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Victor Oladipo riding steals streak for Pacers

Electifying, high-flying offense made Oladipo and All-Star, but stealing the ball at the defensive end often leads to quick Vic buckets.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Oladipo collected three steals in the third quarter of the Pacer last game, a 108-103 win over the Nets before heading to the All-Star break. The first of those three steals gave Oladipo a franchise record with a steal in 41 consecutive games, surpassing the 40-game mark set by Metta World Peace aka Ron Artest aka Ronnie.

When you talk Pacers and defense, Ronnie and Paul George quickly come to mind along with Derrick McKey not far behind. While Oladipo’s overall defensive game doesn’t compare to that trio, who utilized their length and in the case of Ronnie, brute strength to make opponents uncomfortable, the quickness Vic leans on helps him find the ball when opponents don’t show it the utmost care.

Oladipo is like a free safety at times stalking the defensive end looking to strike quick. Those instincts have Vic among the league leaders in steals joining some quality company, including PG who is having an outstanding defensive season after returning to a role where he can prioritize that end of the floor.

NBA Steals Leaders

Paul George 56 2.2
Eric Bledsoe 49 2.1
Victor Oladipo 52 2.1
Kris Dunn 41 2
Russell Westbrook 57 1.9

Oladipo doesn’t just steal the ball, though. He also takes it to the house in transition with regularity. Fittingly, Vic’s All-Star game highlight came via a steal and run out dunk. In fact, a look at transition scorers shows Oladipo among more elite company.

NBA Transition Points

Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 52 1.23 6.9
Russell Westbrook OKC 57 1.01 6.6
LeBron James CLE 56 1.22 6
Victor Oladipo IND 52 1.11 5.8
Kevin Durant GSW 50 1.11 5.6

With nearly six points per game in transition, it helps explain how Oladipo is scoring over 24 points per game. The effort to jump passing lanes and create easy buckets in transition doesn’t come without risks, but Oladipo and Dan Burke have worked out a defensive deal to keep Vic aggressive without giving up too much at the defensive end.

A recent must-read profile by SI’s Lee Jenkins, explained the deal.

At 6’4”, Oladipo remains an undersized shooting guard, but the Pacers hand him the ball in the middle of the court, as the Hoosiers used to do. In OKC, if he gave it up, he probably wouldn’t get it back. In Indy, he drives when he chooses, and lanes are open. Oladipo is still adjusting to the freedom. On defense, he constantly pesters coaches, “Are we going over or under the screen here?” They prefer not to answer. “We trust you,” Burke replies. “Let’s not put a bridle on the bull.” Burke allows Oladipo to gamble for one steal per game, and if he is successful, another.

Those gambles usually end up in a high-flying finish that wow’s the crowd and occasionally the transition opportunities deliver game-winning points as they did when Oladipo quickly turned a one-point deficit into a two-point lead against Chicago at the Fieldhouse.

That win was back in early December when the surprising Pacers were gathering more wins than expected fueled by the surprisingly strong play of Oladipo. That level of play is no longer surprising, nor is seeing Vic’s name on stats next to other great players in the league.

The offensive numbers get most of the attention with scoring and three-point shooting numbers exceeding expectations and turning Vic into a first-time NBA All-Star.

But after passing a Pacers defensive legend with his steals-in-consecutive-games streak, we have to take a moment to recognize the all-around impact Oladipo is having on this Pacers team and how his defense is helping his offense go.