As the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets were working out the NBA’s next blockbuster trade, the Indiana Pacers saw an opportunity.
According to reports on Wednesday, a trade centered around James Harden became a four-team deal that included the Pacers sending Victor Oladipo to the Rockets while netting Caris LeVert. The Harden portion of the deal became official on Thursday.
Entering the 2020-21 NBA season, the expectation was that Oladipo could be playing his final campaign in a Pacers uniform. The two-time All-Star failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension with Indiana in back-to-back offseasons and that created the perception that his departure was inevitable in free agency next offseason.
The distractions associated with Oladipo toned down significantly once the actual regular season was underway. His nine performances were a genuine mixed bag of results with averages of 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 steals.
Oladipo had displayed real improvement to start the season compared to when he initially made his return from his torn-quad tendon. Regardless, he still isn’t the player he once was when he earned All-Star appearances even though he remained insistent on shooting the ball and trying to make plays at a rate that would suggest he thought he was.
Now, the Pacers will the chance to add an intriguing player in Caris LeVert into the fold. So far this season, LeVert appeared in 12 games for the Nets and provided averages of 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists in just 27.8 minutes.
A critical difference in LeVert compared to Oladipo is his willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. The Nets had an abundance of talent with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant returning to the lineup causing LeVert to have to come off the bench.
Even after averaging 23.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.8 assists in 10 games in the 2020 NBA Bubble, LeVert didn’t raise an issue with primarily coming off the bench. Many considered his production during that stretch to be a breakout showing, so embracing this type of role was a real sacrifice.
There was a real flow to the Pacers’ half-court offense in their 104-95 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. The primary playmakers actually looked to move the ball to complementary players when extra defensive pressure was sent their way — something Oladipo has not shown a willingness to do. Indiana was too difficult to slow down as a unit because of this style.
LeVert is going to have no shortage of opportunity to put his development as a player on display with the Pacers while likely putting up career-numbers in the process. The personnel in Indiana is as close to a perfect fit as he’s going to get in the NBA.
Within the half-court on offense, LeVert is heavily reliant on pick-and-roll and is emphasized in isolation and handoffs as well. Having Domantas Sabonis as a screener with four-out spacing will put LeVert in an ideal situation in many of his initiation opportunities.
The key for LeVert will be to go from having just flashes of brilliance to putting it all together in the form of consistency. He has struggled to be an efficient overall scoring threat in his NBA career, but has put together some truly dynamic outings. He isn’t a proficient catch-and-shoot threat, but can get downhill with effectiveness and has emerged as a legitimate playmaking threat.
One of the main benefits for the Pacers that come with trading for LeVert is his contract status. He is signed through the 2020-23 season and is set to earn well below the $21 million per season figure that Oladipo is earning on his current contract. For reference, LeVert will earn $16.2 million this season followed by $17.5 million in 2021-22 and $18.8 million in 2022-23.
The Pacers already had Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner signed through the 2022-23 NBA season — now joined by LeVert. Indiana will have real stability in the player personnel department and not have to face any distractions regarding upcoming free agency periods.
While LeVert may not have the brand recognition of Oladipo to the casual NBA audience, both players are quite close in impact while one is far more of a distraction than the other. Meanwhile, LeVert has real upside left to tap into and could put that on display in a better fitting role with the Pacers. The overall potential with LeVert is substantially higher for Indiana than it was with Oladipo, at this point.