This offseason, the Indiana Pacers were roasted for not getting enough in exchange for long-time superstar Paul George. While someone on this website (who will remain nameless) thought the Pacers won the trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder by landing Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, the near-universal reaction was that Indiana had been fleeced.
On Wednesday, on “The Jump,” discussed the trade after the first seven games of the season. Rachel Nichols, Tracy McGrady and Scottie Pippen all seemed to agree it was foolish to claim the Pacers were better without George, despite strong early play from Oladipo.
While I’m a fan of all three analysts, they’re dead wrong. Indiana is far better off without Paul George.
George is a great player and was phenomenal for the Pacers for years. But his efficiency had declined, and when he was on the floor the team’s offense had to run through him. He was a ball-stopper instead of a ball-mover. Once he got it, the ball rarely went to anyone else, and he’d usually try to take his defender one-on-one.
George’s PER peaked at 20.98 during the 2015-16 season and dropped to 20.30 in 2016-17. His PER ranked 42nd in the NBA last season. He also ranked 39th in win shares (7.1) and 150th in win shares per 48 minutes (.126). The basic point I’m trying to make is that George was wildly overvalued nationally.
In exchange for him, the Pacers got Oladipo and Sabonis, two guys 25 and under who started for a playoff team in 2016-17. The results have been fantastic so far.
Freed from Russell Westbrook’s shadow, Oladipo has flourished. Through seven games he is posting career-highs in points (23.9) and steals (1.7) per game, field goal percentage (.491), 3-point percentage (.457) and free throw percentage (.878). He also has a PER of 24.60, which would be nearly four points better than George’s career-high.
Oh, and he hit a sick step-back 3-pointer to beat the Spurs the other night:
Meanwhile, Sabonis is averaging a double-double (12.9 points, 11.0 rebounds) in just 25.7 minutes per game. He’s also still just 21 years old and is showing an advanced feel for the game. Along with Myles Turner and T.J. Leaf, Sabonis gives the Pacers one heck of a young front court.
More importantly, without George slowing the offense down, the Pacers have opened things up. They’re playing at a higher tempo and scoring more. This season Indiana ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring (109.7 points per game), more than four points better than 2016-17 (105.1). And that has come with Turner only playing in one game this season (he had 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks that night). Things will only improve when the 21-year-old center is back healthy.
We all know George is an excellent on-ball defender, and the Pacers have certainly missed his presence on that end. But the increase in offensive continuity has more than made up for his exit on defense.
More than that, the Pacers are just flat-out more fun to watch this season. They get up and down, get out in transition and are hustling like crazy. It’s really entertaining basketball, whereas before it felt like the team was just treading water.
Meanwhile, George and the Thunder are still trying to figure things out in the Western Conference. The 27-year-old’s conventional numbers are down (19.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists) and his PER (17.65) has fallen off a cliff. Oklahoma City is similarly 4-3 early on.
Look, it has only been seven games and things could certainly change. But Indiana’s plan was to blow things up and build around Oladipo, Turner, Sabonis and company. So far that youth movement looks extremely promising and the team has a 4-3 record that includes wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves.
I said at the time that I loved the trade for the Pacers, especially because George killed their leverage by announcing he wouldn’t re-sign with the franchise. I like the deal even more now that I’ve seen the product on the court.
The Pacers won that trade and are better with George playing elsewhere.