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 Pacer
Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers – Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Where did Nate Bjorkgren fall short in his first year with the Indiana Pacers?

Aside from offense, Nate Bjorkgren struggled in almost every aspect of the game on a coaching standpoint. You’d think that with an improved scoring unit, the Indiana Pacers will be better than last season’s finish, but there are a lot of factors that chipped in to their lottery finish this year, and a lot of that rest on the coach’s laurels.

First, the defense was noticeably worse compared to previous seasons. Their 14th-ranked defensive rating is a major slip from their excellent 3rd and 6th finishes in their last two campaigns under McMillan. And it doesn’t even stop there. Despite finishing 5th in steals and leading the league in blocks, Indiana had the 6th-worst scoring defense in the campaign, allowing the opposition to bleed a staggering 115.3 points per outing.

More so, the Pacers surrendered the most second-chance points per game and were tied for 5th in allowing the most fast break points. Most disappointing is their defense on the paint, where they were the worst in the association after being 4th and 14th in the same category in the last two campaigns.

Bjorkgren’s shifty tactics and possession-by-possession approach on defense was a recurring theme that worked in Toronto, but not in Indy. The schemes were quite effective in throwing offenses off, but his penchant for puzzling set-ups, like deploying zones against good shooting teams, and questionable decisions on points of concession, like leaving the corners open to aggressively tag the pick and roll, doomed the team on multiple occasions, which led to blown leads and poor clutch play.

Also, his minutes management this season was simply on Thibodeau territory. He often went to extreme lengths in going with the hot hand, notably leaving players on the court for almost entire halves. Even in blowouts, it took him a long while to pull the trigger on deploying the third stringers with the game already decided.

Lastly, as you may have guessed, his off-court difficulties with gaining significant traction in the locker room aggravated an already dire team situation. His micromanagement of players, abrasive communication style, and alleged rift with the staff unsurprisingly shocked many, especially the Indiana Pacers organization that banked on resilience and continuity to build a strong culture.

While the reports may have been overblown, especially with players coming to defense, the tension has already been built, and may have been a major factor in his uncertain future.

Grade: C-