Takeaways From The Indiana Pacers’ Scrimmages In The NBA Bubble

The Indiana Pacers have completed their scrimmages in the NBA bubble, the last official step the team had to complete before restarting their season.

The Blue and Gold went 2-1 in the three games, but truly, the wins and losses didn’t matter. These games were all about ironing out kinks that had appeared as a result of the team being apart for months during the NBA shutdown. “We will be working on some things,” Head Coach Nate McMillan said of his approach to these scrimmages, referring to chemistry, the rotation, a few sets, and more.

These preseason-esque games were a great opportunity for the Pacers to perfect those types of things and get ready for the season. And in the absence of Domantas Sabonis, there was plenty to learn about the team, and the bubble, from these three battles.

One takeaway that was unexpected is that the Pacers played faster than most anticipated. They hunted for shots early in the shot clock and looked to attack in semi-transition instead of setting up plays or actions.

In the regular season, Indiana ranked 24th in pace. In the three scrimmage games, the squad operated as the sixth fastest team in the NBA. They were flying on offense.

Sabonis’ absence plays a large role in this. Without the All-Star center in the lineup, the Pacers inserted Aaron Holiday into the starting five, a smaller guard with a quick trigger. The decrease in size combined with an increase in ball-handling allowed the Eastern Conference’s fifth-seeded team to play a much different style.

“You’ve just got so many ball handlers on the floor,” starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon said of the guard-heavy lineup. “It’s going to be super beneficial for us.”

Sabonis will miss time in the seeding games, so the Pacers will likely carry this faster group into the regular season. It had varied levels of success, but it gives the team a new look for opposing teams to plan for.

When viewing a TV broadcast of the scrimmages, nothing feels particularly weird or off during the course of play. But when the camera pans away from the action, or when a timeout gets called, it becomes clear just how different these games are.

There was no crowd physically in the stadium, though there were some virtual fans on giant big screens. The amount of noise pumped in by the arena was much lower than normal. All the players on the bench sat much farther apart than they do in a standard game. There were frequent reminders of the new reality the NBA faces:

With essentially just the two teams playing and their coaches in the gym, it is much quieter than a typical basketball game. So quiet, in fact, that players can hear play calls around them.

“You can hear everything. I actually think that will be an advantage as far as basketball goes,” Pacers forward Justin Holiday said. “Especially down the stretch if you’re defending on the same side as your bench, because you’ll be able to literally tell dudes what is happening behind them from the bench. So I think that’s going to be good for our communication as a team.”

Indiana Pacers’ Justin Holiday plays during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the … [+] Philadelphia 76ers, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

All-Star guard Victor Oladipo similarly noted that the environment of the arena will have an impact on the games. “It’s different. It’s not as loud. It’s a lot more quiet, you can hear everything,” he said. “You can hear play calls, you can hear coverages. Everything. You can hear guys talking.”

Between the impact that the volume of the gym will have on games to the spaced out, socially distanced bench, the atmosphere of the games in the bubble will be unlike any NBA game ever seen before.

One of the biggest factors in Indiana’s success this season was their bench. With zero starters on the floor, the Blue and Gold had a net rating of +8.8, the third best mark in the league. When only one starter was in the game, Indiana had a net rating of +2.9, which ranked 12th. Indiana’s bench terrorized opponents and expanded leads.

That continued in the scrimmages, which is important for the Pacers’ outlook during the remainder of their season. “I think we have a good thing going,” T.J. McConnell said of the Pacers second unit in the exhibitions. “Everyone has bought into their role.”

Indiana’s reserve unit continued to show off its talent during the three pre-restart matchups. The group scored 51 points per game, the ninth-highest figure league wide, and had the 10th best +/- of any bench. They also shot the ball incredibly well from deep at 39.5%.

What makes these numbers even more impressive is the fact that the backups changed after the first game. Against the Trail Blazers, the Pacers were without both Sabonis and Myles Turner, so T.J. Leaf operated as the reserve center. In the final two scrimmages, Turner returned and pushed Leaf out of the rotation in lieu of JaKarr Sampson.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – NOVEMBER 12: T.J. McConnell #9 and T.J. Leaf #22 of the Indiana Pacers defend … [+] against Dennis Schroder #17 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half of a game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on November 12, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Pacers defeated the Thunder 111-85. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

If Indiana’s bench can continue to be one of the best in the league even without Sabonis leading the way, the Pacers may be able to steal some games in the playoffs.

While Sabonis got hurt preparing for the NBA restart, no Pacers players got injured playing in the scrimmages.

That’s a big deal. The quick nature of the league’s re-opening makes injuries far more likely as players ramp up into game shape rapidly. Escaping these warm-up fights without a player experiencing muscle soreness or dealing with an injury means the Pacers are ready for the season as healthy as they can be, sans Sabonis.

During the regular season, Indiana typically played nine guys in its rotation. If a tenth player received playing time, it was Goga Bitadze for about five minutes. But that was a rarity.

In the bubble scrimmages, McMillan decided to expand the team’s rotation to 10 guys in all three games. The second unit was filled with five bench players in T.J. McConnell, Edmond Sumner, Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, and JaKarr Sampson; and the Pacers frequently played all five of these players together.

And all ten guys played over 13 minutes in both of Indiana’s last two scrimmages. Expanding the rotation is a good way to reduce the workload of all players by slightly limiting each player’s minutes, so the coaching staff likely did this with health and development in mind.

McMillan wouldn’t commit to the expanded rotation in the seeding games. “We’ll see [about the rotation] once we get to the regular season. We’ve got 10 guys that can play. We will go into the regular season and we will figure out that rotation,” he said.

If the coach does cut the rotation back to nine, Edmond Sumner is the most likely player to see his playing time slashed (assuming Oladipo decides to suit up and play). But the Pacers could keep the ten-man rotation until the playoffs start to ensure the health of the team until the games become more important.

Now, the games count. When the Pacers suit up Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers, the win or loss will impact their record. But thanks to these three scrimmages, the team will be more prepared to take down the team chasing them in the standings.

I cover the Indiana Pacers and NBA players from the state of Indiana. I have done so for many years with written content, both as the Site Expert for the Fansided

I cover the Indiana Pacers and NBA players from the state of Indiana. I have done so for many years with written content, both as the Site Expert for the Fansided network’s Pacers site 8 Points, 9 Seconds and for the West Indianapolis Community News, a local newspaper here in Indianapolis. In both places, I was able to tell stories about the team stemming from my perspective, which is largely built on the strategic elements of the game of basketball. Additionally, I have spent the last two seasons covering the Indiana Pacers in podcast form for the Locked On Pacers podcast, a daily podcast that discusses everything there is to know about the team.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonyeast/2020/07/30/takeaways-indiana-pacers-scrimmages-nba-bubble/

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