Kevin Pritchard found what he was looking for in Victor Oladipo

For a couple of weeks, we heard non-stop rumors about Paul George. Would it be Boston? Maybe some high draft picks, Bradley and plan for the future. Could it be Cleveland? Maybe a 3-team deal with Kevin Love for draft picks again. Maybe Denver? Gary Harris could come back to Indiana. How about Portland? Loads of mid-first-round picks and a role player? Or just ship him where he wants to go in Los Angeles? Late-round firsts and Julius Randle is all they’ll offer? Pass.

Fast forward to June 30th hours before free agency officially starts, and I bet not a single fan or NBA junkie was expecting to hear Oklahoma City and Paul George spoken in the same breath. But Ramona Shelburne tweeted it (Woj was waiting to start his new ESPN gig at midnight) and the madness became reality.

Paul George was going to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. No draft picks involved in the deal. The Pacers made the trade official today.

While we all have our opinions on Kevin Pritchard should have done or should have taken, we’ll never know what any of the other offers actually were. We’ll hear rumblings, especially from Boston, but only Pritchard knows what he had on the table and why he felt like he couldn’t wait another week before pulling the trigger on the OKC deal.

While the trade has been mostly panned by critics, there are a few things to consider.

First: The draft isn’t a sure fire thing. Sure a top-15 pick is more likely to warrant a higher caliber player, but busts outnumber the success stories in some drafts. A known commodity that has some NBA experience and still has room to grow is sometimes better than an unknown draft pick. Even most of the rumored offered didn’t include a top-15 pick anyway.

Second: The OKC front office is one of the most esteemed in the league. They viewed Oladipo and Sabonis as obviously valuable. They just gave Oladipo a 4-year, $84 million contract extension. You don’t give that to a player you don’t think is any good. And they spent a first-round pick on Sabonis last year and it’s unlikely they were ready to give up on him after just one season.

“We feel very strongly about the potential Victor and Domantas bring to our team and what they mean for the future of the franchise,” said Pritchard in the Pacers statement officially announcing the trade. “Both are highly competitive, highly skilled and both are winners. That is why both were lottery picks, that is why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”

Of the three big names traded in the offseason (Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler), Oladipo might be the best over Patrick Beverly and Zach LaVine.

So what are the Pacers getting in Oladipo and Sabonis?

You can read about why you should be cautiously optimistic about Sabonis here.

Victor Oladipo, 25, returns to Indiana where he spent three years collegiately down the road at Indiana University.

With a new era emerging for the Pacers organization, Pritchard has already told us what he wants the new identity for this Pacers team to look like.

“I think if you look at some of the teams that are successful, it gets a little position-less, and they just have flyers all over the court,” Pritchard said in his opening press conference as president of basketball operations. “It’s drive and kick and shoot a lot of threes, and then back on defense you can switch. I’d like to get more to that.”

He also emphasized physicality and toughness.

Let’s start with shooting, Oladipo, who averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, has been steadily improving his jump shot each year of his career as his shooting percentages have gone up after each season. He’s gone from shooting 41.9% in his rookie season to 44.2% overall and from 32.7% as a rookie to 36.1% from 3-point range.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, Oladipo can shoot the 3-pointer, he’s just incredibly inconsistent. He’s similar to CJ Miles in the past in that he’ll go through stretches where he can’t miss, but then it’ll seem like he hasn’t made a three for weeks right after. These are his monthly percentages splits from long range:

October: 25%
November: 44.2%
December: 25%
January: 35.8%
February: 25%
March: 49.2%
April: 18.2%
Playoffs: 34.4%

If he can find some consistency with his shot, he might push that 3-point percentage up to 38-40% where defensives will have to respect his outside shot. This will be paramount to his long-term success as a Pacer.

This past season spent alongside ball dominant Russell Westbrook gave him plenty of opportunity to play off the ball and spot up more, albeit at the detriment of his driving preference. His catch-and-shoot ability has definitely improved.

Oladipo is known for having a great work ethic, so if he never finds a consistent shot it won’t be from a lack of trying.

On defense, Oladipo definitely fits the bill as a player that can switch onto multiple positions and in the defensive-minded mold Pritchard wants. He receives a handful of votes each year for the all-defensive teams and he’ll be a definite improvement defensively for the Pacers at the shooting guard position. So long, Monta Ellis.

The fact that he can play both ends of the court is best part about his game. He won’t be a liability on either end though he has room to improve in both areas. Per NBAWowy, the Thunder were a net 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Oladipo on the court than off.

You just might not want him to be guarding any children.

If he spends time on the court with Lance Stephenson, Oladipo can guard point guards while Stephenson can run the offense on one end but guard bigger wings on the other.

Oladipo can also be a ferocious finisher at the rim as he won the Dunk of the Year at the first NBA Awards show and he’s competed in a slam dunk contest in the past.

As former Pacers player and current announcer Clark Kellogg once said, “Victor Oladipo is like a baby’s bottom, smooth and sometimes explosive.” At times, he does make poor decisions on his aggressive drives as he averaged nearly as many turnovers as assists (2.6 assists and 1.8 turnovers) last season. His assist numbers were career lows; however, that’s due to playing with Westbrook who ran everything in OKC.

But what is Oladipo’s ceiling? He’s now been in the league for four full seasons. Can he become more than a solid starter or rotation player? Is he just a great sixth man? The Pacers have him under contract for the next four years to figure out if he can become more. Time will tell if the Pacers bet on Oladipo was a good one.

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