The Pacers can still win the Victor Oladipo trade and Paul George can still be one of the best 15 players in the NBA, they aren’t mutually exclusive.
Since the trade, I’ve tried to mention George as little as possible. His action no longer directly affects the team’s current status or their future. But with Oklahoma City coming to Indianapolis on Wednesday, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the diverging paths both teams have taken through their first 27 games of the season.
George isn't a worse player than last year - in fact, he might even be slightly better. He’s still one the best small forwards in the league but his role in Oklahoma City is different. George is no longer the number one option or even the number two.
He’s taken a similar role with the Thunder that he did during the 2013 season with the Pacers. His usage rate in Oklahoma is 25.4 percent behind both Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. In 2013 his usage rate was 23.4 percent behind only David West. That’s compared to a usage rate of 28.9 percent last season with Indiana.
George’s defensive stats are slightly better now. He’s on pace to have a career high in block percentage (1.6) and steal percentage (3.3). He also leads the in steals with averaging 2.5 steals per game and he’s making clutch defensive plays.
His shooting, on the other hand, has slightly worsened. George has an offensive rating of 105 this season which is the lowest been since 2013. He’s on pace for a career low in field goal percentage (41.6).
The reason the Pacers won the trade though is not because George suddenly stinks… it's because of the long-term total.
Indiana was losing George at the end of the season no matter what they did. In the context of the trade, this is important. The choice becomes binary: Would the Pacers rather have one season with George or a guaranteed three seasons with Oladipo and five with Domantas Sabonis?
This season Oladipo is at his career best in almost every statistically significant category, both offensively and defensively. He leads all shooting guards in both player efficiency rating (22.66) and real-plus-minus (3.96).
On top of that Sabonis has shaken off a really disappointing rookie season, showing signs that he can be a future starting power forward or center. He’s averaging 12 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 53.7 percent shooting. The two of them also have great chemistry together.
Both Oladipo and Sabonis value was depressed by playing next to Russell Westbrook. There is a long list of players who have actually gotten better once they left Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant, James Harden, Reggie Jackson and Enes Kanter are just a few.
George has had these same struggles, meaning he’s likely to walk in the offseason and go to Los Angeles, the team he originally desired to play for. He’ll either get to take back his role as superstar next to a bunch of quality young players or get to play next to Lebron James. Either way, it would be a better fit than Oklahoma City.
Going back to Indiana, Oladipo and Sabonis are the two perfect pieces to play with this newly revamped roster. Oladipo is having a borderline All-NBA season; his career high 47 points against the Nuggets only helped that cause Both guys clearly want to play for Indiana while George didn’t want to be anywhere near the team because the roster seemed to be crumbling around him.
Oklahoma City’s goal by signing George was to be a championship contender while Indiana’s goal was to solely remain competitive. Instead, the Thunder look worse than last season and the Pacers look better. If this year is an indication of the next three seasons the Pacers won the trade simply because they lost a top 15 player and to everyone’s surprise they look better.