Before the start of the 2016 season, Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni decided to make his best player, James Harden, the primary ball handler or de facto point guard. D’Antoni called Harden’s new position “points guard” and while it was at first the decision was deemed revolutionary in hindsight it was obvious.
Two season’s later Cleveland experimented with multiple lineups that didn’t feature a point guard to allow Lebron James to play point forward, also known as a small forward who is the team’s primary ball handler.
If you look at the standings right now the NBA’s top three point guards play for three of the league’s four best teams: Kyrie Irving (Boston), Steph Curry (Golden State) and James Harden (Houston). It’s clear that if you don’t have a quality point guard you can’t compete for a championship.
With this in mind, the next obvious step for the Pacers would be to convert Victor Oladipo -- their best player -- into their point guard.
Oladipo is finally in good enough shape to handle the point guard duties; he spent all last year building his body into the mirror image of Russell Westbrook after watching him from the bench all season.
Oladipo now has the ability to push the ball nonstop -- a skill that’s critical to play point guard, particularly in Nate McMillan’s offense.
Indiana could try to find an elite point guard to play next to Oladipo But it would be almost impossible to find a point guard better than Oladipo because the Pacers don’t have the assets to acquire a top-level point guard and they aren’t bad enough to pick one in the draft.
That means the most logical way for them to get an elite point guard is to create one. Indiana has already started to convert Oladipo into the primary ball-handler at the end of games.
In the last five minutes, the Pacers often use a lineup without Darren Collison and choose between Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson to play as a hybrid guard next to Oladipo. Indiana then runs the Oladipo pick ‘n’ roll over and over again!
By the way, the Pacers have proven this is their most reliable offensive play to finish games because Oladipo is shooting 70 percent inside 10 feet in the fourth quarter. Watch the last two minutes against the Denver Nuggets where the Pacers put the ball in Oladipo’s hands and let him run the offense:
They scored on four straight possessions!
The Denver game isn’t an isolated example. Indiana trusted Oladipo to win their Nets game in December, their Celtics game in February and against Washington on Sunday. Spoiler: they won all three games.
The crazy thing is Oladipo actually started his NBA career as a point guard in Orlando but was transitioned to shooting guard because of poor decision making. He had a 19.2 percent turnover rate (an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays), which means he turned the ball roughly one time for every five possessions he ran the offense.
But now, even with the highest usage rate of his career (30.2 percent), Oladipo is only averaging a turnover rate of 12.1 percent. That’s lower than Steph Curry’s 13.5 percent turnover rate despite Curry having roughly the same usage rate (30.5) as Oladipo.
To go along with Oladipo’s improved decision making is his improved vision. He’s currently averaging a career-high 4.2 assists per game. Watch this great pass to Myles Turner from two weeks ago:
Or this pass to Bojan Bogdanovic during Monday’s win over the bucks
It would be disingenuous to say Oladipo doesn’t still make mistakes. During that same game Monday game against Milwaukee, he turned over the ball three times in the last three minutes which included an awful pass to Bogdanovic that almost cost Indiana the game.
But this is the first time in Oladipo’s career that he’s a team’s closer to end games. He’s going to make mistakes, yes, but the Pacers have won so many nail-biters because of his superb decision-making at the end of games. All you have to do is look back to his decision to step back over LaMarcus Aldridge: