By Pete Ruden
If I made the claim that Victor Oladipo was better than Paul George at this point last year, I would have been made out as an idiot who had never watched basketball before.
But if I made that claim this year, I would simply be someone telling the truth.
Oladipo’s rise has been much like that of his Indiana Pacers — although a lot of people recognize that he is a much-improved player, they don’t realize how good he has been this season. The same is true with the Pacers.
Oladipo averaged more points, assists, steals, and blocks per game, while shooting more than 4 percentage points better from the floor than George.
Digging a little deeper, Oladipo’s net rating of 6.4 is clearly better than George’s 3, meaning the Pacers’ point differential per 100 possessions with Oladipo on the floor is much better than the Thunder’s with George.
Yet somehow, George wanted to be treated as an almighty superstar when he failed to make an All-NBA team, to lead a decent squad to anything better than a No. 7 seed, or to hit a clutch shot for once in his life.
The Pacers, free of George’s drama, rolled to a 48-34 record this season, six games better than George could do last year.
Indiana went 3-1 against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season and was the first team to sweep the Golden State Warriors in the regular season in the Steve Kerr Era, showing the Pacers can compete with the best teams the NBA has to offer.
Indiana has a habit of playing up to its competition and winning games it is supposed to win, which has to happen to be a successful team in the NBA.
Oladipo’s performance, along with the rest of the undervalued Indiana roster, led the Pacers to an unexpected No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and a matchup with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, and they shocked the Cavs in the series’ opening game, 98-80.
Along with Oladipo, the Pacers have Bojan Bogdanovic, who was exactly what Indiana needed in Game 1. The Serbian was solid defensively against a potent Cavs offense that includes the best player in the world, and he scored 15 points in a team-high 39 minutes.
Combine that with Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Darren Collison, and the Pacers have a very formidable starting five.
Indiana also has the services of Domantas Sabonis — also acquired in the Oladipo trade — and Lance Stephenson readily available, adding a solid core off the bench.
The main bulk of the Pacers roster might not jump off on paper like that of Golden State or Houston, but Indiana has proved this season that it is not a team to sleep on.
I believe in the Pacers.
I think Oladipo said it best in his article for The Players’ Tribune:
“[Sabonis and I] know what it feels like to be overlooked,” Oladipo wrote. “And so do a lot of guys on our team. And so do a lot of people in our arena. We know what it feels like when somebody gives up on you. That’s all over now. Nobody’s giving up on anybody this year.”