By: Sam Block
Enough is enough. This summer many NBA enthusiasts, including myself, bought into a narrative about the Indiana Pacers General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, Kevin Pritchard. That narrative was that he was absolutely out of his mind for dealing superstar Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for what we believed was nothing. Folks, it is time to admit that we were wrong about Pritchard. Kevin Pritchard knew EXACTLY what he was doing. George was going to walk anyway and Pritchard was in a bind. Without us even realizing, he acquired not one, but two bright young play-makers. Both Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis look like absolute steals so far this season. It is time to change the narrative on Mr. Kevin Pritchard.
Most people thought the Indiana Pacers would be bottom dwellers in the Eastern Conference this year and maybe win 15-20 games. Now they may not truly contend for a playoff spot this year in the shockingly improved Eastern Conference, but I believe they will win about 30 games. Through his first 12 games this season, Victor Oladipo is averaging 22.8 points per game, along with 3.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds. That is very impressive for a guy who was thought to be “nothing.” And don’t let me get started on Domantas Sabonis. This guy is going to be an all-star in the next three years. Mark my words. Through his first 10 games this season, he is averaging a double-double with 13.5 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. I really like Domantas Sabonis. This guy plays with toughness and I am sure a chip on his shoulder. First, he got dealt from the Orlando Magic to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then he heard all the talk this offseason about how the Pacers traded away Paul George for garbage. Domantas Sabonis is far from garbage, and I think he will eventually make his way into the starting lineup consistently alongside the big man, Myles Turner.
Maybe the Pacers are better at evaluating talent than we realize. A big thing I heard was that the Pacers should have at least acquired draft picks in the deal with Oklahoma City. Now I completely agreed with that at the time, and still think those draft picks would have been beneficial. But let me tell you…Sabonis is in his second year after barely getting any minutes last year. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The guy is practically a “draft pick.” And then there’s Victor Oladipo. He has been tossed around throughout his first few years in the league, just like Sabonis. The chip on his shoulder is probably enormous as well. He was the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and has yet to find a true NBA home. This guy is not far off from a draft pick either.
Let’s face it. Pritchard did his job. He acquired two glorified draft picks from the Oklahoma City Thunder without anyone realizing it. His ability to scout and pinpoint the untapped potential of 25-year-old Victor Oladipo and 21-year-old Domantas Sabonis has not been getting nearly enough credit. And like I mentioned briefly before, this is not the first time Pritchard has spotted untapped potential. Myles Turner is averaging 15.2 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, and 2.4 blocks per game through his first 5 games of the 2017-2018 NBA season. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of the University of Texas by the Indiana Pacers and was thought of as a guy who maybe left too early and was a huge question mark coming into the NBA. Pritchard proved to be the wise man that night by taking a chance on Turner. I am sure the Philadelphia 76ers wish they took Myles Turner over Jahlil Okafor at 3. I am sure the Orlando Magic wish they took Myles Turner over Mario Hezonja at 5. I am sure the Sacramento Kings wish they took Myles Turner over Willie Cauley-Stein at 6. My point is that many teams passed on Myles Turner. Kevin Pritchard however, was smart enough to not miss out on the one-and-done Texas Longhorn.
The Pacers also proved to their loyal fan base that they were not completely tanking by choosing to sign two quality free agents this offseason. They signed a very solid point guard in Darren Collison and the ultimate sharpshooter in Bojan Bogdanovic. Through 12 games this season, Collison is averaging 12.5 points per game and 6.8 assists per game. That’s not bad for a player that many people considered to be “washed up.” Bogdanovic is also certainly holding his own this season averaging 13.3 points per game. Not bad for two free agents on the cheaper side in today’s NBA.
Overall, it is important to realize what Kevin Pritchard has done. He completely ignored all of the outside chatter and got rid of the Paul George distraction while also acquiring two players he believed to be severely underrated. Thus far, his critics seem to be flat out wrong, and he seems to have hit the nail on the head. Paul George was and still is an incredible talent. But when a superstar like that has had enough, he has had enough. If Pritchard kept him around any longer, the culture around the Indiana Pacers would have continued to sour at a very fast pace. Now, the culture around the Pacers is young and fun. They are a team with grit, potential, and the air is fresh. While the future is still up in the air, it certainly looks to be bright. Paul George was NOT all-in. On the contrary, he was just about all-out. Now the Pacers have a bright young player who excelled as a Hoosier all throughout his college career and possibly the second coming of Arvydas Sabonis. Let’s give Kevin Pritchard the respect and credit that he certainly deserves. We were wrong folks. Kevin Pritchard was right.