One of the major trades during the NBA’s whirlwind of an offseason was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s acquisition of star forward, Paul George, from the Indiana Pacers. In exchange, the Pacers received Domantas Sobanis and Victor Oladipo, which left many in disbelief.
Mediocrity in OKC
The deal looked to be clearly one sided, and OKC looked to have committed highway robbery. “Most of the NBA execs I have talked to since the Paul George trade feel that Kevin Pritchard was just too hell-bent on keeping George out of Eastern Conference; made it emotional instead of taking the best offer,” reported Jeff Goodman of ESPN.
After having a down year in Oklahoma City, many doubted Oladipo would have a significant impact in Indiana, and thought less of the Pacers entering the 2017-18 campaign.
Entering the offseason, he was dedicated to working on his body and coming back a better player. “I have high expectations for myself, so I don’t feel like I’ve played well. I feel like I could have played a lot better,” Oladipo said after the season. “I’m going to work and work, and I’m going to work some more,” Oladipo said. “After that, I’m going to work some more after that.”
A Leader in the Post-Paul George Era
Oladipo has more than delivered on his promise, earning an All-Star nod for the first time in his career while leading the Indiana Pacers (48-34) to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. His impact has improved Indiana’s record by 6 wins and the Pacers are once again contending with the elite in the East.
His ability to drive the lane and finish has been on display all year. He also has shown his defensive prowess by playing the passing lanes and getting his team easy points in transition off steals. For a team that traded away its best player, a finish in the top 5 of a competitive Eastern Conference was never in the question. The Pacers have recovered quickly and the Paul George Era has been quickly forgotten in Indiana.
Averaging career bests in points (23.1), rebounds (5.2), assists (4.3), and blocks (0.8) he is a lock for the Most Improved Player of the Year award. Not only was he a force on the offensive side of the ball, Oladipo also averaged a league best 2.3 steals per game during the regular season. To indicate how important he is to the Pacers, Indiana is 0-6 without him on the year.
The Ultimate Test Still Awaits
A first round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers spells doom for most teams in the East, but the Pacers have faired well against their Central Division rival. This season Indiana won the season series 3-1 versus Cleveland.
In a 106-102 victory on Dec. 8th against the Cavs, Oladipo recorded 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists while making 6 threes. This win ended Cleveland’s season long 13 game win-streak. LeBron James, however, takes his teams to a different level come postseason and while it’s unlikely Indiana advances, Oladipo will most certainly have the Pacers ready to compete.
The transition to his college stomping grounds of Indiana has been flawless, as Oladipo is the focal point for a team competing in the East. Last year in OKC, alongside ball-dominant point guard Russell Westbrook, he never had an opportunity to be comfortable. Coming off a down year, he has shattered expectations and proved to the league that he is a superstar talent.