On Oct. 20, The Athletic’s Shams Charania broke the news via Twitter that the Indiana Pacers hired their new head coach. To the average Indiana basketball fan, this hiring might not make sense.
The name Nate Bjorkgren is not necessarily a household name to anyone south of the U.S.-Canada border. Previously serving as an assistant to Toronto Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse, Bjorkgren does not have any head coaching experience in the NBA.
Although this may seem like a questionable move, it might be exactly what the Pacers need. Although Bjorkgren has never been a head coach in the NBA, he has a strong track record. Bjorkgren previously served as the head coach of three NBA G/D-League Teams, encompassing a 126-74 record over his four seasons.
Following that, he was an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns until he joined the Toronto Raptors organization in 2017 as an advanced scout. Bjorkgren then became an assistant coach under Nurse prior to the 2018-19 regular season. That same season, the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors to capture the 2019 NBA Championship.
For the Pacers, who have not hired a head coach outside their organization since 2007, having a new perspective might go a long way.
Bjorkgren has experience coaching a championship-caliber team, and he was integral to the development of several key players on the Raptors. Point guard Fred VanVleet and shooting guard Norman Powell were both little-known prospects who flourished under the system of Nurse and Bjorkgren in Toronto.
The Raptors also have experience playing two traditional big men at the same time. This method could be beneficial to the Pacers, as the team is still experimenting with the Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis frontcourt.
It might seem risky for a franchise that has not escaped the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2013-14 to hire a head coach with no prior experience. However, this might be exactly what the Pacers need to progress.
Under previous head coach Nate McMillan, the Pacers were effective on the defensive side of the floor but lacked a modern, consistent offense to keep up with the fast-paced teams of today’s NBA.
Bjorkgren has the potential to introduce a new system that emphasizes both ends of the floor, thus revitalizing the Pacers’ current roster and pushing them to compete at a higher level. This just might bring the franchise closer to its long-awaited first NBA championship.