After overachieving last season, the Pacers are rewarding head coach Nate McMillan with a contract extension.
Nate McMillan entered the 2017-18 NBA season with a newly manufactured roster that did not contain any starpower. Expectations were low; most didn’t expect the Indiana Pacers to make the playoffs.
It took some time for the Pacers to get going, hovering around .500 from October through most of January. By season’s end, though, Indiana won 48 games and was the fifth seed in the East.
In the postseason, they gave LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers a hard-fought, seven-game first round series.
Outside of the Pacers organization itself, few could have predicted such a successful season. The biggest factor in this success was Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo, who changed his body and became both an All-Star and All-NBA player.
Oladipo was the leader of a roster that seemingly, as a whole, had a chip on its shoulder. Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Thaddeus Young were solid veterans that knew how to play a role. Myles Turner was a growing young player and Domantas Sabonis was a former lottery pick that was shoehorned into the wrong role in Oklahoma City.
Behind this motivated roster was McMillan, a former player himself that had success coaching under Pacers lead executive Kevin Pritchard in Portland.
McMillan didn’t receive a ton of national praise in the Coach of the Year voting, placing sixth. It made sense: unlike Dwane Casey and Brad Stevens, it was hard to find something the Pacers did that could be completely attributed to McMillan.
But it’s also unfair to not give him any credit at all. Sure, a motivated roster of NBA players—led by a budding superstar—may only need so much coaching. Their defensive improvement throughout the year was remarkable, however, and part of the reason they nearly won 50 games.
On Jan. 1, Indiana ranked 22nd in the league in Defensive Rating. On Feb. 1, they ranked 15th. Heading into the playoffs, the Pacers made it all the way up to 12th.
Pritchard decided to bring most of the roster back for next season, with Lance Stephenson being the only notable contributor to leave. Now, he has decided to lock in McMillan—extending him upon the one guaranteed year he had left on his deal.
McMillan isn’t a perfect coach, but there are only so many viable available options out there. Indiana could have waited until next summer to see what was out there, but sometimes locking in a solid option that just had a successful season is more valuable to the organization.
Indiana can now head into the season with nothing looming above its head, aside from a possible Myles Turner contract extension. After such a successful season, the pressure will be on McMillan to improve upon what he and his team showed this past season.