Indiana Pacers: Grading Nate Bjorkgren’s turbulent rookie season

Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers - Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers - Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /
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Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers
Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers – Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports /

What did Nate Bjorkgren do well in his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers?

The driving force behind Nate McMillan‘s exit and Nate Bjorkgren’s arrival was the team’s below average offense. Despite their defensive excellence under the former, their old-school and plodding scoring attack, including a head-scratching lack of acuity with three-point shooting, limited their ceiling as a playoff team in the modern NBA.

In theory, Bjorkgren was slated to diversify the team’s attack and install a faster-paced offense. In practice, there’s no question that his scoring schemes worked and paid huge dividends in maximizing the team’s potential as a point-producing unit.

Despite only making a slight jump to 14th in offensive rating from 18th and 19th in the past two seasons, it does not justify the noticeable improvements of the Indiana Pacers on offense. The Blue and Gold’s offense was always dependent on ball movement even under McMillan, but Bjorkgren maximized that this season with Indy now racking 27.4 assists per game, good for 2nd in the league. Aside from that, the team also ranks in the top five in assists percentage and assists to turnover ratio.

Another layer to their much improved offense is the pace, where the Pacers made a tremendous jump. This season, they finished 4th in the department, which is a colossal leap from the previous two campaigns where they ranked 25th and 22nd, respectively. In fact, this is the highest that Indiana has ranked on pace since the 2009-10 season.

In addition, as you might expect from a high-tempo team, Indy managed to rack up more opportunities this season. Again, only Golden State recorded more possessions than them this season, as they also tallied the third-most field goal attempts per contest, canning 47.4 percent, good for 11th. Not to be left out as well is their uptick on three-point attempts, where they now rank 18th after being 29th and 30th in the past two seasons.

More impressively, the team numbers don’t tell the whole story. On an individual basis, a lot of players had career years scoring the ball. Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Oshae Brissett and Edmond Sumner all registered career-highs in scoring this season, attributing to the modern and more potent attack that Bjorkgren installed in Indy.

Evidently, much of Bjorkgren’s strength this season lies in the Indiana Pacers’s much-improved offense. With multiple players having career years and the team boasting great offensive numbers, there’s no question that he’s been as good of an offensive engineer as advertised. And better yet, there’s still room for growth, especially with a healthier lineup.

Grade: B+