Agness’ Observations: Pacers Training Camp 2017

For the fifth consecutive year, proudly presents: Agness’ Observations.

The Pacers hit the reset on the roster, trading Paul George before they lost him in free agency a year later, and turning their attention to development.

“For us, it’s continual improvement,” said Pacers President Kevin Pritchard. “We’ve put all of our resources into the culture of development.”

Only six players are back off last season’s roster that went 42-40 and finished seventh in the Eastern Conference. They participated in postseason competition for the 22nd time over the last 28 years. But it didn’t last long. They were swept in Round 1 by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

And after seven seasons, the Paul George era was over.

They used three draft picks on players 18, 20, and 21 years old signaling their focus to the future. Nate McMillan is back for his second year as head coach of the team.

“We do have a roster that I expect to come in hungry and I expect to have a chip on their shoulder with something to prove,” he said prior to camp. … We have an opportunity to mold these guys and create a culture that will be exciting.”

The Pacers will play four games in the preseason, but only one at home. That will come on Tuesday, Oct. 10 against Maccabi Haifa. FanJam is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 15 and then their season opener will be at home on Wednesday, Oct. 18 against the Brooklyn Nets.

[Click here for a breakdown of Indiana’s regular-season schedule]

The Pacers brought 20 players to camp, the maximum allowed by NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Opening day rosters must be set by Oct. 16.

In addition to my stories throughout camp, I’ll share my daily observations from practice below. This is my fourth year in a row posting daily practice observations.

Previous editions:

2013  | 2014  |  2015 |  2016

Monday, Sept. 26 — Media Day

+ A new energy. That seemed to be reiterated by each of the six returning players. They are young, but eager to get after it.

+ Thad Young said he thought he may get dealt in the offseason after seeing Paul George traded to the Thunder. He definitely believes his role will change this year. After taking a back seat last season, he says “but now I have to step into a different role where I have to score a little bit more, I have to add a couple more aspects to my game.” His left (shooting) wrist is 100 percent.

+ Lance Stephenson says he willingly embraces being the sixth man. (But only time will tell.) I wrote about that.

+ On leadership, most said that needs to come from Young, Al Jefferson, and Myles Turner.

[Photo Gallery from Media Day]

+ Knee soreness kept T.J. Leaf from scrimmaging over the last month but he will be ready to go for the first day of training camp. He’s 100 percent now. Ike Anigbogu will ease into things.

+ The other second-round pick, Edmond Sumner, is not expected back until December or January, according to Pritchard. The plan is for him to then practice some with the team, and then be with the Mad Ants. He’s on a two-way contract.

+ In a year where the league shortened the preseason, the Pacers believe this is a year they could have benefited from an extended preseason and more than the four games they have schedule now. Down from six in recent seasons.

+ On talent in the league going west, Victor Oladipo said “That’s crazy. They’re all over there, right? The west is on steroids.” Pritchard added that he’s “never seen anything like it.”

+ Pritchard praised Domantas Sabonis, who will play the four and five, for being in the gym often since being acquired by the team. “You can’t keep him out of the gym.”

+ Asked about the demonstrations in the NFL, Pritchard said he supports the players speaking out and being socially active.

+ Damien Wilkins’ deal is only partially guaranteed, meaning two roster spots are up for grabs in the preseason.

+ Several players wore PG1s, Paul George’s signature shoe — including Myles Turner and Thad Young.

[VIDEO: Players at Media Day]

Tuesday, Sept. 26 (AM) — Practice No. 1

+ They spent most of the first practice on defense and running. Several players were impressed by Myles Turner’s speed down the floor, and Lance Stephenson said that running will be important to this group. “We have to beat teams differently,” he said.

+ The first group, wearing blue, was the five we expected: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thad Young, and Myles Turner.

+ The second group, wearing white, included newcomer Domantas Sabonis at center, playing alongside Corey Joseph, Lance Stephenson, Glenn Robinson III, and T.J. Leaf. The third unit (in red) was Joe Young, Damien Wilkins, Alex Poythress, Jarrod Uthoff, and Al Jefferson.

+ With just six returning players, much of this time is spent getting to know one another and learning where to set each other up.

+ Darren Collison: “I love playing with Myles Turner. He’s such a smooth player offensively and defensively.”

