Discover more from Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness
Jannero Pargo finding his voice, getting his first head-coaching opportunity at Summer League
Pargo spent a decade playing in the NBA and then he became a coach, focusing on player development. At Las Vegas Summer League, he's getting a special experience.
LAS VEGAS — NBA Summer League is not just about players expanding their games and getting larger opportunities. The same is true for the coaches and support staff.
For the Indiana Pacers, it’s enabled individuals to take on larger roles — from player development coaches moving to the front of the bench, assistant athletic trainers taking the lead role, and even the assistant equipment manager getting his first shot at being No. 1.
It doesn’t get any bigger than the head-coaching position and the Pacers empowered Jannero Pargo, a former NBA player who is entering his third season as an assistant coach for player development, to guide this year’s team in Las Vegas.
As you would expect, it took Pargo some time to get comfortable in this new role — a significant upgrade in responsibility.
“When you haven’t done something before, it’s just hard to be comfortable in that space,” he said after the first few practices. “I’m feeling comfortable and just trying to go have fun and enjoy this time. Not only with the players, but with the coaching staff as well. Trying to be innovative and come up with some new concepts and try them out in Vegas and see how it works.
“We’re playing around a little bit, but we don’t want to get too off script. We want to give our rookies and our veteran guys an introduction to what’s going on during the regular season. But every now and again, I’ll sprinkle in an ATO (after timeout play) or something that I came up with.”
Pargo’s staff includes assistant coaches Jenny Boucek and Jim Boylen, player development assistant Mo Baker and Zach Chu, the manager of game strategy and analytics. They all contribute when they can, but it’s Pargo leading the team, taking charge in huddles, standing on the court during games and then meeting with the media after games.
“They did a great job of helping me out … through the whole process, so a lot of gratitude for helping to bring me along,” he said.
Pargo found out in early June that he would likely lead the team so he got right to work preparing mentally. That involved a lot of thinking and game-planning at home for how he wanted to attack this role and plays he could design (or call) to set up a specific player such as a pick-and-roll for rookie Jarace Walker or a lob play for center Isaiah Jackson.
He also called mentors like former NBA head coach Terry Stotts and assistant Jim Moran, who won several summer league championships with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was on staff in Portland from 2019-21 before leaving for the Pacers.
This isn’t summer vacation in Las Vegas for Pargo, it’s about getting reps in an unfamiliar role and experiencing personal growth.
“It’s great,” said second-year guard Andrew Nembahrd. “He’s a young coach who is trying to keep progressing in this game. It’s gonna be a great opportunity for him because there’s nothing like getting real head coaching reps. Excited for him. JP is a great dude.”
Like with many of the players the Pacers have added in recent years, Pargo loves the game. Absolutely loves it. When the team is done practicing, he’s almost always getting shots up or challenging a player to 1-on-1. He’s 43 years old and last played professionally in 2017, but he’s always up for a battle.
Like this one with Benedict Mathurin. “Rematch from a year ago,” Mathurin joked, referencing his pre-draft workout. Watch below.
Pargo started preparing for the next phase in his basketball life — coaching — during his final few years in the NBA as he battled injuries.
“Probably my last two years, I was pretty much a player-coach in Charlotte (2013-15),” he said. “I knew I had aspirations of becoming a coach and at some point a head coach.”
Led by Nembahrd, Mathurin and Isaiah Jackson, the Summer Pacers won their first two games in Las Vegas without any real problems. Players matter more than anything and they were critical in setting the tone and leading the team on the court.
Pargo, meanwhile, is starting to settle in to being the No. 1 coach.
It’s different not only standing up during games — he mostly kept his hands in his pockets, which visibly showed how new this was — but also diagraming play calls and speaking up. He is a big trash-talker, but he’s admittedly still working to find his voice.
“I think it’s a process,” he said last week. “I found my voice up until a point, but there’s always room to grow and improve. I’m working toward that right now.”
Pargo’s first game was inside Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV. The Summer Pacers handled the Wizards 91-83 to give Pargo a win in game No. 1. Afterward, he tried to take a moment to enjoy.
“Maybe a little bit when I felt like we had the game won,” he said, smiling. “It was just like a breath of fresh air and I’m happy for our guys and this coaching staff. And I know they’re all happy for me.”
Despite the win, they made significant changes to the defense and some tweaks offensively. And led by the veteran trio once more, the Pacers crushed the Magic by 23 points.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
Since those first two wins, the team hasn’t looked nearly as sharp. They’ve sorely missed Nembhard’s attacking, passing and play-making for others. The defense and intensity level need improvement, but these are also all new guys playing together for the first time. And end-of-bench guys trying to land a playing contract somewhere.
As for Pargo, he’s much more comfortable now during games and practices. “Night and day from Game 1 to Game 2 and 3,” Pargo said after having three games under his belt.
“Definitely fun to play for,” said rookie Ben Sheppard. “He’s definitely a player’s coach. You can talk to him about whatever, he’s always there for you if you want to get to the gym or anything like that. He’s much more than a coach, he’s a friend and a good mentor. It’s super enjoyable playing for him.”
During the pre-draft process, Pargo was a weapon for the team. He worked out prospects and during the solo workouts, he was tasked with playing against them. Including Guys like Jarace Walker, who they ultimately selected with the No. 8 pick. Like I said, he’s still got it and will challenge anyone.
“He’s awesome,” Walker said. “Definitely instils confidence in his players. Let’s us hoop, have fun, get up and down. But he definitely wants us to play hard and defend too.”
Mike Weinar coached the Summer Pacers in 2021, Ronald Nored in 2022 and now Pargo in 2023.
The fifth and final game is Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET against the Detroit Pistons. This is a role Pargo has enjoyed and perhaps it’s just the start for this basketball lifer from Chicago.
“It’s a little nerve-racking for me,” Pargo said with a grin, “but it was a challenge that I was up for and I really enjoyed it.”