It’s June 30th, 2017 and the Indiana Pacers have just traded All-Star caliber Small Forward Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The world is stunned, the Pacers are shunned. Many Pacers fans (myself included at the time, being a Paul George fan all these years) are calling for the firing of our general manager, the debatably long-overdue removal of the head coach (which seemed rather long overdue considering several lack luster seasons), and a “tank season” (purposing doing poorly for a year to acquire a good draft pick). What followed, however, would shock the NBA (or at least, Pacers fans) to their very core.
I was there opening night, October 18th, 2017, when the Pacers and the Nets faced off. I behind one of the baskets and having attended a few Pacers games in my very short time I’ve lived on this earth, this one was special. It was electric. The Pacers won on opening night. No one however expected any less, it was just a mediocre Nets team they had defeated after all, and lets be honest. Anything can happen on one night in the NBA. What no one did expect was the final score, the nail-biter of a game, and the unexpected star that would slowly begin to emerge from that night onward.
The final score that night was 140-131, Pacers. No defense was played by either side it seemed, as late in the game it turned to a shootout. I remember sitting in my seat (as the Pacers for a while had a decent lead) thinking “man, the Pacers are going to blow this game. Typical Pacers.” But they stayed tough, and with Oladipo’s 22 points (on his opening night in Indiana) they secured their first win together. What would follow would be two losses, and then a win. The Pacers had stumbled out to a 2-2 start. However, in his first four Pacers games, Oladipo was averaging 24 points a game, and after another loss to Paul George’s new team, OKC, Oladipo would do something Paul George has never done in Indiana.
He’d hit a game-winning shot against the Spurs. The Pacers would follow this win by dominating the Kings, dismantling the Cavaliers (did I mention they have the best player in the league?), and are currently sitting at 12-9. Now, don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying this is the best Pacers team ever assembled nor am I saying we are destined to win a championship anytime soon. But I am saying (however bold it may be), that even teams like the Warriors started somewhere, and we may be looking at the start of a good, young core here. With Oladipo averaging 23/5/4, up from his career averages of 16/4/4, I’d say we have some players definitely stepping up. Don’t get me started on Turner (who, in my opinion, isn’t even playing to his full capacity this year yet), and Sabonis, or others like T.J. Leaf. The truth is, Oladipo & Sabonis went from “the guys traded for Paul George”, to “the future of the Pacers” very, very quickly.