The Indiana Pacers welcomed Paul George to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse Wednesday night, and their fans made him feel right at home with a loud chorus of boos. Frankly, Pacers supporters should cheer George every chance they get, but not for the reason you might think.
George demanded a trade this offseason, and I realize folks in Indiana are a bit touchy when anyone wants to leave the Hoosier State, especially an athlete who the Pacers drafted and developed. But the aftermath of George’s trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been a bonanza for Indiana.
Pacers fans should be on their knees thanking the Lord that George asked for a trade.
As I said at the time of the deal, the Pacers won that swap going away. They are so much better positioned in its wake, not just for the future, but right now as well. They landed local-hero Victor Oladipo and a 21-year-old stretch post with a ton of upside in Domantas Sabonis.
The 25-year-old Oladipo has been a revelation and is becoming a bona fide star, while Sabonis is slowly developing into a reliable piece of the team’s puzzle. Both guys are under team control through 2021. All of that for a 27-year-old who will almost certainly be opting out of his contract after this season and didn’t want to be in Indiana any longer.
So far this season, Oladipo is averaging career-highs in points (24.5), rebounds (5.3), blocks (1.1) and steals (1.8), while posting career-best marks from the field goal (48.5 percent) and 3-point range (44.4 percent). Oh, and his PER (23.53) is nearly seven points higher than his previous top mark (16.77). To say it’s been a breakout year would be a wild understatement.
Meanwhile, Sabonis is blowing away the numbers he posted as a rookie last season. He’s averaging 12.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 24.6 minutes per game. He’s also hitting 54.0 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point range. All of those numbers are enormous improvements. As is his PER (18.85) which is nearly 12 points higher than his rookie campaign (6.93).
The Pacers came up short Wednesday night in George’s return, but are currently 16-12 and sit in fifth-place in the Eastern Conference. They finished seventh in the East last year at 42-40. Yeah, it’s not a one-to-one comparison, but watch one of Indiana’s games sometime, this year’s squad is wildly better and far more entertaining to boot.
On the other end of the deal, George has looked a bit slow on the court this season and his numbers haven’t been those of a long-term max contract player. While he’s never been wildly efficient, his PER of 17.42 is nearly four full points below his career-best from 2015-16 (20.98). While Oladipo ranks 20th leaguewide in PER, George sits in 88th.
George is shooing just 41.8 percent form the field (down from 46.1 percent last year), while his points (20.6), rebounds (5.8), assists (3.2) are down and his minutes (37.0) are up.