Setting the Pace

New Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and Paul George discuss depth, expectations, and small ball for the team’s upcoming season.
As the Pacers prepare to celebrate 50 years of hoops in 2017, a continued change in play is the perfect way to start off a new year. A recent press conference gave new coach Nate McMillan and superstar Paul George a chance to share their thoughts and goals for the upcoming season.


Improving Small Ball Play

One change in the game is not only a Pacers trend, but has been brewing throughout the NBA for three to four years. A game between Golden State and Memphis comes to mind for McMillan. In a match of big ball versus small ball, somehow small ball won. As a result, says the new coach, the game changed “somewhat overnight.” Teams rearranged their rosters to play a faster and stronger game. Players must now become more versatile and attack the perimeter instead of the paint. McMillan is confident that this year, President Larry Bird has built a roster that can handle that. The Pacers have one of the deepest rosters in the league, blending perfectly with their experience. “It puts us in a position to play any style we want to play,” he said. “We have added depth.”


Move Up or Move Over

A faster game also means fewer minutes for all Pacers players. According to McMillan, this demanding new style requires players to become more versatile in their positions. Coach admits that most Pacers are uncomfortable with shooting threes, but it’s something they have to overcome. There will be sacrifices this season, and time on the court will be more competitive than ever before. Players have to commit to running and playing faster, and playing as a team, but McMillan is confident that won’t be a problem. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys in their prime,” he said. “I hope we’ve got a lot of hungry guys.”

Paul George: Returning from Rio

Described by McMillan as “the best guy on the floor” during the playoffs, it’s no secret that Paul George holds a lot of power on the team. “Some examples are going to need to be set by Paul, on and off the court,” McMillan said.

Coming back with a gold medal from Rio might have been just the push Paul needed to mature as a player, setting the standard for his teammates with a positive attitude. “Winning a gold medal brings that attitude, and I plan to bring that to this team,” George said. McMillan has seen substantial growth in George since then, and he does not plan on lessening the star’s workload for the upcoming season any time soon.


A Leading Attitude

“It’s being the true leader, whether by actions or vocally—I plan on doing so both ways,” George said.

As the Pacer who’s been on the team the longest, the challenge of leadership falls to George. “I know what he (McMillan) expects out of us. I have to turn these guys around and get us to the championship,” George said. George describes this year’s team as possibly the best he’s been on, and he wants to serve as an example of what this year’s program needs to be. When asked if he is ready to join the next level, George chuckled and shook his head, saying, “I personally thought I was already in that group. Excuse you for not being on the same page.” In all seriousness, George admits that he is ready to be placed wherever he is needed and has always been a “student to this game.” Despite McMillan’s permission to opt out of training camp, the versatile forward will be running alongside his teammates, proving his dedication to his team. “I’m gonna run, it starts with me,” he said. “I’m not excited about it, but how can I get on my teammates if I’m not on the line?”


Looking Toward the Future

“We want to win, and we want to win big,” McMillan said. “That’s the goal.” Coach McMillan’s first priority is winning the Central Division followed by the East, but he realizes the team needs to take things one step at a time.

“We’re going to be together for a year, let’s make the most of it,” George said. “While I’m here, that’s number one on my list: to always be competitive.”