Are the Indiana Pacers Better Without Paul George?

Hey, Indiana Pacers fans, remember when stuff like this happened?

Well, Indiana whipped Sacramento’s hide, handing the Kings a 101-83 smackdown in the process. And not only that, but the team showed that—dare I say it?—they kickstarted the future by trading Paul George not for a win-now quick fix on a fundamentally bad team but instead for pieces that are better than they looked on paper.

I mean, I was guilty of savagely underrating both Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the preseason preview, but the wild part is that they’re doing this without Myles Turner, not because Turner is himself overrated but because it’s just the new face of Pacers basketball.

And this is where I drop the bombshell as November begins:

I think the Pacers are better without Paul George.

PG13 simply tried to do too much, and it has never been his temperament to be a true leader on the floor. Which is fine when you are Danny Granger‘s teammate and Granger is still in his prime.

But not for nothing did Turner himself say that the locker room feels looser, more like a team atmosphere with George gone.

What’s more, five times last season, PG13 had a shot in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter that would have tied the game or put Indiana ahead. He missed all five.

Watch the way the ball moves around for the Pacers this year. They’re not running the offense through a single focal point; yes, Oladipo is the primary scorer and has a 31.5 Usage Rate, but the way the team spreads the shots around, it’s not like last year’s team, where the squad tended to stand around and watch their star get forced into a bad iso and a bad shot.

And that’s before you consider that George was third on the team in Win Shares behind Jeff Teague and Turner.

My point is that the Pacers, denied a natural center of gravity for the offense to flow through, have in equal measure invented one (in the form of Oladipo, the primary scorer) and been forced to examine all available options every time down the floor.

With the lone exception of Lance Stephenson, who has been absolutely terrible (not counting the Sacramento game, minus-.149 Win Shares per 48 and a 1.9 PER but with a 22.6 Usage Rate, second-highest of any Pacer to play all six games before tonight) and is reminding everyone why he bounced around the league like an errant basketball over the years, the team just spreads the joy.

That’s how teams lacking star power compete. It’s how the Celtics developed their own talent after Brad Stevens took over as coach and before they got the triumvirate of Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, and Kyrie Irving.

And sure, maybe Indiana’s going to get beaten like a piñata when they have to play eight of their next 11 games on the road, including at Cleveland on a back-to-back Wednesday night.

But the early returns are too promising to ignore. The team just pulled down 53 rebounds and outworked a team on the boards in a way they never did before; Sabonis is grabbing boards like his old man used to in Lithuania. They won the assist battle in a game where nobody had more than five of them; they assisted on 69.3 percent of their makes…all in a game that last year’s team would’ve found a way to lose.

We’ll see if I get a case of Whiplash Stupid after the road stretch, but right now, it looks like the Pacers are absolutely better than anyone could have imagined before the season began, all via addition by subtraction.