Is Rick Carlisle a problem for the Pacers?

After another loss to an inferior team, Pacers fans have started to speculate Rick Carlisle may be doing more harm to the team than good.
Brooklyn Nets v Indiana Pacers
Brooklyn Nets v Indiana Pacers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers are once again in the play-in picture after another heartbreaking loss against an inferior team, this one coming on Wednesday where they played down to their competition against a Brooklyn Nets team they blew out twice prior.

This loss was something of a 'greatest hits' from the Pacers in the worst way, as they had a combination of playing down to competition, poor rotations, unsavory play from veterans, and bottling late-game situations. This time, the focus has shifted towards Rick Carlisle more than anything. To fully understand the gravity of the situation, we have to discuss some context.

When the Indiana Pacers hired Rick Carlisle before the start of the 2021-22 season, it was seen as a peculiar move. After one of the worst seasons in recent memory where they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2015 and could not have had a worse coaching situation with Nate Bjorkgren, the hope was for the Pacers to hire another young coach and pivot towards a rebuild.

The hiring of Carlisle seemed to point in the opposite direction, as he was a seasoned veteran coach who coached the Pacers in the past and even won a title in 2011 with the Mavericks. Despite this, Indiana still went forward with a rebuild until the start of the 2023-24 season. After that, it was time for Carlisle and the Pacers to reap the fruits of their labor and make a playoff push.

Fast forwarding to April of 2024, and that is mostly what they did. Indiana is currently sitting at 43-34, exceeding most people's expectations before the season and surprising a lot of folks who predicted them to not make any playoff noise at all. However, with the added pressure of being a playoff team comes the faults, and the Pacers are not short of embarrassing losses this year, mostly to inferior teams.

After Wednesday's loss to Brooklyn, the Pacers dropped to an unfavorable 18-14 record against sub-.500 teams, by far the worst out of the sixteen top-eight seeds in the NBA, as no other team has more than nine.

After the Brooklyn loss, plenty of fans went out of their way to criticize Carlisle's in-game adjustments, or lack thereof, as he insisted on playing certain veterans who were not playing the best over young players who could provide more.

Specifically, Carlisle has gotten flack all season for the lack of playing time given to Jarace Walker in favor of players like Doug McDermott. Ever since arriving in Indiana, McDermott has been rather inconsistent, with his lack of defense and overall production outside of shooting. Plenty of people, myself included, have stated that Walker provides more to the table than McDermott, who has only shot 28% from deep since arriving in Indiana compared to the 44% he was shooting in San Antonio earlier this season.

In addition to McDermott, Jalen Smith was also quite unproductive on Wednesday, shooting only 4/11 from the field and getting dominated by Nic Claxton overall. Despite this, he still played 22 minutes and did not get subbed out during these awful stretches, while rookie Oscar Tshiebwe received zero minutes on the night.

Sure, some of this was due to Myles Turner sitting out due to a finger injury, but against a bad team such as Brooklyn, this should not matter and should incite a 'next man up' mentality. The loss of Myles Turner is definitely a big one, but against a team like Brooklyn, it should be the difference between a 15-point loss and a five-point loss, not the difference between a win and a loss.

The insistence on playing certain players despite their poor play also contributes to the second most prevalent issue, which is their poor play in the clutch recently. Since the All-Star break, Indiana is 1-6 in clutch situations, including the aforementioned loss to Chicago and Wednesday's stinker against Brooklyn.

While some of this is down to the growing pains of adding a new player and Tyrese Haliburton's injury woes, a lot of it comes down to coaching and insistence on principles that don't work at times. For example, the Pacers shot 4/23 from deep in the second half against Brooklyn and provided virtually no rim pressure, despite shooting 57% from inside the arc on 28 shot attempts during this time.

Of course, Rick Carlisle is not the root of all problems for the Pacers this year, nor is he not the biggest problem per se. A combination of underwhelming play, injuries, growing pains with new players, and, yes, subpar coaching has put Indiana in the situation they are in right now, which is in the thick of the play-in race with only five games left in the season.

For the Pacers to avoid the play-in and a possible Celtics matchup, they will have to get their act together, and this includes Carlisle. For as much as he has loosened up over the years as a coach, he still has some stubborn habits that have not been shed, and that may need to be shed for Indiana to reach their full potential.

This is by no means a 'fire Rick Carlisle' statement, but rather something to point out his flaws as a coach while pointing out how he can improve on those issues for the betterment of the team.