improve their offensive execution.

+ On the court, players were required to shoot at least 100 free throws and could stop once they were over 80 percent.

+ Before calling it a day, the guys lined up on the baseline and they each attempted two free throws. Miss, and each guy, including the coaches, had to do 10 push-ups. Eight players missed one attempt, so they all dropped down for 80 push-ups. Assistant Popeye Jones surprised the team when he sunk both of his throws.

+ Danny Granger is planning to play on Saturday when the Chicago Bulls come to town. In regards to who starts, Vogel said, “We’ll probably start Lance because Danny’s still in a recovery phase, just increasing his workload. I haven’t made a final decision on that but we’ll likely start Lance.”

+ Vogel said the team is approaching their first preseason game like a regular game. Different combinations will play together, mostly to get guys some work. He believes that they’re ahead of schedule in terms of number of offensive sets and defensive schemes put in so far.

See Also: Hill Leading By Example

+ Vogel recognizes that because the team is stacked, the odds for one of the training camp invites to make the team are slim. However, he says there’s ways they can impress the coaches so he encourages them to do their best. 13 players have guaranteed contracts for this season, and they are able to carry as many as 15.

+ Yesterday, Oct 2., marked two months since Chris Copeland had his left knee scoped and he wasn’t even aware. “No, that’s crazy. I didn’t even think about that. I’m much-improved. To perform 100 percent it’s going to be awhile, but I’m so excited just to get rolling. It’s gonna be a good year.” Copeland hasn’t had to sit out of camp at all.

+ A while after practice had ended, Luis Scola returned to the court to shoot for about 30 minutes. He started with a weighted basketball and then went to the NBA ball.

+ Popeye Jones’ son, Seth, makes his National Hockey League debut with the Nashville Predators. The game is in St. Louis (8:30 p.m. EST), about four hours from Indy. “If practice interfered, I probably wouldn’t have let him come to practice,” Vogel said. “It’s something he should be at.” Seth, 19, was taken fourth in this year’s draft. Popeye has three sons: Justin, Seth and Kaleb.

Wednesday, Oct. 2 — Practice No. 8

+ Pacers owner Herb Simon sat in on about half of practice, I’m told.

+ Frank Vogel declared today’s practice the best one of training camp. It lasted just short of two hours, a reward for how sharp they were. “Guys had the freshest legs, which is surprising after the two-a-day yesterday,” he said. “[Guys] had great, fresh legs and were very engaged mentally. Just sharp and getting better in executing the things we’re trying to get accomplished.” They continue to install plays and grow their package sets, both offensively and defensively.

+ Granger was limited to non-contact work after tweaking his back going around a screen in Tuesday’s first practice. “I got hit on an illegal screen [by Darnell Jackson] and it locked up a little bit on me,” he explained. “They didn’t want me to get hit again and get it messed up.” Granger ran sprints with the team, shot alone on a side basket and rode an elliptical at times during practice. Coach Vogel said that Granger’s knee, meanwhile, is “really, really good. There’s no concerns there.”

+ The team scrimmaged for 12 minutes to end practice. George Hill, who was a frequent visitor to the foul line, led the white team — G. Hill, Stephenson, S. Hill, Scola, Hibbert — to a 28-23 victory.

+ Roy Hibbert enjoys having a rookie around. After the team finished a drill (and Hibbert looked drained), he looked around and goes, “Where’s rook? I’m thirsty.” Solomon Hill, seated across the floor, came running over. He grabbed one water and one blue Gatorade out of the circular cooler and handed it to Hibbert. All in good fun.

Related: Hibbert aiming to be part of USA Basketball

+ Hill on what training camp feels like: “Everyone feels like they’re 18-year vets in the NBA, body-wise. I think everyone’s super tired, over exhausted and bodies feeling like its breaking down. That’s the nature of training camp. You got to take care of your body so that’s why we pay our trainers good money to keep us in tip-top shape.”

+ Lance Stephenson on Instagram: “Can’t wait for the first game. I’m in the best shape right now let’s go pacer nation we hungry.”

Tuesday, Oct. 1 (PM) — Practice No. 7

+ Much to everyone’s relief, two-a-days are now over. The team completed their third and final one on Tuesday and afterwards, some were more tired than others. Once the team broke it down, Hibbert headed back towards the locker room and told coach Popeye Jones, who coaches the bigs, “I gotta go get off my feet.” And surely Hibbert isn’t alone.

+ Granger was held out, as previously scheduled. Before leaving the court, however, he made 100 jumpers — 10 from each of the five spots (twice). My unofficial tally had him connect on 68 percent of those shots. Watch below.

+ Many of the guards also stayed behind to get more shots up. G. Hill, Watson and Johnson worked at one end while Sloan, Howard, S. Hill and Butler completed a shooting drill at the other. The later group had to hit two in a row from each of the five spots before leaving. If they missed two in a row from one spot, they had to go back to the previous spot. Butler quickly finished and watched from the team’s bench. Vogel spoke highly of Butler after today’s first session. “He makes every shot he takes,” he said.

+ Coach Vogel and Luis Scola has another long conversation following practice. And once again, it was initiated by coach. Vogel is always seeking out more information and it’s become apparent that he has a high regard for the forward.

See Also: Vogel has no interest in moving training camp

+ The team will return to the court at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

Tuesday, Oct. 1 (AM) — Practice No. 6

+ The media was able to sit in on a good portion of the end to practice — maybe 45 minutes. The team scrimmaged during that entire time, and there was even a pair of referees brought in. That’s mainly done to free up the assistant coaches and allow them to coach more.

+ With referees on hand, Stephenson has no problem trying to argue a call in his favor. Standing alone, about seven rows up at mid-court, Larry Bird just smiled. I’m sure he enjoys seeing Stepehenson’s competitiveness.

Related: Stephenson Hopes Hard Work Pays Off

+ Granger looked sharped. I think part of the reason we were allowed to view more of practice was to see first hand what Granger was able to do and how he looked, beyond just getting shots up. He was active, made shots, and had no hesitation driving into the lane. After driving towards the goal, a couple times he got a shot off and a few other times he dished to the post player who was more open.

+ Vogel continues to mix and match guys when they scrimmage. Having so many quality pieces, the coaches want to see various groups — small lineups, quick lineups, shooters, etc. — while also making sure guys are getting comfortable to build familiarity. Chemistry is extremely important and one of the more important tasks at training camp.

+ The three teams during this session — Blue: Watson, George, Granger, West, Mahinmi; White: G. Hill, Stephenson, S. Hill, Scola, Hibbert; Red: Sloan/Howard, Johnson, Copeland, Butler, Armstrong/Jackson. The white team had the most success.

+ Copeland’s shooting and scoring ability will be a huge asset to this team, but beyond that, the threat of his shot will open things up for others. He has such a quick release that many guys today were jumping, only to see Copeland step around or fire the ball to a teammate. His passing was on point. Wednesday will be two months since he had his left knee scoped. Also worth noting, when the white team went small in the final scrimmage, Copeland replaced Hibbert and defended West; Scola matched up against Mahinmi.

See Also: West Draws Line in the Sand for Pacers

+ Scola took the role of a coach a couple times, wanting to call timeout to set up a play and putting guys on his white team in the right place.

+ Rasual Butler, who’s hoping to stick with the team, caught the attention of those watching after blocking Mahinmi’s shot in transition.

+ IUPUI mean’s basketball head coach Todd Howard and assistant David Padgett watched practice from the stands. George Hill highly respects Howard, who was an assistant when he played for the Jaguars (2004-08).

Monday, Sept. 30 — Practice No. 5

+ Emphasis at today’s practice, their first on the main floor: post offense, weak-side defense, strengthen defensive rebounding, the need to attack the basket and play a punishing offensive style with their numerous frontcourt weapons.

+ Chris Copeland’s shooting has wowed a number of those watching practice. He is getting time at both the 3 and 4 positions, which is an even greater challenge because he’s new to the team.

+ Granger sat out Monday’s practice, but there’s nothing to worry about. Again, he’s just following a pre-established workout plan, which doesn’t allow him to practice three days in a row or take part in two-a-days. It’s a wise decision because camp is such a grind even for the healthy players. No need to overdue it now. He’ll be back on the court for Tuesday’s morning practice. While he has been on the court, Frank Vogel says Granger has been “one of the more dominant players out there.” And for the preseason slate: “I’m going to play all through the preseason,” Granger said.

+ Already noted in his workout schedule, Granger will sit out on both Thursday and Sunday.

+ Vogel couldn’t be happier with the effort he is receiving and he believes the first five practices have been very productive. “These guys are working their tails off,” he said.

+ Vogel: “Solomon Hill has just been a blessing with how far along he is as a rookie.” Click here to read more about the rookie.

+ Vogel said he hasn’t yet thought about minute distribution in games.

+ There is definitely a different, even more positive vibe to camp this year. Guys are up beat despite the grind of camp, they genuinely enjoy being around each other and are excited for their first game together on Saturday. Plus, they all seem to be on the same page. Roles don’t matter; winning a championship does.

+ Luis Scola has already made a big impact in the locker room. He’s lifting before every practice and guys are enjoying playing alongside him. Hibbert appreciates Scola’s business approach and noted that he’s fun to play with because “he’s really wise beyond his years.” As for the same type of optimism towards the bench last year and how it compares, ”I think we’re good,” Hibbert said. “Last year I was very optimistic. I’m optimistic this year but I think these guys can help us make the next step. …All in all, the confidence is high, everybody’s working. Everybody came (to camp) in great shape.”

+ Sunday night after practice, Hibbert socialized with members of the NBC comedy ‘Parks and Recreation” over dinner. The show is in town to film an NFL-based episode and Hibbert wanted to spend time with producers, writers and everyone involved. He confirmed that he’s not making a cameo this time.

After a practice last December, Hibbert took rookie Miles Plumlee with him to St. Elmos, where they had a very brief role in one of the episodes.

