No Paul George Hangover (Except at the Box Office)

Indiana Pacers fans aren’t yet buying the new look Pacers. They are reserving their judgment to see how it all shakes out, this star-less team. Because of the skepticism, attendance for Indiana home games is veering towards the bottom of the league, joining the Hawks, Nets, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Hornets who are averaging mid 80% capacity. It is hardly a surprise. When you remove a player as popular and talented as Paul George, you are going to hemorrhage many faithful who have to make a financial decision on the product: is it worth buying a ticket when the Pacers don’t have a star?

When the Pacers moved George there was a lot of hand wringing grumbling about what the Pacers were doing. They got fleeced was what many believed when they added up the ledger. Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis on one side, Paul George on the other.

Stating the obvious, Oladipo and his one season tour of duty playing second fiddle to Russ Westbrook highlighted his penchant to disappear in games, clank big shots, play defense with his hands, and succumb to the Westbrook shadow.

Oladipo, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic, was traded before the Magic could offer him an extension. The Magic didn’t quite know what to do with Oladipo. He was a streaky shooter, an absent minded playmaker, not much of a rebounder, not a versatile scorer, and his leadership skills were hovering around average. He just wasn’t that special so the Magic cut their losses.

Reflexively, there was a lot of ho-hum yawning and at the same time indignant outrage when the Pacers acquired Oladipo, who the Thunder signed to an extension worth $84 million (when they didn’t have to). More than $20 million a year and replacing Paul George, a lot is expected of Oladipo and he seems to have let everything that has happened to him in a year marinate.

Oladipo is having the best year of his career (so far). He is making the most shots he has ever made, 8.3 per game. He is taking the most shots he has ever jacked up. He is shooting 50% for the first time ever. He is shooting a very Steph Curry 46.9% from three. Although he is taking the same amount of threes he took last year, he is making more of them. His steals are up. And so are his turnovers, a danger sign. And his scoring has hit the stratosphere. Oladipo is the 8th highest scorer in the league, a shocking turn of events for a player who entered the 2013 NBA draft as a defensive player who was still working on scoring efficiently.

Oladipo has an offensive rating of 116 and a defensive rating of 108. How does that compare to Paul George’s last season with the Pacers?

The Replacement Points FG% 3-Point % Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Paul George (2016-17) 23.7 46.1% 39.3% 109 108
Victor Oladipo (2017-18) 25.5 50.0% 46.9% 116 108

Oladipo is making a similar amount of shots although George took more. Oladipo, so far, has a better percentage on twos and threes compared to George’s numbers last year. But caution here. This is six games. Oladipo is not going to shoot 50% for the rest of the year, nor is he going to be a 46% scorer from three. How far does he slip back to normal? And what is normal?

Oladipo has never been in this Russell Westbrook position before. He has never been given the green light. In Orlando, the coaching staff wasn’t sure who exactly Oladipo was, what his identity was, and as a young player Oladipo wasn’t sure either. The best thing that happened to Oladipo was his apprenticeship behind Russell Westbrook, a fearless, emotional, confident shot maker and ball player. That level of alpha male (absent taking 25 shots a game) is what the Pacers need right now as they figure out how to fill in the gaps for what they need to make the playoffs given the young talent they have.

The other piece in the George trade, Domantas Sabonis, has come up double-double big for the Pacers, 13 points, 10 rebounds. Sabonis has made the most of his opportunity in this his second NBA year. His 25 minutes are a career high. His 5.2 field goals made are a career high. His 66% is a career high. His 3.7 offensive rebounds and 10.2 total rebounds is a career high. His offensive rating is a whopping 130 and he has a 23.4 PER. The best thing that happened to Sabonis was being traded from the Thunder.

But the Pacers are going to live or die with Victor Oladipo running things. He is their gamble. That they can make him better than he was in Orlando and Oklahoma City is a question mark. Subtly telling Oladipo you control our destiny, well, that is undecided; the consequences will write the story.

No one is forgetting Paul George. Stop that lie. But Oladipo is a good replacement, if he can keep this new Oladipo up.

The Pacers are 4th in field goal percentage, fast break points and offensive rating, 5th in pace, 6th in scoring, 11th in steals. Their defense and rebounding are particularly weak.

This year was always about recovery. George is gone so what do we do now? How do we go forward with Myles Turner?

In a strange twist of events, the Pacers may find themselves in the playoff hunt with an All-Star in Victor Oaldipo winning Most Improved Player.

Who knew?

 

photo via llananba