Pacers coaches like where they’re at as a group
There’s more to a basketball team than just the players. Though most would agree that the NBA is a player’s league, there’s a huge difference between the right and wrong coach, and assistants, for a team.
Beyond their coaching on the court, the coaches are the ones that prepare the game plans and scouting reports, set the tone for the locker room and work individually with players before and after practice, and in the video room. They are leaders, and figures for the players to look to for advice.
In the offseason, the Pacers added two new pieces to their four-person staff. Nate McMillian, who has 12 years of head-coaching experience, took over for Brian Shaw as the team’s associate head coach, and Popeye Jones replaced Jim Boylen. Both McMillan and Jones are former players, which is a big plus to their resume and experience in Frank Vogel’s eyes. Dan Burke is the longest-tenured staff member on the basketball side, as he’s been an assistant with the team since Larry Bird took over as coach in 1997.
With more than a one-third of the 2013-14 NBA season complete — the Pacers are 25-6 — it’s a good time to check in on the coaching staff and how their feel for each other is going. Chemistry isn’t just limited to the players on the court.
“I don’t think (the process) is ever complete with any staff,” Frank Vogel, who’s in his third full season as Pacers head coach, said recently. “I think you’re always evolving because your system is always evolving. I think it’s definitely where I want it to be. I think these guys have really picked up everything we’re doing on both ends of the court, and relationships have been solid, in terms of what Popeye and Nate have been able to do in working with these guys individually, counseling these guys individually on the court and in individual film sessions. I think that’s going as good as can be asked.”
Responsibilities aren’t as simple as Jones spending his time with the post players and McMillan overseeing everything as an aid to Vogel.
“I think Nate and Popeye have both spent a lot of time with Lance [Stephenson],” Vogel noted specifically. “Nate has also spent a lot of time with Paul George.
“Both of those guys are very experienced and have come in and been sharp right from the start. They’re doing great jobs, as well as Dan Burke, obviously. The staff cohesion is as good as it’s been in the last couple of years.”
Before joining the Pacers, Jones was an assistant with the Nets for two seasons.
“We’re in a grove as a coaching staff, in terms of scouting games and what Frank is asking for us to present to the team,” he said. “I think we’re all feeling comfortable with that. Obviously, Dan Burke’s been here the longest so he’s the catalyst and has helped me and Nate a lot, in knowing what Frank wants. I feel good. I feel good with the direction of the team, the spirit with Danny (being) back. It seems like all the guys are rooting for him.”
The three assistants are responsible for the scouting report every third game. Those duties include, but aren’t limited to, watching previous games of the opponent to discover tendencies, grasp their concepts and specific plays, know what they typically run on out-of-bounds situations, and who to foul in late-game situations. Whoever has the game prep duties, also is interviewed by FOX Sports Indiana before the start of the third quarter.
Jones said it’s really hard to put an estimate on the number of hours he, or any of the other coaches spend to ensure the Pacers are ready and not caught off guard by anything an opponent does.
“It’s really hard to say because personally with me, with no family here, I’m even watching games at night at home, getting prepared for whatever the next game I have coming up or just watching the NBA,” Jones said. “I think I’m almost like constantly working, so I don’t call it work. It’s not work to me. I’m a huge basketball fan, obviously.”
In just over four months time, Jones, 43, said that he’s gained a lot of knowledge under Vogel.
“I think that I’ve learned a lot under Frank, not only with the way he does things but with the way he communicates with the guys and the way they respond to the way he communicates,” Jones said. “He’s always pushing, but he knows the right buttons to push and it’s pretty cool to learn from him, even though I’m older. I think that he’s put himself in the upper echelon of coaches, I really do think that.”
With the best record in the Eastern Conference, it’s very likely that Vogel and his assistants will head up the East representatives in the 63rd NBA All-Star game on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014.