Defensive DNA, a visit from a former head coach, and trusting in those you hire: Pacers camp notes after three days

They had three productive practices, then took Friday off. Also, The Fieldhouse reopens after being closed for the summer.

After media day and three full practices, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle gave the team Friday off. “Practices have been very good, very enthusiastic,” he said. “Everybody’s going hard, everybody’s into it.”

One area where Carlisle is already different from past Pacers leaders is that he eliminated two-a-days in camp. He said he hasn’t done it “in a long time” — simply because he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

Under Frank Vogel and Nate McMillan, the team had three or four two-a-days during camp each fall. Part of it is health management, part of it is a condensed schedule. Instead of playing upwards of eight exhibition games, that’s been sliced in half.

Their first preseason game occurs just a week after camp opened, Oct. 5 in New York. When asked earlier this week about how long he plans to play key players, Carlisle hadn’t even gotten there.

“You want to know who’s gonna play how many minutes in six days?” he quipped. “The planets will change their orbital phase a few times before then.”

As T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert miss time due to injuries, Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday have been playing with the starters.

According to the players, Carlisle is keeping it simple to start. They’ve gone back to the basics. They’ve gone over defensive principles, discussed offensive concepts and worked a lot on shooting.

As I wrote earlier this week, there’s an emphasis on 3-point shooting for the entire team — guards to centers.

Where it starts, according to Carlisle, is on the defensive end. “We’ve stated that this is a strong area of emphasis. Every place I’ve gone as a head coach, I’ve learned the number one to improve is to improve defensively. It happened in Detroit, it happened the first time here.”

In his first season as a head coach, he took the Pistons from 32 wins to 50 wins in 2001. And in 2003, his first seasons as Pacers head coach, they won 13 more games than the previous year.

There’s no argument, they were pitiful defensively last season. It was a stray from the norm. Here’s a brief reminder.

  • Defensive rating: 14th, 111.9. (Last season: 6th, 107.5)

  • Opponent second-chance points: 30th, 15.3. (18, 13.2)

  • Opponent points in the paint: 30th, 53.8. (14, 47.6)

“Where we’ve made our hay in this league is when you came in this building, you got defended,” team president Kevin Pritchard said in May. “And the feedback that we got from other players and other coaches was that we weren’t as good. That is, by far, the most important thing that we have to take a look at.

“When we defended well, it gave us an opportunity to win. And we need to get back to that defensive identity.”

See Also: Franchise turns to Carlisle for stability and to restore credibility

Did you follow who the Pacers added to the roster? Mostly guys who play hard and are defensive-minded. Like Torrey Craig, who can challenge big wings, DeJon Jarreau, and even Justin Anderson in the G League. You can also include first-round picks Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, both disruptors.

“We’re introducing guys into our situation that had this DNA,” said Carlisle. “I should also mention that guys that we brought in on two-ways and Exhibit 10s also are tough-minded, defensive-oriented guys. Hard play is such an important part of success in our league. I think everybody knows that, but we’ve really gone that direction with guys that we’ve brought in.”

Former NBA Head Coach Drops By

A familiar face attended the second day of practice: former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen. He sat along the north sideline with Pacers scouts and Mad Ants coaches.

Boylen, 56, lives in Indianapolis and even attended the Pacers' final home game last season, a play-in game against the Hornets back on May 18. He was with his two daughters.

Boylen was out of the NBA last season after two seasons as Bulls head coach (2018-20). You may remember him from his time with the Pacers on Frank Vogel’s staff from 2011-13. He left to join Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio and was part of their 2014 NBA Championship.

Like Carlisle for two years (1979-1981), Boylen played college basketball at the University of Maine from 1983 to 1987.

“He’s a great basketball man,” said Carlisle, who also serves as the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “He has a lot of knowledge about the game. He’s a long-time friend.”

Trust In Those You Hire

At the three practices so far, reporters have been allowed in after all the main work is complete. So all we’ve been able to see is their final drill: 3-point shooting. (And ringing the bell!)

That means we’re unable to observe the coaching staff, see who speaks up and who leads a session, etc. There has been a lot of one-on-one time, like Ronald Nored working with Kelan Martin or Jenny Boucek tweaking T.J. McConnell’s shot.

One of the big knocks on Nate Bjorkgren was how he declined to empower his coaching staff. He failed big time in that department. Watching game huddles, the assistants stood behind him and he made sure everyone knew he was in control.

Unable to see how Carlisle handles things thus far, I asked him how he chooses to utilize his staff.

“I hire talented people and let them do what they do,” he said positively. “Ultimately, I’m in charge of everything. I’ve always believed in delegating to people who are worthy of that kind of responsibility. Lloyd and Ron and Mike and Jenny — this is is one of the best staffs I’ve ever had.”

Carlisle has made Lloyd Pierce defensive coordinator and Mike Weinar, who you may remember from coaching the summer Pacers, will head up the offense.

The Fieldhouse Reopens Friday

After undergoing round two of renovations, it opens back up to the public Friday night for a concert, Dan + Shay. It is also the first event since March 2020 that can be at full capability. Pacers games were limited to 25 percent by the end of the season.

Not only will the building be much improved after a big refresh, it also has a new name: Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Temporary signage is already up outside both entrances.

Thursday on Twitter, the following graphic was shared on The Fieldhouse’s account.

According to Pollstar, The Fieldhouse sold the second-most tickets since fans could attend events again. They only trailed the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which hosts sports and entertainment events almost daily, including the Lakers, Clippers, LA Kings of the NHL and LA Sparks of the WNBA.

That’s a huge accomplishment. But the context of the situation needs to be understood too.

This data is from Nov. 19, 2020 to Aug. 18, 2021, which spans throughout much of the pandemic and includes March Madness. The Fieldhouse went on an incredible stretch last spring of hosting 43 games in 40 days — from the girls and boys high school state finals to the Big Ten women's basketball tournament and 16 March Madness games, in addition to the Pacers. Meanwhile, many arenas did not allow fans until early summer.

Nonetheless, Mel Raines and her entire team did a great job of hosting Pacers games, serving as a host site for March Madness and then resuming renovations, which should be completed in early 2023.

FAQ: Health Requirements to Attend Pacers Games?

Several Pacers fans reached out to me asking whether there were any health requirements to attend games since single-game tickets went on sale this week.

Many teams around the league are requiring either proof of vaccination OR a negative COVID-19 test. That will not be the case in Indy for the majority of fans at Pacers games.

Following guidance issued by the Marion Country Health Department, masks are recommended but not required. As of now, that’s the situation beginning with Pacers FanJam, scheduled for Oct. 10. They will then host two preseason games, Oct. 13 and 15 against the Grizzlies and Cavaliers, respectively.

However, select ticket-holders with seats around the court and by the benches, there is a requirement for vaccination or proof of a recent negative test. Those ticket-holders should expect to hear from the team in the next few weeks.

Also of note…