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NBA AM: Young Helping Strip Ego from Pacers

Behind Thaddeus Young, the upstart Pacers have found success by putting their egos aside.

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When Thaddeus Young was first traded to the Indiana Pacers in the summer of 2016, he thought he was coming to a nearly-complete Eastern Conference contender. The supporting cast looked good (and he’d make it look ever better), but more importantly, the team had the sort of star power that has in the past led to overall team success.

With Paul George, Monta Ellis and Jeff Teague gone, though, a lot of the veteran offensive firepower that held things down for the Pacers a year ago has since vanished, leaving a completely altered roster from what Young first stepped into a little over a year ago.

“It’s completely different,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “We had a lot of alpha males last year, a lot of guys who wanted to just kind of try to take the lead, but this year we have a team full of guys who speak and voice their opinions and take lead. It’s not just me and Myles, as the captains. We look at other guys for leadership also, and other guys step up in that leadership role when something needs to be said or something needs to be done.”

The new team-centered concept isn’t just in the locker room, however. It’s also showing up on the court.

“There always are different guys stepping up, whether it’s a young guy or an older guy, and everybody’s learning. We’re having a lot of fun as a team, and I think that’s one of the biggest things. It feels more like a family this year than it did last year, and everybody’s trying to do it by committee as opposed to doing it by themselves. It’s been working for us so far.”

This approach hasn’t just been working for the Pacers, though, as Young noted. A lot of teams are trying to move away from isolation ball, moving a lot on offense, rotating the ball quickly and efficiently, finding the open man. This is the way the league is going, anyway.

“The teams that are playing like families, doing it by committee, doing it together each and every day, those are the teams that are winning basketball games. Take for instance Golden State. They have several different leaders on their team, but they move the basketball, they play well with one another, and they make sure certain guys get certain shots. It’s not just one guy taking over. A lot of guys are having their impact on the game, and that’s what the league has translated to now. It’s the same thing with the Spurs, who have done it for over 15-20 years, having certain guys that are so-called leaders, but having guys that can go out there and get the job done, as a whole, by committee, and doing it as a team.”

That, of course, takes a seismic shift in the brain of an elite NBA player. These are men who, for their entire lives, have been the best players on the court. AAU, high school, college, internationally—these players are accustomed to being the center of their teams’ basketball universes. That obviously has to change at the NBA level for organizations that want to play “team ball.”

“When it’s winning time, and you’re really all about winning, you push your ego aside and do whatever it takes to win a basketball game, whether its passing it, making the extra pass, or going from good to great,” Young said. “It’s just the personalities that we have on this team. There are a lot of guys that are not really alpha males. You have guys that genuinely, truly want to win games and win together, and that’s how we’ve been doing it.”

The Pacers currently have the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference and look like a playoff team. They likely are not in serious contention for a championship, but they haven’t fallen off in the wake of losing George like many thought they would. This is a positive direction, as Young says, because the team has no egos. They hope that as they keep winning, it stays that way.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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