Nate McMillan does not get the respect he deserves coaching Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillan is high-level but does not generally get discussed at a top-tier leader in the NBA. Why is that?

Nate McMillan does a great job leading the Indiana Pacers. Coming into the 2019-20 season he was asked to lead his roster through somewhat disturbed waters, including the team’s best player being injured, seven new players incoming from the NBA Draft or free agency, and a new-look starting lineup that felt like a possible recipe for disaster.

With the NBA on pause due to concerns about COVID-19, the Pacers are fifth in the Eastern Conference with a winning record. While ultimately if the season returns the expectation will be to push higher, McMillan has pushed his team this season and exceeded the expectations.

We have to believe press onward they might have, as their final 10 games before the season was unexpectedly paused was 7-3, the best of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

The development of players like T.J. Warren can’t totally be chalked up to coaching, but one has to wonder how much he was held back when with the Phoenix Suns if he’s just now putting all the pieces together. Sure, parts of his experience in Phoenix have to be helping him now, but the culture in Indiana is drawing out his most well-rounded season yet.

McMillan has played 11 different 5-man lineups 50 minutes or more this season. 8 of those lineups have positive net ratings. He was directed to start both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, an experiment that many had trepidations about that has worked well so far if you define that as a positive net rating when they share the floor together.

The way McMillan has offset the duo’s minutes, though, has been good. He keeps Sabonis in at the start of the second and fourth quarters giving him run with the second unit and providing strength and inside force for his bench.

In his four years coaching the Pacers he’s gone 177-134. Though his Pacers teams have never advanced in the playoffs, he’s never missed out on the postseason in his time as coach of the Pacers and has won Coach of the Month twice with Indiana.

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Nate McMillan doesn’t get quite as much shine as he should because he’s quality

When it comes to coaching, sometimes no news is good news, quite frankly. Think of the coaches you hear most about in the NBA.

Mike D’Antoni, Brett Brown, Jim Boylen, Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich, and Mike Budenholzer are the names that surface for me right off the bat.

Spoelstra, Popovich, and Budenholzer are the only names that stick out to me as being known for leading winning programs. It’s taken years and years for them to build up their winning reputations and to be recognized league-wide as such great coaches.

McMillan is in just year four with the Pacers after a long stint with the Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers where his team only made the playoffs five times out of his 12 seasons. Many of those years were full of injuries, though.

The other coaches, D’Antoni, Brown, and Boylen, they come to mind because they’re repeatedly talked about as being on their way out with their current teams.

It takes a lot to get talked about as a coach in a positive way on a national level. If you’re doing a good or even a great job, you’re generally going to fly beneath the radar. Quin Snyder with the Utah Jazz likens in many ways to this.

Quality coaching doesn’t always lead to much praise. The product is on the floor, and the players often get recognition, even if the coach is responsible.

McMillan is good, real good.

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