Last offseason the Pacers traded Paul George to the Indiana Pacers in return for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, officially beginning their rebuild… at least we thought. Little did we know, Victor Oladipo was going to break out to be one of the NBA’s next rising stars in Indiana that season, leading the Pacers back to the playoffs while also providing a great challenge to the greatest player in NBA history.
Looking back at my eastern conference standings predictions, I described Oladipo as a “solid athletic guard” and gave Myles Turner the honor of being the Pacers’ most valuable asset. I ranked them as the eleventh team in the East, which was actually fairly generous at the time. They were ranked after the Pistons, Nets, Heat, and Hornets. I wasn’t the only one to miss the potential, however.
In Sports Illustrated’s version of the same article, they also ranked the Pacers eleventh, completely failing to recognize Oladipo. In Bleacher Report’s article, they ranked the Pacers twelfth in the East, while also giving them a 5% chance at the playoffs. Lastly, in ESPN’s article, the Pacers were once again ranked last while also rated as the 27th best offensive team in the league.
You get the point. The Pacers had no expectations, especially Oladipo after a severely disappointing statistical season playing alongside the black hole that is Russell Westbrook. Oladipo and the entire Pacers roster surprised the world, however, finishing with the fifth season in the East only two games back of Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not only did Oladipo make his first all-star game this season, but he also played a pivotal role in Team Lebron’s win over Team Steph, tallying three steals in only fifteen minutes. That wasn’t the only time Oladipo stole the ball this season. In fact, he lead the entire NBA in steals with 2.3 per game. That’s the most steals per game since Chris Paul in 2014.
For his defensive efforts this season, Oladipo also found himself a spot on the all-defensive first team, separating himself from the rest of the young shooting guards in the league.
Oladipo was more than a defensive stopper, however. He averaged over eight points more than the second highest scorer on the team who was Bojan Bogdanovic. He also finished second in assists, second in blocks, and of course first in steals. Basically, Oladipo singlehandedly lead his team to the playoffs like Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, yet we are hesitant to give Oladipo the superstar title; maybe this will change your mind.
After Oladipo lead his team of set-shooters and defensive players to the playoffs, he was matched up against THE Lebron James in the first round. Nobody gave the Pacers a chance in this first round as Lebron had literally swept through the first round of the playoffs for six straight seasons. Yes. Lebron had not lost a first-round playoff game since 2012 against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks.
That streak would end at the hands of Victor Oladipo. Oladipo scored 32 points in the face of Lebron in Cleveland to put the Pacers up 1-0. Already, questions were arising around the Cavaliers. Oladipo followed up his game one performance scoring 22 points in game two while barely being edged out by a 46-point triple-double from the King. The Pacers would drop two out of the next three games as Oladipo entered a shooting slump, so they were headed back to Indiana down 3-2.
This was Oladipo’s career-defining game. The Pacers blew out the Cavs by 34 points in a game where we saw Oladipo with a 28-point triple-double in only 34 minutes. Sure; he was helped out by the intensity of Lance Stephenson and the post-game of Domantas Sabonis, but this was Oladipo’s team. Returning to Cleveland, unfortunately, Oladipo couldn’t take down the King, but he gave him everything he had with 30 points and 12 rebounds.
It’s okay to respect the talents of Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Klay Thompson, Demar DeRozan, and Jimmy Butler, but don’t leave the man who almost took down the greatest player in NBA history all by himself out of the conversation for one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.