Billy Donovan, Russell Westbrook impressed with former Thunder players – Oladipo and Sabonis

The other two players in the Pacers’ offseason deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder commonly referred to as “The Paul George Trade” are Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Both young players spent just one season in OKC. They witnessed and played a part in Russell Westbrook’s MVP season where he averaged a triple-double (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists) and passed Oscar Robertson (1961–62) for the most triple-doubles in season with 42.

Oladipo and Sabonis, taken 11th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, were traded together from the Magic to the Thunder. Then, one year later, this past June, dealt once more.

They were both starters then … and now they are thriving in their new roles with the Pacers. Oladipo is playing at an All-Star level, averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. He’s the outright on-court leader of the Pacers and has twice been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Sabonis, meanwhile, comes off the bench behind Myles Turner. His minutes are up (24.2 per game) and he has more than doubled his points, rebounds, and assists per game averages. His natural skills are obvious, like his touch, footwork, and overall comfort around the hoop. He’s great in the pick-and-roll game, especially with Lance Stephenson.

With Oklahoma City in town to play the Pacers recently, I asked both coach Billy Donovan and Westbrook, the reigning MVP, for their thoughts on the former Thunder players.

Billy Donovan on Oladipo:

“I had a chance to spend some time with Victor in the summer on several different occasions and I felt like he was going to have a great year for us at that time because of the investment that he made. He totally changed his body, changed his work habits, I think changed his mentality. I think the things that he went through the first three or four years in the NBA have given him a blueprint of what he needed to do to get better.

“I have always remembered Victor in high school and in college as a guy with a great motor and great energy, and I think he’s playing like that again. Now he’s invested a lot of time working on his skills — his handling, his passing, and his shooting, and certainly that’s there — but to me, it’s always been his energy that’s made him and separated him as a player.

“And I think he’s gotten himself in incredible shape, he’s taken great care of his body, and he’s probably used all of the experience that he’s had in his short time in the NBA, and he utilized the offseason to get well. And I think Nate’s put him in a great situation to utilize his strengths and talents.”

[How Victor Oladipo handles a big win]

Donovan on Sabonis:

“Domas started for us as a rookie so he was really impressive to me. Great guy, tough, physical, unselfish, good feel of how to play. Didn’t really take any 3-point shots in college. We let him shoot some 3s and he’s obviously the ball from the perimeter here in Indiana. But, again, another guy that’s got a really bright future ahead of him just because of who he is as a person, his work ethic, his character, and just his mentality. Domas really cares. It’s important to him that he plays well and become a good player, and he’s going to put the time and energy into that.”

Westbrook on Oladipo:

“Ah, he’s been doing great, man. Being aggressive, exactly how he should be doing. He’s playing aggressive, playing the way that I’ve seen him play many of times. Just being around him working – over the summer as well. Happy for him.”

[Oladipo on his signature celebration, This Is My House]

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