Sunday, Sept. 29 (PM) — Practice No. 4

+ Danny Granger hit his predetermined workload number so he sat out most of tonight’s practice. He was allowed to do light shooting but that’s was it. “They’ve got a plan for the workload that they’re putting on the knee,” said Vogel. “When he reaches a certain level, he’s done for the day.” He was sitting down in a chair for the entire 25 minutes the media was able to watch. And during that time, a cheerful Danny had no problem yapping at teammates, as usual.

+ This group appears to have no problem scoring the ball. In one drill to work on scoring at a high rate, the team set a high standard on day one and nearly topped it tonight. Three guys run the length of the court. One lays it in, another spots up for a three, and the final guy shoots a jumper — all worth one point. In their first time running it (on Saturday), their total was 116. Sunday night, a little more tired, they made 111. That number is impressive because associate head coach Nate McMillian’s had great shooting teams in Seattle, and the best they’d get was 120. Vogel said he thinks the drill originated from George Karl, who most recently coached the Denver Nuggets for nine seasons.

+ The team ended the day in the same fashion as yesterday — at the free throw line. This time, they each shot two and if both were off the mark, the whole team had to run to half court and back before completing the full lap. Once again, George Hill and Paul George fought over who would finish each sprint first. George made a diving slide in one attempt to cross the baseline and win. As a group, they made their first 10 in a row. Mahinmi (1), West (2), Jackson (1), and Hibbert (1) were responsible for the misses.

+ Frank Vogel after their second consecutive two-a-day: “They’re in great shape. They got lively legs. There’s great energy and enthusiasm to this year’s camp.”

+ The NBA’s Competition Committee unanimously voted for the NBA Finals to return to the 2-2-1-1-1 format from 2-3-2, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reports. This issue now has to be approved by the owners. Vogel upon hearing about it: “I think the (2-3-2) format just impacts the teams when you have an East Coast/West Coast final. I think that’s the only time it really matters. If there’s midwestern teams like ourselves in the 2014 NBA Finals, the travel isn’t going to be that bad.” It’s worth noting that Vogel was grinning as he said that final sentence.

+ The team has the morning off and will reassemble at 1 p.m. on Monday. Prior to taking the court, they are holding a security briefing ahead of their trip to the Philippines and Taiwan.

Sunday, Sept. 29 (AM) — Practice No. 3

+ Danny said he felt great and wasn’t experiencing any soreness in his knee after the team’s first two-a-day session on Saturday.

+ Rookie Solomon Hill, George Hill and Rasual Butler stayed well after practice concluded to get up extra shots. The later two, with the help of coaches Nate McMillan, Dan Burke and a number of rebounders, put up 3-pointers for more than 50 minutes following practice. The goal was to nail five straight 3s in each of the five spots. Great showing by these three.

+ Paul George had his left shoe off and his sock rolled up to the middle of his foot. He said it’s nothing, just a blister from new shoes. (Must be nice to have that problem).

Saturday, Sept. 28 (PM) — Practice No. 2

+ Tonight I was allowed to watch more of practice than usual. Media is usually restricted to about 15 minutes, but I was able to take in roughly double that. During that time, the team mostly worked on shooting and conditioning.

+ Vogel to the team in the midst of a drill: “We want to be the nastiest, most physical team in the league.”

+ The team toed the baseline to end practice and one by one they went to the free throw line. Miss, and the whole team has to run a down-and-back. Beforehand, Vogel asked if anyone knew where the team finished last season. A few were close, but nobody was correct. Vogel informed them that they were 19th in the league (74.6 percent) and that wasn’t high enough to win a championship. Everything coach says and has them do is with a championship in mind. Rasual Butler, Chris Copeland, Darnell Jackson and Paul George each missed, meaning the team (17 players) shot 76.5 percent.

+ The team’s energy at the end of practice stood out most to coach Vogel. They set a high standard for a full-court layup drill that’s continuous for about five minutes. Then, when those handful of players missed their foul shots, guys were running very hard on their down-and-back. George Hill was first nearly every time.

Saturday, Sept. 28 (AM) — Practice No. 1

+ Ahhh! Camp is finally here. I know all parties — coaches, players, staff, media and fans — were glad the NBA has returned and games are a week away.

+ Danny Granger was particularly upbeat after the first official practice of the season. He said he went through the entire practice without any discomfort. Click here for my full story on Granger from the day.

+ Lots of Pacers personnel eagerly watching from the bleachers at mid-court on the practice floor. Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard, and Peter Dinwiddie of course, along with most of the team’s scouting department.

+ As many player stuck around to shoot more, Luis Scola took a seat on the sideline to watch. Frank Vogel went over to him and sat down to talk because he “respects his mind,” and wants to hear Scola’s take on what they’re doing each day.

About The Author

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Scott Agness is in his second season as a multimedia contributor for Pacers.com. He delivers articles, blog posts, interviews, and videos. He is a graduate of Indiana University where he was part of broadcasts on the IU Radio Network, Big Ten Network, IUHoosiers.com and WIUX. He is the founder and editor of VigilantSports.com.

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