Victor Oladipo, Pacers Pick Up 116-108 Win over Trae Young, Hawks

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2018

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) drives to the basket as Atlanta Hawks forward DeAndre' Bembry (95) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)
Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers extended their winning streak to five games Monday with a 116-108 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on New Year's Eve at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Victor Oladipo put together another strong across-the-board performance with 22 points, seven assists, five steals and four rebounds in 34 minutes. Myles Turner added 20 points, eight boards and four blocks for the Pacers.

Standout rookie point guard Trae Young tallied 16 points and seven dimes for the Hawks. Kevin Huerter and John Collins each posted 22 points to lead Atlanta in scoring.


Victor Oladipo's Playmaking Makes Pacers True Top-Seed Threat in East

Oladipo has possessed the ability to create his own shot since the Orlando Magic selected him with the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He's started to show more polish as a distributor recently, which has helped spark Indiana's recent hot streak.

The 26-year-old Indiana University product entered Monday's contest averaging 5.4 assists on the season, putting him on pace to set a new career high in that category, and he put up nearly seven dimes per game during the month of December.

His ability to generate open looks for the likes of Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic and the Pacers' depth assets gives the team more margin for error. That's why they can still win games when he has an off night shooting like he did Friday night against the Detroit Pistons when he scored seven points.

It's great news for Indiana, which sits third in the Eastern Conference behind only the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.

While most of the focus entering the season was on the Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, the Pacers' recent play shows they at least deserve a spot in the conversation as the best in the East.

Oladipo's work as a playmaker rather than a shoot-first guard is a major reason for that success and showcases his Most Improved Player Award from last season was no fluke.


Kevin Huerter's Improvement Will Take Much-Needed Pressure Off Trae Young

Young entered his debut campaign with major expectations. Not only was he a top-five selection, but the lack of star power around him in Atlanta meant he was expected to take a lead role right away.

The 20-year-old rising star shined out of the gate by averaging 19.1 points in October, but he hit a roadblock in November as his scoring average dropped to 14.0 and he shot just 35.5 percent from the field, including 19.8 percent from three as the opponent's top defensive focus.

It was clear the Texas native needed some help and now Huerter, another rookie asked to make an immediate impact, has started to provide it.

The shooting guard put up 22 points in Monday's loss and averaged better than 10 points in December as he's steadily increased his scoring output in each month.

Atlanta isn't ready to make serious noise in the East quite yet. But there are signs of real progress in recent weeks with five wins over the past seven games, with both losses coming to Indiana.

Huerter is proving he can take some of the offensive load off Young's shoulders, which should allow the former University of Oklahoma stud to develop his game at a more reasonable rate. No longer is he the only backcourt weapon teams need to worry about.

That should pay dividends for the Hawks both in the short term and over the long haul as they attempt to turn a corner in their rebuilding process.


What's Next?

The Pacers begin the 2019 portion of their schedule Friday night when they travel to face the Chicago Bulls to kick off a five-game road trip.

Atlanta is back in action Wednesday night as they battle the John Wall-less Washington Wizards.


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