We're getting closer and closer to that November 3rd opening night for the NBA G League. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are looking like a much improved, new-look team as they prepare for their first game on November 4th on the road against the Long Island Nets. After attending multiple practices during training camp, there's one thing that is instantly brought to my attention -- this team will be much faster.
Last year, guard Marquis Teague spent a significant amount of time as the team's point guard. He's no longer on the team and has moved on to the Memphis Hustle. With a completely revamped roster, one of the things I've seen the Mad Ants work on is pushing the tempo. Along with the "Mad About Blue," brand change for the team, they also intend to model the blueprint the Indiana Pacers have adopted under coach Nate McMillan -- play faster.
With so many returns to the team, it hasn't been difficult gaining chemistry during camp. I've seen some writers focus a lot on the Mad Ants' size being an issue. Other than big-man Adam Woodbury, there isn't another player in the camp that is taller than 6'9. So yeah, on paper that seems like it could be an issue. But, there are a few guys that not only play bigger than they are, but can also keep up with the pace. Jarrod Uthoff, Jamaal Samuel (returner), and even C.J. Fair are all capable of playing the 5. Although, Fair probably isn't the ideal big man, he can fulfill that position if necessary.
Earlier today, after just traveling with the Pacers for their road trip to Oklahoma City, Alex Poythress makes an unprecedented appearance at practice today in Fort Wayne.
There is only so much that you can take from training camp, but there are a few guys that looked like they've bought in with head coach Steve Gansey's system and have flourished thus far in the camp. Rookie guard Tra-Deon Hollins has looked tremendous in camp. He continues to display his defensive genius, while also showcasing an improved jump shot that had seemingly been his biggest flaw in his game. Hollins' ability to push the pace, seems to be contagious.
The guys have quickly adapted and have really surprised me with how effective camp has been for them getting familiar with each other. Walt Lemon Jr. also looks pretty good in camp. His athleticism can finally be utilized in the new system intact this season. After sustaining a shoulder injury in NBA preseason with the Pacers, it's obviously good to see Trey McKinney-Jones in full participation in camp.
One of the drills that's helped improve their tempo is "five trips in 26 seconds." Which, is exactly how it sounds. Either a three of four man group has to successfully make five down-and-back trips in 26 seconds. I was able to catch up with Coach Gansey after yesterday's practice to talk about the new up-tempo style of the Mad Ants, "It's the pace I want to play at."
We're about a week away from getting the 2017-18 NBA G League season underway, and one thing I can tell you from Mad Ants camp is that they'll be fast and they're a much improved shooting team. It's an exciting time in the state of Indiana in terms of professional basketball. The future of the Pacers' organization is in great hands with the talent I've seen in camp here in Fort Wayne.