Oladipo Has MVP and Most Improved Player Cred

When the 2013 NBA Draft is talked about, a rarity in and of itself, what centers the back and forth or what weighs it down like a thousand pound rock, is the bust that is Anthony Bennett. Supposedly, the Cavs needed to think outside the box because it was a talent-poor lottery. The talent from that draft class is always downgraded until you get to #15 and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But there needs to be a lot of rethinking. Because #2 in the 2013 draft was Victor Oladipo. He is making everyone who threw zero respect on his name last season shake themselves from their coma. Oladipo is having himself a year.

No one dreamed this when Paul George forced his way out. Oladipo has filled in for Paul George so well, the Pacers, who many thought were a lottery team, have a shot at a top-4 seed. It is Victor Oladipo who has led them there.

His last three games:

  • 47 points (Denver). 7 rebounds. 6 assists. 19 point comeback. Pacers overtime win. 53%, 50% from three. 11 free throws made. 2 steals.+12.
  • 33 points (Cleveland). 8 rebounds. 5 assists. Ends LeBron’s win streak. 45%, 46% from three. 5 free throws made. 1 steal. +1  I’m not satisfied by any means and neither is the team. I’ve got to keep getting better.
  • 27 points (Chicago). 8 rebounds. 2 assists. Oladipo 3-pointer gives Pacers their first lead with 33 seconds left, then he drains free throws. 50%, 40% from three. 3 steals. +8. I was going out there and playing as hard as I could on both ends of the floor and trying to help us pull it out.

Indiana Pacers fans chanted MVP during Sunday’s game and even though the chants are tedious- and everyone gets them- the fans aren’t that far off. The Pacers are winning beause of Oladipo. His play has elevated them. He is their star. He is their savior.

As giddy as Pacers fans are to forget Paul George and love on Oladipo, they aren’t yet buying the new look Pacers and the new look Oladipo. Because of the skepticism, attendance for Indiana home games is pathetic. They have the second worst home attendance in the league, 81% capacity. (Last year’s home attendance was 91% capacity). Only the Hawks are worse at bringing local fans in.  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?

But maybe they do 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.

Who is Better in 2017-18 Points FG% 3-Point % # of 30+ Point Games
Paul George (Thunder) 20.7 41.6% 40.7% 3
Victor Oladipo (Pacers) 24.5 48.5% 44.4% 5

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. He is making the most shots he has ever made, 8.8 per game. He is taking the most shots he has ever jacked up (18.2). He is shooting 48% for the first time ever. He is shooting a very Steph Curry 44% from three. He is taking more threes than he took last year and he is making more of them. His steals are up. And so are his turnovers, a danger sign. He is 7th in turnovers. And his scoring has hit the stratosphere. Oladipo is the 10th 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.

More numbers. He is 6th in field goals made and in points scored, 9th in field goals attempted and 3-pointers made. His offensive rating is 110 and he is ranked first among shooting guards in Real Plus-Minus, both career highs. How does that compare to Paul George’s last season with the Pacers?

The Replacement Points FG% 3-Point % Offensive Rating Real Plus-Minus
Paul George (2016-17) 23.7 46.1% 39.3% 109 9th (SF)
Victor Oladipo (2017-18) 24.5 48.5% 44.4% 110 1st (SG)

Impressively, Oladipo excels when measured against his peers. Paul George is 4th among his peers. Instead of being flattered, Oladipo is exhausted with the comparisons (to George). This is all new for Oladipo, the world revolving around him. But part of being the center object and banking $20 mil is the taking on of all the extra side noise. Stardom requires you deal with external measurements of how good you really are. We only know that in relation to who came before you. Paul George had to hear the Reggie Miller comparisons.  It’s one of those periphery details of the sport afforded the exceptional.

Shooting Guards (2017-18), Real Plus-Minus

  1. Victor Oladipo (Indiana)
  2. Jimmy Butler (Minnesota)
  3. Gary Harris (Denver)
  4. Kyle Korver (Cleveland)
  5. Klay Thompson (Golden State)

Small Forwards (2017-18), Real Plus-Minus

  1. LeBron James (Cleveland)
  2. Otto Porter Jr. (Washington)
  3. Robert Covington (Philadelphia)
  4. Paul George (Oklahoma City)
  5. Thabo Sefolosha (Utah)

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 count given the young talent they have.

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 but Oladipo is a good replacement.

The Pacers are 3rd in fast break points, 5th in field goal percentage, 6th in offensive rating and scoring. 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 upper class with Victor Oaldipo winning Most Improved Player,  starting for the East at the All-Star game in Los Angeles, and stealing some MVP votes from LeBron and James Harden.

Who knew?

Kehinde Babatunde Victor Oladipo knew.

photo via llananba