You might be surprised at Victor Oladipo’s performance this year, but he isn’t.
He expected to be this good.
“Y’all might be surprised,” Oladipo told reporters after his 47-point night against the Denver Nuggets earlier this season. “I put in the work. I work every day. I have no limit to how hard I work. I’m trying to be great. There’s no in-between and I can’t settle for anything less.”
The Pacers couldn’t ask for anything more from their burgeoning star as a leader both on the court and off it.
“He’s just been fun to coach,” said Head Coach Nate McMillan earlier this year. “He absorbs everything that you tell him. He’s still a young guy who wants to learn. I’ve had more film sessions with him than I’ve had, really with any player. It’s because he wants to get better. He wants to improve. He’s showing the potential that he has.”
The Pacers have a net rating of 7.4 when Oladipo’s on the court. When he’s not in the game, that drops to a negative 6.9.
Off the court, he shows his leadership by visiting struggling teammates in the middle of the night to give them a boost in confidence.
At the beginning of the season, no one could have blamed you if you thought this was just going to be a hot start for Oladipo and that he’d cool down and not be averaging the superstar totals that he is today: 24.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists. The numbers all the more impressive with his increase in efficiency to go with his increase in usage.
For his position, the Pacers shooting guard ranks in the 90th percentile in PSA (Points Per 100 Shot Attempts) per Cleaning the Glass, a highly impressive ranking for a team’s number one option. His PER of 24.4 is by far the best of his career (previous best 16.7). Look at any of his career numbers and they all seem to have made a massive leap from his previous best.
Any doubts about whether he’d be able to do this consistently have been squashed. Every time you start to think “here comes the regression,” he bounces back with a huge game or yet another big shot in the fourth quarter to deliver victory to his city.
Oladipo will likely miss out on being named an All-Star starter as one of the two for the Eastern Conference backcourt selections as Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan are favorites to take the spots and by far the leading pair in fan voting from the last released totals, but it’d be shocking if he wasn’t at least chosen to be an All-Star reserve.
“It would be a blessing and an honor to represent the Indiana Pacers as an All Star,” Oladipo said after the blowout win against the Phoenix Suns. “It’s really out of my control. Credit my teammates for getting me to the point where I’m even considered … I got a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be.”
Nothing showed the value of Oladipo, who ranks 11th in the NBA in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and fourth in the Eastern Conference, more than his absence over a recent 4-game stretch where the Indiana Pacers went 0-4 that included three straight losses by at least 17 points.
“That’s an All-Star guy. Any time he’s in the lineup it’s going to make things a little bit easier,” said TJ Leaf after the Pacers recent win against the Chicago Bulls. “It’s certainly nice to have a guy like that back.”
Since he returned, the Pacers have won five of their last six games with the lone loss coming against the Miami Heat in a game where the Pacers somehow made only one 3-pointer in 18 attempts and still had a chance to win late in the fourth.
They’ve won four of those games by double digits and came back from a 22-point deficit at the end of the first quarter in the other victory in this stretch.
On the season, the Pacers are 0-5 without Oladipo and 24-15 with him.
His value on defense shouldn’t be overlooked. Dipo makes the kind of wow plays on that end that routinely end up on highlight reels.
He’s had multiple quarters this year where he’s had at least four steals. He’s averaging a career high in both steals (2.0) and blocks (0.9) this season. These type of plays allow the Pacers to get out in transition and score easy points. They struggled to find opportunities to run without him, but Oladipo makes them for himself on the defensive end.
The team is nearly nine points worse per 100 possessions when Oladipo is on the bench. He ranks as the team’s third-best defensive player in by NBA Math’s DPS (Defensive Points Saved).
All Star shouldn’t be the only thing on his resume at the end of the season. Most-Improved Player, an award a Pacers player has won more than anyone else since 2000, feels almost guaranteed if he keeps this level of play up and a spot on an All-NBA team is within reach as well.
Fans at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse have chanted MVP for Oladipo, who ranks 17th in the NBA in NBA Math’s TPA metric, on multiple occasions and while he has no chance at winning the award, it wouldn’t be surprising if he got a couple of third-place votes with how much better the team has been with him on the court than off.
“I got a lot of work to do in order to get there,” Oladipo said of the fans MVP chants against the Nuggets.
All of this at just 25 years old. The Pacers have him locked up through 2021 on what many thought was a salary dump from Oklahoma City this summer, but now looks like a bargain deal at $21 million per year for one of the NBA’s best shooting guards entering his prime (Tony East of 8 points, 9 seconds has the contract ranking as the 24th-best deal in the entire league in his work-in-progress contract value formula and 11th best among non-rookie deals).