KRAVITZ: Once again, Oladipo and the Pacers perform at an eye-popping level of excellence

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo gets a fast-break dunk against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Thursday, April 5, 2018. The Pacers defeated the Warriors 126-106. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Bob Kravitz

Do you know what you are watching? You are watching Victor Oladipo and you are watching one of the greatest single-season performances ever produced by an Indiana Pacer. You are watching him stuff the scoresheet virtually every night, never wavering, never showing any extended signs of fatigue while carrying the revelatory Pacers to one of the most surprising, satisfying seasons in the team's history.

I am not a stats guy; stats involve numbers, and I generally dislike numbers. But the numbers Oladipo is producing, and continued to produce Thursday night in the Pacers' 126-106 victory over Golden State, are eye-popping.

According to my resident analytics guru Grant Afseth, who will someday be working in the NBA but doesn't get a dime from me, Oladipo has the best PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in the Pacers' NBA history.

(If you ask me to explain how PER works, my head will explode, so, um, don't).

I'm quite sure there are arguments that other Pacers have had equally great or even greater seasons than Oladipo, men like Reggie Miller, Billy Knight and Jermaine O'Neal among them. (George McGinnis of the ABA Pacers trumps them all). What we can say, though, is that Oladipo has gone wire-to-wire while putting up statistics nobody could have imagined when he came to Indianapolis with Domantas Sabonis in exchange for Paul George. If it's not the best, it's one of the best.

This is why he put in the work this past off-season. This is why he hasn't made a pit stop at his favorite chicken spot, Popeyes, for over a year. (For the record, he likes the jelly on the biscuits; my preference is artery-clogging butter). This is why he took a cue from Russell Westbrook last season, noting the reigning MVP's manic work ethic and applying it to his own regimen.

"I feel fresh now," Oladipo said as the Pacers prepared to leave town for a difficult back-to-back road game at Toronto. "I feel great."

His first four seasons, he averaged 15.9 points per game. Coming into the Golden State game, he was averaging 23.3. He is rebounding at a higher rate, getting far more assists per game, getting more rebounds per game, getting more steals, shooting better from the field, from three, from the free-throw line, from downtown McCordsville. He has now registered at least one steal in 61 straight games, the sixth-longest streak in league history. Thursday, he had three more steals, giving him three or more in six straight games, the longest streak in franchise history. He just earned his third Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor, the first Pacers player ever to win it three times.

And his team is winning, having now won six of their last seven and seven of their last nine during a tortuous late-season schedule.

Most Improved Player?

It's Oladipo.

You can have Spencer Dinwiddie of Brooklyn. You can have Detroit's Andre Drummond. You can have Houston's Clint Capela. You can have the rest of the field. If I had a vote, I know where it would be going.

(Look for lots of postseason awards at season's end: General manager Kevin Pritchard should be the Executive of the Year. Nate McMillan should be among the handful of favorites to win Coach of the Year. And Oladipo will be – should be – the Most Improved).

Consider: Oladipo is the only player in the league this season who is averaging more than 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. The only one. Singular.

How thoroughly has Oladipo carried this team? Consider that Oladipo averages 23.3 points per game while the second-leading scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, averages 14.2. That's the third-biggest margin between a team's leading scorer and second-leading scorer in the league, behind only James Harden (30.7) and Chris Paul (18.5) and Kyrie Irving 24.4 and Jaylen Brown (14.1).

As the playoffs beckon, everybody is talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers, who've won nine of 10 and have benefitted from some of the most inspired basketball of LeBron James' career.

Everybody is talking about the Philadelphia 76ers, who've won 12 straight despite the (temporary) loss of center Joel Embiid.

(Sorry, Torontonians, but nobody south of the border talks about the Raptors. Unfair but true).

Note to the rest of the Eastern Conference: Do not sleep on the Indiana Pacers. Better yet, sleep on them. Take a good, long nap. The Pacers won't mind.

The Pacers simply out-classed a team that has been the class of the NBA in recent years. Granted, neither Curry nor Iguodala played, but Indiana outscored Golden State 29-10 in fast-break points and did to the Warriors what the Warriors usually do to opponents – they made 15-of-29 3-point shots, including 6-of-7 from three and 30 points, from Bogdanovic.

"It was a big test tonight," McMillan said. "I really was looking forward to playing (the Warriors) with (close to their full) roster, just to see where we were. That's a really good team. I thought our guys responded to the challenge of the things we needed to do defensively. We needed to be physical and work on the offensive end of the floor and both units did that for 48 minutes."

When it was finished, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was steaming. True, the Warriors have nothing on the line these days, having established themselves as the second seed in the West. But they were run off the floor by the Pacers.

"Yeah, I'm mad," Kerr said. "I'm embarrassed. I know this game doesn't mean anything in the seeding, but the playoffs start next week. It was an embarrassing effort. Pathetic effort…Just in general, it's hard to win an NBA game if you don't put for any effort at all."

With all due respect to Kerr, who is simply one of the best people in professional sports, the Pacers had a lot to do with the way the Warriors looked and played Thursday evening.

Understand what you're watching and who you are watching. Oladipo is having a special season, a feathery season, a season unlike any we've seen around here in a very long time. And the playoffs, the real test, are right around the corner.

Want more Kravitz? Subscribe to The Bob Kravitz Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. If you have a good story idea that's worth writing, feel free to send it to bkravitz@wthr.com.

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