Victor Oladipo may not have the box-office appeal of Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry or James Harden, but the Indiana Pacer is every bit the All-Star those three guards are, earning a starting slot at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game as proof.
Meanwhile, Kemba Walker’s star ascension is not far off, with the Charlotte Hornet point guard likely playing in his third straight All-Star Game this February, which puts him on a first-name basis with other perennial All-Star G’s like Steph, James, Russ, Klay, Kyrie, DeMar and John.
Which brings us to Wednesday night six days from now, when Walker’s Charlotte Hornets host Oladipo’s Indiana Pacers in a battle of current third and seventh seeds in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
Which East All-Star guard is better at the moment? You be the judge.
Stats through November 14, 2018
Key: G games; MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; APG assists per game; RPG rebounds per game; SPG steals per game; BPG blocks per game; TSP true shooting percentage; PER Player Efficiency Rating.
This category may have been a draw last season, but just like Oladipo dialed up his play big time for the 2017-18 season, Walker has done likewise in 2018-19, becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the League this season. Currently ranked third in the NBA with a 26.4 scoring average—trailing Curry, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Harden and Zach LaVine—Walker has become an unstoppable force in Charlotte’s first 13 games. He has seen his points-per-game average rise nearly six points by adding nearly four more three-point attempts more per contest to his ledger. Other than that, Walker is the same efficient shooter he has always been, still nailing his free throws (87 percent), and quick off the dribble to launch three-pointers (38 percent) and two-pointers (46 percent) as he always has done. The 28-year-old point guard already was the quickest with the ball at getting where he needed to go. Now that Walker has deadly shots all over the court, he is virtually unstoppable, even on a squad like Charlotte’s, which does not boast other All-Star complements.
As for Oladipo, the converted three-team-journeyman-to-star is as aggressive as can be ever since picking up that gene from one-year teammate Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City two seasons ago. The 26-year-old Oladipo, of course, took that tutelage with him to Indiana last season and won the 2017-18 NBA Most Improved award—earning 99 of 101 first-place votes, mainly by increasing his scoring average from 16 to 23 points per game. This season, Oladipo is giving foes more of the same all-around aggressiveness, averaging 24 points in 35 minutes per game on a .540 true shooting percentage, which coincidentally matches his career percentage to the last digit. The 6-4, 210-pound Oladipo may be the closest thing the East has to a Russell Westbrook, but even in this scenario, it is difficult to match up with the career scoring year Walker sees himself on.
By nature of his position (point guard), one would expect Walker to maintain the edge here. And the 6-1, 184-pound Walker does, but not without a fight from the ever-improving shooting guard in Indiana who has steadily escalated his career-best assists-per-game numbers as a Pacer from 2.6 to 4.3 per game last season and from 4.3 to 4.9 this season, while maintaining similar playing time (34.5 minutes per game).
As for Walker, however, he too has only gotten better with time, raising his career-best 6.2 assists-per-game numbers from 5.6 dimes in a similar 34.2 minutes per game last season. Both men use aggressiveness attacks as openings to create plays for their teammates, which makes them such a valuable plus-minus player whether they are teamed up with first- or second-string units. One may have the advantages, but both are great in halfcourt sets as well as transition.
Oladipo’s all-around tenacity—seen in his scoring, rebounding and playmaking attacks—was no less prevalent on the defensive end, which was particularly noteworthy during his Westbrook-cloning 2017-18 season. The media rewarded Oladipo on the defensive end as well, voting the Pacer All-Defensive First Team last season. Oladipo has shown no falloff this season, bringing the intensity to Indiana’s top 10 D this year. On the flip side, Walker is an OK defender, holding his own with most point guards his size, but by no means, is Walker viewed as the stopper that Oladipo can be.
This is a tough one to call. Walker is a natural leader and has been ever since leading Connecticut to the 2011 NCAA championship with season-long stellar stat lines of 24 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. Seven years into the NBA, Walker remains everything to the Hornets, with execs calling him the “Face of the Franchise.” That said, Walker’s name is constantly surfacing in trade rumors, which undercuts his long-term leadership abilities, to no fault of his own.
On the other side, Oladipo has become The Man in Indiana since his acquisition in 2017. The Pacers built the team around their former college kid at Indiana who once led the Hoosiers to the 2012 and 2011 Sweet 16s. As their Pacers big-man triumvirate forms into shape—with Domantas Sabonis teaming in brilliantly with Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young—Oladipo is able to take this team to parts beyond all expectations, while swirling trade rumors make you wonder if Walker is long for Charlotte. For that reason—and that reason alone—we have to give the leadership edge to Oladipo until further notice.
Both men are full of positive intangibles, which is why these seemingly unsung stars get nearly as much love from fans, coaches and peers when it comes to things like All-Star voting and other league awards. They also are fun off the court. Walker developing a following after eight seasons in Charlotte that is reminiscent of Curry’s time in Golden State, Mike Conley in Memphis and Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
Oladipo, who has his own eclectic tastes, is also feeling comfortable in his own skin after spending time in three different NBA cities thus far (Orlando, OKC and Indianapolis). In fact, Oladipo is set to release his album, V.O., on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. His single, “Connected,” is already available on iTunes if you want to check it out now.
It’s early in the season, but Walker is posting All-NBA-like Player Efficiency Rating numbers (24.1) 14 games into the season, which currently gives him the edge over 2017-All-NBA third-team pick Oladipo (22.2). It is a long season and we reserve the right to flip-flop our picks as 2018-19 moves along. These two men are special, and as their team records demonstrate, are two of the biggest factors into how this playoff race will shape up in the Eastern Conference this season.