Hopes were high for the Indiana Pacers when they hired championship coach and former Pacers playcaller Rick Carlisle in the offseason. Having moved on from the maligned tenure of Nate Bjorkgren, the team was expected to contend for a playoff spot this season after missing the postseason in the previous campaign.
The move, however, did not move the needle at all for Indiana in the wins aspect. Still, the veteran coach cannot have his performance gauged through a mere glance at the team’s record, considering the circumstances around the franchise this season and a sudden switcheroo in direction.
Did Rick Carlisle have a successful season with the Indiana Pacers in 2021-22?
Rick Carlisle in 2021-22 was a tale of two Carlisles. When the Indiana Pacers still clung to their previous core group early in the season, the veteran tactician tweaked a lot of Bjorkgren’s offensive foundations, forcing the team to move deliberately and emphasize half-court sets in hopes of exploiting their size advantage. The three-point shots remained a prominent feature, but the Pacers primarily turned to their perimeter players to initiate the offense, turning away from Domantas Sabonis post-ups to commence sets.
On defense, Indiana was middling early in the season. Their rim defense was hit-and-miss despite Myles Turner being Myles, but worse, their perimeter defense simply cannot keep up with the other teams to the point where stringing multiple stops was completely preternatural.
While Carlisle’s intangibles beyond the on-court product were filled with positives, the Pacers simply didn’t have much going for them. Injuries once again captained the list of reasons for failure, but even coaching was far from a saving grace in the first half of the season.
However, when Indiana shifted gears and traded for Tyrese Haliburton, Rick Carlisle moved accordingly and made apt adjustments to the team’s framework.
On offense, the Pacers played more like their moniker suggests, pushing the ball almost instinctively with Haliburton as the featured playmaker. The ball moved more as the team played faster, resulting in a lot of high-scoring games. Even their three-point shooting became a more zesty staple, perhaps as a result of inserting Buddy Hield, Haliburton, and Jalen Smith to the team’s attack.
Defensively, the Pacers sunk near the bottom of the ship. Playing undersized against most teams on a nightly basis, the team simply didn’t have enough size to cope up with their inherent lack of defensive acuity individually and as a unit.
Grading Rick Carlisle this season is near impossible, if only for the polarity of direction and roster-building that defined the Indiana Pacers in 2021-22. If anything, the team is fortunate to have a familiar culture-setter who can piece things together in the Circle City as the franchise embarks on a youth movement for the first time in literal decades. An experienced and decorated coach like Carlisle, with more time, could unlock the potential of this growing Pacers core in the near future.
At the very least, the Pacers have a coach who is willing to be vulnerable. Just don’t nitpick too much on the wins, or the lack thereof, for the meantime.