INDIANAPOLIS – The hire will have many fans asking, ‘Who?’ or ‘How do you say his name?’
Yep, it will take a little bit of learning to get the full story on new Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren.
The 45-year-old Bjorkgren will take over the Pacers—as Shams Charania of The Athletic first reported on Tuesday—with just 4 years of experience on an NBA staff (2 seasons with the Raptors and 2 seasons with the Suns).
“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said in a team release. “This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous. We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward.”
“I am honored to take on the role as head coach of the Indiana Pacers,” Bjorkgren added. “This is something I have prepared for during my career. I want to thank Kevin, Chad (Buchanan), Kelly (Krauskopf), Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Herb and Steve Simon for this opportunity. I also want to thank Nick Nurse for giving me my first professional coaching job 14 years ago.”
“I’m looking forward to working with this great team to achieve our goal as NBA Champions.”
Bjorkgren has never been an NBA head coach, but has sat in the No. 1 chair at the D/G-League and Summer League levels for a handful of years (Bjorkgren was 126-74 as a head coach in the D/G-League).
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has a long history of coaching with and against Bjorkgren. It was Nurse wanting Bjorkgren on his staff in 2018, when he took over the Raptors.
Toronto won the NBA Finals during Bjorkgren’s first season as a Toronto assistant. The Raptors followed that up with an overachieving regular season in 2019-20, despite losing Kawhi Leonard in the offseason.
It’s clear that Bjorkgren was well liked by Raptors players.
In this piece by Eric Koreen on The Athletic, Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry had the following to say about Bjorkgren:
“Nate is the…,” Lowry said before restarting his sentence. “Yeah, I would say he is the f-ing man.”
Looking for the style the Pacers might play, the Raptors finished the 6th and 11th in three-point attempts during Bjorkgren’s two seasons there. Despite having some bigger personnel, they tended to shy away from using two bigs together in a starting lineup.
What Pacers fans should be intrigued by is the success Toronto had in winning an NBA title with a dominant star (Kawhi Leonard) and then following it up the next season by still earning the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, thanks to key player development aiding them. The likes of Toronto guard Fred VanVleet, forward OG Anunoby and forward Pascal Siakam have all seen their individual games grow under the Nurse/Bjorkgren staff.
Reports out there indicate Bjorkgren had the ability to lead some Raptors huddles and draw up plays.
In searching for the next coach after Nate McMillan, the Pacers were seeking someone who has experienced recent playoff success, helped develop players in the modern game and bring offensive innovation.
Bjorkgren appears to check those boxes, while also acknowledging he’s never been the lead man on such a grand stage.
“The biggest thing is he’s a super-positive guy,” Nurse said of Bjorkgren to The Athletic. “He’s the guy sitting next to me when I’m sensing disaster going on in a game and he’s saying, ‘We’re going to win, we’re going to come back.’ Constantly, ‘We’re going to do it, we’re going to come back.’ And that helps me out quite a bit.”
Along with the two seasons under Nurse, Bjorkgren was an assistant for Jeff Hornacek (2015-16) and then Earl Watson (2016-17) in Phoenix. Bjorkgren coached T.J. Warren for a couple of seasons in Phoenix, and also was Warren’s head coach for a few games in the D-League (Bakersfield Jam).
From a small town in Iowa, Bjorkgren was a walk-on basketball player at South Dakota. It was there that the Nurse/Bjorkgren first began, with Nurse serving as an South Dakota assistant coach back then. Bjorkgren finished his college career playing for Division III Buena Vista.