Stinar: Third-seeded Pacers have built a great culture

Nate McMillan's Pacers have bought into the culture he's brought to the franchise.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers have a combined one All-Star appearance on their entire roster. Victor Oladpio’s 2018 All-Star Game appearance is the only appearance any current Pacer has made. Yet, they are the third seed in the Eastern Conference, in front of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, just 3.5 games back of the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.

A lot of teams preach culture, but only few can execute at a high level. Everyone in the Pacers locker room has one goal — win. There are no hidden agendas for this team. There is almost a college feel to the group. They believe in their coach and love their teammates. Rare at the NBA level.

“We have a lot of unselfish guys on this team,” Cory Joseph told Amico Hoops. “Next-man-up mentality and very talented, very deep team.”

Joseph has never been an All-Star, but his words carry immense weight when it comes to culture. He played for the San Antonio Spurs for the first four years of his career, winning a championship in 2014.

“The whole culture,” Joseph said. “Everybody. The front office, coach, players, I think it’s a mixture of everything.”

Credit must be given to coach Nate McMillan in addition to the players. After taking over in 2016, he has exceeded expectations in every way. The team lost in the first round of the playoffs during his first season as coach, and final season of the Paul George era. However, he took a group of players no one had faith in to make the playoffs and had the Pacers one game away from knocking off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. This season, the expectations are ramped up and the team has responded.

“We value our relationships with each other, our friendship, and we play for one another,” Thad Young said. “We play as if we’re brothers and family. We try to move the ball and get everyone involved in the offense, because we know we reap the benefits of getting a win.”

When Oladipo missed time this season, the Pacers didn’t miss a beat. They started slow, but finished his 11-game absence on a four-game winning streak and went 7-4 without their star.

“We believe in the family concept. Next man up,” Young said. “Any given night, we know anyone can step up.”