Indiana Pacers: one-on-one interview with Assistant Coach Jenny Boucek
The Indiana Pacers have begun the 2022-23 NBA season. After trading to go younger and now developing lottery picks, Indiana has set a course for the future.
The Indiana Pacers have begun the 2022-23 NBA season. After trading to go younger and developing recent lottery picks, Indiana has set a course for the future.
Jenny Boucek is entering her 2nd year as an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers. Seeing a brand new roster after several trades throughout last season and the offseason, she is eager to push these players to a new level. I spoke with Boucek about what the offseason entailed for this young group, Bennedict Mathurin’s ascension, and the future of Pacers basketball.
A conversation with Indiana Pacers’ Assistant Jenny Boucek
We spoke earlier about what the players and coaches were working on this offseason and you said making reads was a big focus. How do you think that has improved from the summer to now?
“Well, I think we are seeing really big improvement from our young guys, specifically Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson. Just a huge jump in their decision-making and their ability to read the game and the way the game appears to have slowed down for them. That comes with speeding up the brain… we are seeing translation with those two young players”
Both the Pacers’ draft picks from last season making a leap is great to hear. It was a long off-season for these players, but you saw the product of the work right away — look at Duarte’s summer league performance. Isaiah Jackson’s jaw-dropping athletism allows this offense to run in another dimension which has gelled nicely with the addition of Tyrese Haliburton.
The improvements of those two picks may be crucial to what this team wants to be in the seasons ahead. What is more, Kevin Pritchard has really nailed these past two drafts early. It is Duarte and Jackson who are good rotation players with starting upside, and Mathurin with Nembhard who has looked really good for their roles as rookies. That is promising stuff for a rebuilding franchise.
The 2022 NBA draft class for Indiana
The last time we spoke we didn’t know who the Pacers’ sixth pick would be. After seeing Bennedict Mathurin in Summer League and Preseason, what excites you most from the No. 6 pick?
“He is a gamer. He loves the gym he loves to compete, he loves to play, and just how downhill he is. It is a valuable thing. There is a lot to work with there but right off the bat he can get to the free-throw line and get downhill and his explosion is showing to be top-tier right out of the gate. That is a great starting point and it is something that is already setting him apart”.
Rookie of the Year odds have tipped for Mathurin who has been exceptional to start the year. In fact, the NBA rookie ladder has him a No. 2 behind Paolo Banchero after two weeks of play. The season is long, but his confidence projects to prevail. If this level of play continues throughout 2022-23, ROY should certainly be a consideration for the sixth overall pick.
Bennedict Mathurin is averaging 20.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and is shooting 42.9% from three. Also, he is showing cutting instincts early and converting at the field 45% of the time. Not bad, rook.
What’s more, Andrew Nembhard is a promising piece for the Pacers here early on. This 2022 NBA draft class showing these signs is a weight off the shoulders of this franchise — their last two drafts have been superb.
Out with the old, in with the new
What is the most significant difference you see as the season starts with this year’s Pacers team vs the start with last year’s Pacers team?
“The best way I can describe it is, it just feels like a really clean slate and a fresh start. I think this group there is no baggage. The script is all fresh there are a lot of fresh opportunities for a lot of players even some of our veteran players to ease into their roles. Because Tyrese is our leader, because we have veterans like T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner, James Johnson, you know doing the right thing is cool. That is really how you build a culture. I also think this team is very aware of what we are embarking on, the magnitude of it, and also the significance of it”.
There’s no doubt a clean slate has occurred in Indiana. When Goga Bitadze is one of the senior players on the roster, you know the team is young. Not to say Bitadze is old, but rather his tenure being one of the longest is wild since he was drafted in 2019.
The challenge ahead will be just that for this young roster which is in the midst of a rebuild. Fitting the pieces together is important and is what this season is about — finding who exactly fits and who doesn’t for the future. Rick Carlisle has used many players in the rotation already and I do not expect that to wain in any capacity. Testing lineups and fit is a crucial part of this season.
Historical significance and its impact on the future
Who’s better at roster construction than Donnie Walsh? I’ll wait.
The Pacers could see Donnie Walsh attend one of their training camp practices, who was the former brain of this team’s operations. Walsh retired in 2020 after over 30 years of service to the organization, so seeing him back around the team is a joy.
What was it like to have Donnie Walsh back at the Pacers’ practice facility?
“You know, in laying a foundation for the next generation of Pacers basketball with an immense passion and determination to get this team back into championship contention. I am well aware of the history here and we all are taking great pride in doing our part to get this franchise back to that place. There’s a tremendous history with this franchise, with this state, and with this states affair with the game. Donnie Walsh is an iconic representation of that. I think it is important for every person who is a part of our organization in particular to feel and experience it”.
While on the subject of practice, I asked about what the energy is like inside the facility when T.J. McConnell is guarding people.
What does he bring to this young team?
“It is a gift. To see a guy who has that effusive energy and passion, positivity, connectivity, and brings it every single day. You know what is really in a man when they get squeezed, get tested, when things are not going their way. So to see him through injury and adversity be the same guy every second… you know that is who he is”.
McConnell has made a name for himself in Indiana over the past few seasons and even signed the biggest contract of his career last season. His hustle is unmatched and his mentality is something I’m sure the front office wants these other teammates to be around.
He has averaged 7.6 points per game, 5.5 assists, and has shot 52% from the field in his four seasons with Indiana.
Growth and opportunity
When looking ahead to this season you think about the many young players Indiana has and how they will improve/grow in their extended minutes. Many of those excite fans, but a coach’s perspective is unmatched in nature — they are the ones assisting in development.
Players like Chris Duarte and Jalen Smith come to mind due to their opportunities and where they are in their careers. Smith has a shot
What player do you think will improve the most this upcoming season?
“We have such a young group that has tremendously high ceilings. I don’t know who is going to grow at what pace and it doesn’t really matter to me. In fact, that is not in our control. It is like when you have a kid and you try to feed them well and expose them to good nutrition but they’re going to grow when they grow — do things at their own pace. We embrace and welcome each of these men’s journey and we know they’re giving everything they can to grow as quickly as possible. We will trust the journey and enjoy it”.
For Boucek and the other coaches growing this team will have its own pace, which is rather cool given the name of the franchise. Nonetheless, that is what this process will be about — giving these players the tools to reach their potential. In the process, they want to lift this organization from a state of building to one of competing.
This team has a foundation set, the right mindset, and a direction to go. Now, the coaches and players can focus on what is most important: Basketball.
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