That Jim O'Brien hasn't been particularly surprised by his team's progress in the first week of training camp isn't a bad thing. In fact, the Pacers have essentially fulfilled the coach's high expectations and the result was an end to the grind of two-a-day practices.
"I had a pretty good handle on the team before we came into training camp and they're making the strides I thought they would make," O'Brien said. "The attitude, I thought, would be great and it is. They never take a break. And they're all very unselfish.
"We still have a long way to go but they all have an idea of basketball. They understand basketball. Many, many times there are one or two guys on your team that just aren't picking things up and you have to spend more time with them. That's not the case here. As a result of having fairly high basketball IQs we can move through things fairly rapidly."
O'Brien told the team after Saturday's morning practice at Conseco Fieldhouse they would be practicing once a day for the rest of camp. The first preseason game comes Tuesday against New Orleans in the Pepsi Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
"We're done with two-a-days because they're really in good shape, these guys," O'Brien said. "The whole purpose of two-a-days is to get a lot of stuff in and to condition them. We have done that and I think they have a good base in both areas."
Though he anticipated spending most of the first week on defense, O'Brien has been able to install 25 offensive plays, including post-ups for centers Rasho Nesterovic and Roy Hibbert.
The defense remains a priority point of emphasis but O'Brien said the team has made relatively fast strides in that critical area.
"I'm very pleased with where we are as a group," he said. "Jack Ramsay (the Hall of Fame coach and O'Brien's father-in-law serving as a camp observer) just said to us after practice, 'your defense is pretty far along from the standpoint of they know where they have to move to, protecting the paint, having the fundamentals of making sure there's a group waiting for the ball when it gets to the paint.'
"I also think we're much further advanced in getting out to the 3-point line, are much quicker getting out there to be able to guard that. Where we're probably not as far along as we want is we're fouling too much. We had an almost five free-throw differential last year and we can't have that."
That gives the coaching staff something to focus on next week and O'Brien is confident the progress will continue.
"There is considerably more energy," he said. "These guys want to win. The people that we kept were the people that brought energy to last year's team. The people we brought in are people that have the same attitudes. They do bring energy. It's a wonderful group to coach."
Injuries beginning to mount
With Jeff Foster unable to practice Saturday due to a sore hamstring, the Pacers had just 13 players available, which could be another reason O'Brien opted to cut back to one practice per day. Foster joined Mike Dunleavy (sore right knee), Travis Diener (sore left foot) and Troy Murphy (sore left Achilles tendon) on the sidelines. Shawne Williams (stomach) missed Friday night's practice and Maceo Baston was bothered by a sore back but both players practices Saturday.