“Very disruptive. Very aggressive style.”
Those words from new Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren were exactly what Indiana president Kevin Pritchard wanted to hear.
Pritchard had fired coach Nate McMillan not because his teams were bad — the Pacers were 45-28 last season, the four seed in the East — but because they were conservative and predictable. That had led them to get swept out of the playoffs three of the last four years. The Pacers wanted innovative and aggressive.
They think they found their guy in Bjorkgren.
“We’ll be a fun team to watch,” Bjorkgren said in a video conference with reporters on Wednesday. “You’re going to see a lot of movement on both sides of the ball. You’re going to see weakside movement on the offensive end. You’re going to see different players handling the ball and pushing it up the floor. We want to look for more possessions. We want to utilize the free throw line getting to the rim. Utilize that 3-point line…
“My approach to defense is you change and change quite frequently, between quarters, after timeouts, during an 8-0 run. I think that’s the disruptive part.”
If that sounds like Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors, that’s not a coincidence. Bjorkgren, who coached against Nurse in the G-League, was a top assistant on the Toronto staff for two years. He’s got a ring to show for his time in Canada.
Now Bjorkgren and his versatility will be put to the test. The Pacers have an interesting roster with Victor Oladipo entering the final year of his contract, two big men they are trying to get to work together in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, plus wings such as Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren.
“I wanted this job so bad because of the talent on this team…” Bjorkgren said. “Just getting to know them more in the last 24 hours is really special to me, and I look forward to getting to know them more as we move forward.”
How much he gets to know them remains to be seen, there is a lot of buzz around the league about the Pacers being one of the more active teams on the trade market this offseason. Will they keep both Sabonis and Turner is one question.
The bigger question is will the Pacers trade Oladipo, who played just 19 games last season due to a quadriceps tendon injury, and he was not back to the All-NBA level of a couple of years ago. Bjorkgren said Oladipo texted him not long after he got the jo, and, “we had a great talk.”
It will be an interesting season in Indiana, but a modern-style coach like Bjorkgren willing to change things up may be just what they need.