The Atlanta Hawks hope their play makes no one nauseous tonight at Philips Arena, as they aim for their first two-game winning streak of the season at the expense of the Indiana Pacers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana) on Ryan Cameron Foundation Night. There is no outcome for tonight’s contest that can be placed outside of the context of what happened to Indiana in their last game.
While one of the Hawks’ fans, and one of their opponents, were working the Highlight Factory janitorial crew into overdrive, the Pacers spent virtually all of Monday night getting outfoxed by yet another lucky-ducky team from New England. The East’s top-seeded Celtics pounced on Indy with a 12-0 lead and ten consecutive made baskets to open the match, building up as much as a 19-point lead. But in the final frame, Victor Oladipo Happened, the Fieldhouse became a madhouse, and the Pacers found themselves about to upend Boston, up by one with ten seconds to go.
Sadly, Bojan Bogdanovic lobbed a fatally errant cross-court inbounds pass, plucked from the air by Boston’s Terry Rozier, who outraced the Pacers for what would be the game-winning, heart-breaking jam. Now, instead of sauntering into the ATL with an abundance of confidence, Indiana (17-15) arrives at Philips having dropped three of their last four, eager to get that queasy feeling out of the pits of their stomachs.
Who’s the leader in the clubhouse for the Most Improved Player Award? What’s round at the ends, and LADIP in the middle? And, oh… Paul Who? Oladipo has been the answer to those questions, and many more. NBA fans who asked aloud, “Is That ALL They Got?” when the Pacers took Oladipo and second-year forward Domantas Sabonis off OKC’s hands, in exchange for former franchise savior Paul George, are now scrambling to scrub their social media comments before GM Kevin Pritchard can re-tweet them.
Pritchard might not have been caught “liking” any commentary praising him for bringing back the steady (on-the-court) Darren Collison (6.0 APG, 1.5 TOs/game) on a two-year deal, and for acquiring Cory Joseph (career-best 42.9 3FG%) for peanuts from Toronto, in-lieu of re-upping with hometown hero Jeff Teague. But few would blame him for those clicks, either. The point-guard pair joins Oladipo and Bogdanovic as four of six leaders in minutes-played for Indiana (38.9 team 3FG%, 2nd in NBA) with better than 40-percent three-point accuracy.
Entrusted with the ball by coach Nate McMillan after enhancing his conditioning and game in the offseason, Oladipo (24.9 PPG, 51.0 2FG%, 42.8 3FG%, 1.8 SPG, 5.5 RPG) is blowing away middling career numbers from his time with the Magic and Thunder, and now serves as a lock for an All-Star reserve spot, if not more.
Seeing the 25-year old guard blossom after being reduced to a literal cast-off by two NBA clubs should be instructive for anyone impulsively giving up on young talents. That includes a few Pacer fans inclined to see center Myles Turner (NBA-high 2.3 BPG) dealt away, fearing the 21-year-old has already plateaued, somehow, and might over-ripen without ever rounding out his game (phenomena also known as “Hibbert Paranoia”). Despite his defensive activity around the rim, Turner leads a Pacer defense that takes a Scroogish approach to free throws for their foes (NBA-lows of 13.1 opponent FTs and 71.9 opponent FT%).
During the 2016 Draft, Oladipo and Sabonis were shipped, along with Ersan Ilyasova, for Orlando’s half-season rental of Serge Ibaka. Like many on the Thunder, Oladipo and Sabonis were not expected to do much, unless reigning MVP Russell Westbrook called for them. But with the Pacers, Domantas has thrived as a rim-running, screen-setting, paint-passing, glass-cleaning sixth-man (team-high 8.3 RPG, mostly as a reserve). While he essentially squares the BBIQ of a bench crew that features Lance Stephenson, it shouldn’t be long before Sabonis permanently supplants Thaddeus “Mr. 50th Pecentile” Young in the starting unit.
That’s enough about the Pacers for now. And instead of the players that we all know well, let’s focus on one of the best things going for the Hawks (7-23) right now.
How does a kid with a speech impediment grow to become a senior class president (at Smyrna’s Campbell High), a frat-house president, a stand-up comedian, and, eventually, the “King of Atlanta Airwaves”, a drive-time don and a morning-show mogul, a two-time Emmy Award winner, a perennial Marconi Award nominee, and a Georgia Radio Hall of Fame inductee?
Few people gave up on Ryan Cameron. And more importantly, Cameron never allowed them to, because he never gave up on himself. Ryan put in the work as a pro bono intern at local powerhouse V-103, building his way up the ranks in a budding, competitive media market. His “Edu-tainment” approach to sharing information quickly captured the ears of not only a dedicated audience, but ATL’s many movers-and-shakers in entertainment, media, politics, and beyond.
When he’s not shouting, “GOT HEEM!” at Dennis Schröder’s overmatched defenders, Cameron spends much of his days as the preeminent voice of Atlanta FM radio. With his life story and his kids serving as touchstones, he and his ex-wife Kysha formed the Ryan Cameron Foundation as an umbrella for “True To Atlanta”-style community outreach efforts that have now spanned over 25 years.
Honored today by the Hawks, this non-profit organization (at ryancameron.org) holds bowling events and golf clinics, health fairs and youth “anti-violence” initiatives. It also hosts a “leadership academy” assisting Atlanta’s young citizens in a wide range of areas, from college prep and etiquette, to public speaking and financial literacy. Cameron hopes to someday expand his foundation nationwide, particularly through the rural areas of the South. Tonight’s honorary festivities will only help to advance that goal.
With breakout performers and steady play, the Pacers’ story represents the optimal situation anyone could have hoped for the Hawks to this point of the season. Victory tonight could vault them back into 4th place, in a conference that’s pretty muddled after the Top 3. But this game could become either the palate-cleanser coming off a disappointing defeat, or the confirmation of a possible downturn in their fortunes. Will Indiana’s hopes to climb up the standings get “Inspected… Rejected!” tonight?
Let’s Go Hawks!