+ Oladipo’s first impression of the team: “Very fast. One through five. Myles be moving up and down the floor pretty well for a big fella. It’s going to be fun, fun to watch.

+ Mad Ants head coach Steve Gansey wasn’t just observing. He was actively coaching in the ten minutes or so media watched.

+ Watching practice: Brebeuf’s Todd Howard, Southport’s Kyle Simpson, IUPUI assistant Matt Crenshaw, Derek Elston and several more from Indiana, a former Ohio State assistant under Thad Matta, plus Mad Ants coaches.

+ T.J. Leaf on his first NBA practice: “It’s definitely a big adjustment”

Thursday, Sept. 28 (AM) — Practice No. 4

+ Myles Turner continues to praise the tenor of practice, pushing the message that their last several practices have been their best in his three years here.

+ Watching practice: Two IUPUI assistant coaches, a coach from the University of Indianapolis.

Friday, Sept. 29 (AM) — Practice No. 6

+ Glenn Robinson III went down hard and was helped onto a cart. “He went up to attack the basket and one of our guys went up to contest the show and came down on his leg,” coach McMillan shared. Robinson III will get X-Rays.

+ Watching practice: Butler head coach LaVall Jordan and assistant Jeff Meyer. Both were assistants when Glenn played at Michigan.

Saturday, Sept. 28 (AM) — Practice No. 7

+ Robinson III is expected to miss eight weeks due to a left high ankle sprain. He’s in positive spirits, but cannot put any pressure on his left foot, which is in a boot. He’s thankful that it’s not worse, not a fracture nor ACL as first thought.

+ It’s clear that the players are still getting used to each other. For instance, they haven’t learned to stay attentive when Lance has the ball … because it may be headed their way.

+ The third group struggled, consistently getting beat on defense.

+ The players each had to make — not take, but make — 50 free throws before completing practice.

+ Watching practice: Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing.

Monday, Oct. 2 (AM) — Practice No. 9

+ Practice had an edge, and was more chippy than we saw last week. This comes after the team completed their three two-a-day practices and then had Sunday off. Players were hitting the deck and pushing one another. That’s a good thing.

+ For instance, Darren Collison to Lance after a hard foul: “Chill out, Lance.” … and Myles Turner to his team after giving up two straight baskets, “We need to finish the game, blue.”

+ McMillan said the second unit has been “very competitive” with the starters.

+ 37-year-old Damien Wilkins spent time scrimmaging with the second unit as the team needs a guy (or two) to fill the minutes of GRIII. Alex Poythress figures in that conversation as well. He has great strength and is solid defensively.

+ Second-round pick Ike Anigbogu scrimmaged with the team for the first time after being limited to half-court work (and no scrimmaging) up to this point due to injury. He’s big and bulky, able to battle in the post.

+ McMillan said it’s clear they still need to work on their conditioning. When scrimmaging Monday (with two referees on hand), guys were winded after four or five trips down the floor.

+ The players will vote on team captains after the preseason is complete.

+ I get asked a lot about Larry Bird being around and how often he plans to be at practice. Often. Nothing has changed in terms of the former team president sitting courtside for practice. We’ll see if he still attends games often, but it’s rare that he’s not at practice.

+ Not only is Edmond Sumner not practicing, neither is Trey McKinney-Jones (shoulder). He spent much of today in the training room.

+ Dan Dyrek, the team’s physical therapist consultant out of Boston, was in town for camp. He typically visits with the team every few weeks throughout the season.

+ Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Rick Fuson issued a statement on security & safety after Las Vegas shooting.

+ Watching practice: Members of the Ball State basketball staff.

Tuesday, Oct. 3 (AM) — Practice No. 10

+ It’s clear Nate McMillan is ready to see the team in game action. He repeated the line “ready to play someone in a different uniform” probably ten times.

+ Expect 10 to 12 guys to play the majority of the minutes. With so many new faces, this time is important.

+ I asked Myles about McMillan urging the team to be better conditioned. “Yeah, that’s just coach for you. Coach wants us to be in what he calls ‘Olympic-level shape.’ We have a young team so he wants to be able to run teams out the gym.”

+ Cory Joseph says he isn’t too worried about his position battle with Darren Collison for the starting position. He’s even keel, and very poised. Clearly a product of the San Antonio Spurs. “I just focus on winning games. I let the chips fall in place. I’m always trying to be the best I can be, but my main focus is to win games.”

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