Insider: Pacers’ David McClure strives to cultivate a culture of continuous improvement
BY NATE TAYLOR, INDYSTAR
ORLANDO, Fla. — David McClure’s plan for the Indiana Pacers seems simple. Then McClure begins to explain his vision. Any listener, whether they are with the team or just an observer, soon realizes McClure is constantly thinking, constantly tinkering with his goals, constantly wanting to push the players.
As the team's player development coach, McClure's job, in short, is to improve the Pacers. Yet McClure, hired for the position after it was created last summer, knows his job description is long – full of philosophical lessons he’s learned, a no-days-off work ethic and confidence that he can transfer his beliefs to every player on the roster.
McClure's first rule when he joined the Pacers was to make each players' development program as detailed as the next, whether it’s developing Paul George, who has played the most minutes this season, or rookie Georges Niang, who has played the fewest.
“The biggest thing I try to teach the guys is you’ve got to have faith in the work you do,” McClure said. “We’re setting up a plan for you and you don’t need to kill yourself.”
But McClure pushes himself to the physical and mental limit.
He reviews film of each game and pinpoints exact sequences to discuss with each player. He goes through shooting drills with each player. He practices with players, rebounds for them, helps them go through their warm-up drills before games, helps keep players in shape and watches every game from behind the bench to take more notes.
McClure, 31, has become as vital to many of the Pacers as the team’s medical staff. Veterans and younger players agree: McClure is an addition the Pacers needed.
“It’s great,” George said. “I’ve been trying to push for this since I’ve been here. I just didn’t understand how a team gets better with no development guys, especially with young guys.”
Players see results
Several Pacers have improved this season.
Myles Turner, in his second season, has been more productive in terms of points (14.4) and rebounds (7.2) per game. Jeff Teague is on pace to average a career high in assists per game at 7.8. C.J. Miles is shooting a career-high 41.6 percent on 3-pointers. Glenn Robinson III, who is averaging a career-high 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, has developed into a rotational player in his third season.
And George, the Pacers’ best player, has raised his performance since the All-Star break, averaging 28.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 49.9 percent from the field.
All five players credit McClure for some of their success.
“There’s no real science to it,” McClure said. “Keep them focused and keep them doing smart work rather than overwork. I watch film. I care. I’ve seen the growth where good days are overtaking bad days.”
After last season, several Pacers let team President Larry Bird know that they wanted a development coach, a position that has become commonplace in the NBA.
McMillan, after being promoted to head coach in May, interviewed four candidates. The person most responsible for recommending McClure to McMillan was assistant Dan Burke, the Pacers’ longtime defensive guru. Burke, who reached out to several people in the league, was told by Chad Forcier, an assistant at the time with the San Antonio Spurs, that he was grooming a bright, young protégé.
“He had a unique way of starting the workouts and ending the workouts,” Myles Turner said. “We worked on shooting touch around the basket and you had to finish in certain ways. You always ended with a different shooting drill. That caught my eye right away. I wanted him to work me for the rest of the season. I think Larry kind of took that into consideration. He’s helped me work on all aspects of my game – not just the post, but passing, finishing around the basket, perimeter shooting. I like Dave a lot.”
Monta Ellis, one of the oldest veterans, believes McClure’s true gift is his communication skills. McClure, an energetic communicator, can disarm a frustrated player with a smile and an encouraging message.
“He does a great job of motivating guys,” Ellis said. “It’s his first year and he’s trying to feel his way, trying to feel guys.When he first came in, he made his mark, set his standards and everybody went with it.”
McClure has worked to help George stay in rhythm and polish his mechanics. Before games, McClure plays the role of Teague, passing George the ball in certain spots on the floor that they anticipate he will shoot from against the opposing team. They have also studied film to help George be more effective in late-game isolation plays.
“For me, it’s been a lot of post-ups,” George said. “When I was really good to start the season off, David was helping me with post touches and shooting over little guards or attacking little guards’ hips and being comfortable in that mid-post area.”
Perhaps the player McClure is closest with is Miles.
“He’s enthusiastic in not making it feel like a chore to do the extra work,” Miles said. “That’s why me and him click, because we’re able to speak that way and communicate with each other. A big part of the reason I shoot such a high percentage on corner 3s is we drill it so much. We don’t do anything I don’t do in a game.”
That's a goal, McClure said — that every motion from players in a game feels natural and rehearsed.
The roots of his role
Before he even considered coaching, McClure was a top recruit as a small forward who led Trinity Catholic High School to three Connecticut state championships. In college, he played at Duke from 2004-09. During McClure’s five-year professional career, he returned to Duke as an alum for the school’s fantasy camp.
McClure was paired up with Chip Engelland, a Duke alum and Spurs assistant, in coaching the Grant Hill-sponsored team. McClure ran the team’s offense, which was full of plays from the Spurs’ playbook.
“You explained our plays for 45-year-old men who don’t play basketball and they got it,” Engelland told McClure. “You might have a career in coaching one day.”
McClure’s new career began in 2014 with the the Austin Spurs, San Antonio’s NBA Development League affiliate. He joined the Spurs the next season. McClure watched how Tim Duncan, a future Hall of Famer, trained between games. McClure helped develop younger Spurs such as Jonathan Simmons, Danny Green and Patty Mills.
“The guy just has a knack for it,” Gregg Popovich, the Spurs coach, said of McClure. “He feels it, he enjoys it. He’s gained respect and he knows how to develop relationships. That’s what you see in him.”
McClure wants the Pacers to have multiple development coaches, as the Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers do. For now, McClure uses Tim Dather, a video coordinator, and Ben Eblen and Jared Bartling, assistant video coordinators, to help run drills.
“I’m hoping to set it up here the way (the Spurs) run it, where when you’re in the video room you’re getting the best training in the league because you’re paired with a coach where you’re doing scouting,” McClure said.
Indiana Pacers assistant coach David McClure works from behind the players on the bench during a timeout of their game against the Detroit Pistons Wednesday, March 4, 2017, evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. (Photo: Matt Kryger/IndyStar)
As the regular season winds down, McClure continues to help younger players such as Turner, Robinson, Niang, Rakeem Christmas and Joe Young. In a season in which the Pacers have been inconsistent, McClure finds the moments where growth is shown – such as Robinson’s game-winning 3-pointer over the Atlanta Hawks last month – the most rewarding.
“It’s happiness for them because they’re here and they want to get better,” McClure said of the less-experienced Pacers. “When they do get that chance to get in the game and you see some carryover from what you’re doing every day, I’m just happy for them that it works.”
McClure, who has learned under coaching savants such as Popovich and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, continues to seek more knowledge. He spends time before games talking with team psychologist Chris Carr to learn how to better approach players. He is also learning how to build a game plan from McMillan and Burke.
McClure’s goal, while simple and yet complex, is the same as the Pacers'.
“I expect to get better," he said, "because I want to get better.”