Nate McMillan should be NBA Coach of the Year for helping the Indiana Pacers remain a Top 3 team in the East without Victor Oladipo.
But the overlooked coaching masterpiece is ongoing in Indiana where Nate McMillan — one of just eight African-American coaches of the 32-team NBA — has withstood the crushing loss of franchise player and All-Star Victor Oladipo, held fort and has the Pacers firmly positioned as the third seed, one game ahead of the surging Philadelphia Sixers.
Indiana is 40-20. They are only 5.5 games behind Milwaukee and have the 5th best winning % in the NBA.
Oladipo has missed 40% of the season and their next best players are Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Bojan Bogdanovich.
Nate McMillan honestly might deserve Coach of the Year.
— Lance Smith (@LanceSmithTPC) February 25, 2019
When Oladipo was carried off on a stretcher on January 24th with a serious knee injury, most basketball fans expected a precipitous drop in the standings for the Pacers.
Oladipo is the only bonafide superstar that they had. It couldn’t have been any worse for McMillan, who had just won a Coach of the Month award for a stellar December in which the Pacers went 12-3 and looked to be a true blue, but slept=on contender in the Eastern Conference.
With Oladipo’s defensive grit leading the way and McMillan masterminding the flow, Indiana beat Milwaukee and Philadelphia in back-to-back games in December. Even in the three losses, the Pacers kept it close with only a 5-point margin of victory between those games.
In Oladipo’s absence, guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis, Wesley Matthews and Myles Turner have stepped up, while McMillan continues to orchestrate winning game plans with the NBA’s fifth-rated defense. The stingy, scrappy Pacers yield the fewest points per game in the entire league (103.3).
This kind of leadership and basketball acumen is exactly what Indiana hoped for when they signed McMillan to a multi-year extension in September. After all, he is no new jack. He was a super solid point guard for 12 NBA seasons with Seattle.
Then he coached the Seattle Supersonics from the 2000-2001 season to the 2004-05 season before moving onto Portland for a coaching tenure that lasted 43 games into the 2011-12 season. McMillan made the playoffs five times with these teams, before being fired and landing as an assistant in Indiana for three seasons.
McMillan, who averaged 6.1 assists over his NBA career, was lucky enough to get another shot at a head coaching gig when Indiana promoted him. After taking over for former coach Frank Vogel, he won 42 games and was swept in the first round of the playoffs in his first season. Some folks wanted Larry Bird and Co. to give him the traditional quick hook on African-American coaches.
Then the McMillan Effect kicked in. Before the 2017-18 season, the Pacers were projected to be a lottery team, but ended up one of the biggest surprises in the NBA with a 48-34 record and a No. 5 seed in the East.
Overall, the 54-year-old McMillan has a 130-95 record in 2.5 seasons with the Pacers and had led the team to the playoffs the past two seasons.
“I’m really proud of what Nate and our coaching staff have done,” President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said about McMillan back in September. “Nate is very deserving of this extension. We have a wonderful culture and he has been a big part of implementing that culture. He’s dedicated leader, a very good coach and we’re lucky to have him here with the Pacers.”
When Oladipo returns next year, Indiana will become an even tougher draw for Eastern Conference opponents. McMillan is coaching his ass off and taking some of these coaches to school on a nightly basis. His team’s ability to stop other teams from scoring and the way he led a seamless transition to a post-Oladipo second half of the season has to be commended.
If any super high profile NBA head coaching jobs open up, you have to believe McMillan will be one of the first guys called.