Victor Oladipo Is Becoming an NBA Star

Oladipo has an early claim on the NBA's Most Improved Player award and an All-Star spot. How has his leap impacted the Indiana Pacers?

When the Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, most pundits and fans thought the Pacers got fleeced.

Oladipo and Sabonis were both coming off ho-hum, inefficient seasons with the Thunder, while George was a four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBAer, and a three-time All-Defensive Teamer who's smack dab in the middle of his prime. Sure, PG13 was more than likely going to leave Indiana once he hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018, but the return that the Pacers managed to get for a superstar was considered by many to be underwhelming.

My, how things have changed.

George has been more or less as advertised for the Thunder, and Sabonis has gone from mediocre to slightly-above-average with a seemingly brighter future, but the real story here has been the seismic leap that Oladipo has taken.

That jump was on full display during last night's 126-116 Pacer win over the Denver Nuggets, when Oladipo dropped a career-high 47 points on 15-for-28 shooting from the floor, 6-for-12 from deep, and 11-for-13 from the line, while adding 7 boards, 6 dimes, 2 steals, and a block in 45 minutes of action.

But it hasn't been just a one-game thing. If you compare Oladipo's numbers from his first 26 games in a Pacers uniform this year to his lone season with Oklahoma City in 2016-17, it's hard not to hand him the Most Improved Player award now:

2016-17 33.2 15.9 44.2% 36.1% 75.3% 4.3 2.6 1.2 0.3 1.8
2017-18 34.0 24.5 48.5% 44.4% 77.3% 5.3 4.0 1.8 1.1 3.3

With less than a minute more played per game, Oladipo has been better in every single statistical category outside of turnovers, including an 8.6-point increase in scoring average.

If you take his counting stats (24.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.1 blocks) as a minimum, he's putting up a line that has only been matched by the likes of Julius Erving (twice), Michael Jordan, and LeBron James in NBA history. For those keeping score, that's two first-ballot Hall of Famers and an eventual shoo-in.

You can blame Oladipo's line last year on his playing alongside reigning MVP and noted ball-dominator Russell Westbrook, but don't take away too much of the credit from 'Dipo himself. He's doing stuff this year that we never really saw in his three seasons in Orlando either.

His player efficiency rating (PER) has gone up from 13.6 to 23.5, and his win shares per 48 minutes rate is up from .085 to .153. He's registered a 2.1 nERD so far this season -- our proprietary metric that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency -- which marks the first time in his career that he's graded out on the positive side of the ledger in our NBA Player Power Rankings (currently ranked 29th after finishing 325th last year with a -1.2).

He currently ranks 10th in the entire Association in points per game (24.5), 5th in steals per game (1.8), 15th in three-point percentage (44.4%), 15th in PER (23.5), 18th in box plus/minus (4.3), and 12th in value over replacement player (1.4).

On top of being a leading candidate for Most Improved Player, if all those numbers don't qualify Oladipo for his first All-Star invite this year in Los Angeles, it's hard to say what would.

Especially when you consider how he's basically replaced (and in many ways exceeded) Paul George's production from last year:

Paul George 2016-17 37.1 20.7 46.1% 39.3% 89.8% 6.6 3.3 1.6 0.4 2.9
Victor Oladipo 2017-18 34.0 24.5 48.5% 44.4% 77.3% 5.3 4.0 1.8 1.1 3.3

Oladipo has said he's getting sick of the comparisons to George, but it's hard not to compare their two stat lines mere months after the trade, especially considering how wrong most of us were about how it was all going to turn out:

There's still a lot of season left to be played, but 26 games is not exactly a sample size worth sneezing at anymore. Nor is the fact that Oladipo is the leader in win shares (2.8) on a Pacers team that currently ranks 5th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 16-11 and 10th in our overall NBA Team Power Rankings with a Team nERD -- a ranking on a scale from 0-100, with 50 as the league average, that is meant to be predictive of the team's ultimate winning percentage -- of 54.0.

Hindsight will eventually help us decide who won the Paul George trade, but with Oladipo playing like the NBA's Most Improved Player, an All-Star, and maybe -- maybe -- an All-NBA guard with another three seasons left on his contract beyond this year, the Pacers might be pulling out in the lead for the honor.