The Indiana Pacers defeated the Nets in Brooklyn Sunday night 109-97. Pacers guard Victor Oladipo finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists; continuing his stellar play this season. His teammate Domantas Sabonis came off the bench to add 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 21 minutes of action. Oladipo and Sabonis were the two players traded to Indiana from OKC in the Paul George deal. At the time, OKC GM Sam Presti was lauded for acquiring a top 20 player in George, in exchange for two young unproven players. Fast forward and so far, Indiana seems like they got the better end of that deal.
Indiana is 17-13, currently sit 5th in the eastern conference. Oladipo is on track to make his first all-star appearance in this his 4th season. He’s shown improvements across the board in his game and all of his numbers are up. Pacers coach Nate McMillan is allowing him to play off the ball as well as on, and he’s often tasked with guarding the opponents best backcourt player. Sabonis meanwhile is leading the team in rebounds, averaging 8.4 per game and is allowed to operate out of the post on the left block with the team’s second unit.
What’s so different for Oladipo and Sabonis this year? Oladipo credits his on court work in the offseason, change in diet, and improving his body. Sabonis says he’s comfortable and happy in Indiana, that’s why he’s playing well. All of those things are true, but it goes even deeper. Playing on OKC last year was not the ideal situation for two young talented guys that need development. OKC went all in on the Russell Westbrook MVP campaign after they lost Kevin Durant in free agency. The team was essentially a one man band. Not a lot of opportunities for Oladipo to show what he could do in an isolation heavy offense, when all he was expected to do was catch and shoot threes when the ball was passed his way. As for Sabonis, his natural skill set wasn’t being utilized and as a rookie he was still learning the league.
Following the game we spoke with both players about their improvement and their answers and statements are quite revealing. Frankly, playing with Westbrook and in the OKC offense last season wasn’t good for either player. Without a lead player like Westbrook in Indiana and on a team that many had no expectations for has freed both Oladipo and Sabonis to show what they can do on the court. While it’s still early, it looks like Indiana has the building blocks to put something special together.
Domantas Sabonis on his comfort level in Indiana, low post play and being used effectively.
I asked Victor what he thought his ceiling was, loved this answer. Sounds like a very confident man.