The Indiana Pacers were not expected to be where they are right now. When they traded away Paul George before the season, the team looked to be in complete rebuild. There was not much thought of what the Pacers received in return for their All-Star, except maybe to mock them for getting fleeced in the deal. As things stand, Indiana sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, with an outside shot at home court in the first round of the playoffs. Their surprisingly successful season has been built on teamwork, balance and efficiency.
Indiana Pacers Prepare for Unlikely Playoff Run
All the talk after George was traded was about the Oklahoma City Thunder constructing its big three. Carmelo Anthony was also joining George and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. The biggest part of that deal as it turns out, was Victor Oladipo returning to the state he played his college ball in. After starring as an Indiana Hoosier in college, Oladipo spent a few years in Orlando before struggling last season in OKC. He has broken out this season though, averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Each of these numbers were career highs for the young guard. Oladipo also set career highs in field goal and three point percentage.
In his fifth season in the NBA, he was named to his first All-Star team. He made himself the steal of the off-season, and will be considered strongly for the league’s Most Improved Player award. His ability to play both guard positions, offensively and defensively, gives his team flexibility with their line-ups. When the trade first happened, it appeared to be a banishing to a bad team after a failed trial in OKC. Oladipo instead has surprised everyone and made his homecoming to the state of Indiana a rather triumphant one.
Balancing the Scales
The Pacers have six players scoring in double figures. Aside from Oladipo’s career high numbers, this is a team that spreads the wealth. Void of what most would call star power, the Pacers have been able to rely on different guys throughout the season. Domantas Sabonis was the other piece Indiana received in their big summer trade, who has fit in perfectly. The second year big man is averaging 11.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2 assists each contest. Along with fellow youngster Myles Turner and veteran Bojan Bogdanovic, the three create a formidable and versatile front line. All three average double figures and combine for 18 rebounds and three blocks a night.
Veteran Role Players
While the core of this Pacer’s team is young, they do have a strong veteran presence to lean on. Darren Collison and Thaddeus Young also average double figures in scoring. Lance Stephenson is just behind them with nine points a night. All three players bring good experience to the team. They each know what they do well and are willing to fill the role needed of them on any given night.
Collison is dishing out 5.4 assists each game and is averaging career highs in field goal, three point and free throw shooting percentages. His season is perfect proof of how efficient the Pacers have been this year. Young is a versatile defender who is scoring in double figures for the twelfth consecutive year. Sometimes having a team full of stars in not as necessary as having a team full of solid pros who know what they need to do each game. Stephenson was on his way towards stardom early in his career, but both on and off the court antics derailed the promise he showed. He has rebounded this year and become a solid bench contributor. His playoff experience could also come in handy for a team that does not have much of it outside of him.
Indiana Pacers Playoff Push
The Pacers sit at 47-33 with only two games remaining. They have locked themselves into the fifth seed in the East. They had a chance at getting home court in the first round. Unfortunately the recent hot streak of the Philadelphia 76ers has allowed them to pass by in the standings. Indiana will either face those 76ers or the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. Either match-up will be a tough one for varying reasons. The young 76ers have been the league’s hottest team outside of Houston in the past month. It has been seven years since a team not featuring James has represented the East in the NBA Finals. Either opponent will provide a difficult road for this team.
The Pacers will need to be at their best to find a way to progress in this year’s playoffs. Even having the opportunity at playoff success it a big step in the right direction. A surprising step, especially considering where this team was thought to be in the off-season. This young team has made great strides this season. They will be better off for having experienced the NBA playoffs regardless of the results.