First thing’s first: Pray for a full recovery for Victor Oladipo.
The man has been one of the most inspirational stories since arriving in Indiana a year and a half ago, as he went from disappointing lottery pick to unexpected superstar. His evolution as one of the league’s top two-way guards has made him the main attraction for one of the most likable teams in the NBA.
It’s also such a feel-good story because players and reporters alike have time and time again praised Oladipo for his likability. To see one of the most revered players in the league blossom into the excellent player that he is today really warms the heart.
And it really breaks the heart to see his knee give out the way it did on Thursday. Oladipo deserves props for taking his injury like a champ. It couldn’t have been easy with his trainer covering his kneecap with a towel and being carried off in a stretcher. Yet, he still seemed to be in high spirits, gesturing to the fans and high-fiving teammates.
It’s good that he stays positive because suffering a season-ending injury is tough to endure. Now that he’s been officially been diagnosed with a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, Oladipo has officially been deemed out for the season, which has ramifications in various facets across the league.
Losing Victor Oladipo would certainly appear to be a death blow for Indiana. He is the unquestioned alpha dog of this team who would have made his second consecutive all-star team before his injury prematurely ended his season.
Something to keep in mind though: ‘Dipo’s stats had taken a slight step back in his second season in Indy.
His first season, he averaged 23.1 points on 47.7 percent shooting including 37 percent from three, as well as 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game. He also had an effective field goal percentage of almost 53 as well as a true shooting percentage of 57.7. These numbers were good enough to get Oladipo a spot on the All-NBA Third Team.
Compare that to this season – it’s been an almost all-around drop. Oladipo’s averaging 18.8 points on 42.3 percent shooting including 34.3 percent from three, as well as 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists. His effective field goal percentage has dropped all the way to 48.6 and his true shooting percentage dropped to almost 52 percent.
All of this is being said not to take anything away from Victor – his numbers could point to his knee holding him back all season – but to point out that, despite his regression, the Pacers haven’t suffered much from it. In fact, they’ve actually gotten better overall as a team even with his struggles.
Remember that the Pacers won 48 games last season thanks to Oladipo’s superhuman efforts. This season, they currently sport a record of 32-15, which puts them on pace to win about 56 games. That pace will more than likely falter with him down for the count, but the point is the team’s evolution since last year could help them manage even without their star.
What also works in Indy’s favor is that outside of Oladipo, they have a lot of top-notch role players on expiring contracts. Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans and Bojan Bogdanovic among others among others will all be playing for a new contract this summer. All of them will surely be trying to look the best they can to look good for their next contract. With Victor out, they’ll get more touches which should give them the opportunity to prove themselves.
Lastly, we’ll get to see what Myles Turner and Aaron Holiday are made of. Turner still hasn’t exactly turned the corner, but he currently ranks sixth in Defense Real Plus-Minus right now. Now comes the test to see if he can handle a bigger offensive role, which could do wonders for him reaching his potential.
In Holiday’s case, rumor had it that the Pacers were trying to trade either Collison or Joseph in order to make room for Holiday because he’s been impressive when he’s gotten minutes. The only issue is that the Pacers have Joseph and Darren Collison to take up the majority of the minutes at point guard. Now that more minutes will open up, the Pacers get the opportunity to see just how polished Holiday is without trading one of their guys.
It’s not the prettiest outlook, but the Pacers are still a rugged playoff team, with or without Oladipo.
The Eastern Conference
The worst part about Oladipo’s injury is the timing. If this had happened at the start of the season, then so much could be different for Indy right now. The Pacers would be given the choice to either make a playoff push or tank for the lottery. Sadly, we’ve gone past the halfway mark this season which doesn’t give the Pacers much freedom to do what they want to do considering where they stand.
Indiana’s 32-15 record currently has them placed as the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They are currently two-and-a-half games in back of both Toronto and Milwaukee for the top seed while also being one game ahead of Philadelphia and two-and-a-half games ahead of Boston.
Oladipo’s knee injury could certainly shake a lot up. How Indiana does in his absence depends on how they handle their schedule. According to Tankathon, Indiana has the 11th-hardest remaining schedule. Since Toronto has the easiest remaining schedule and Milwaukee isn’t too far behind with the 27th-hardest remaining schedule, catching them isn’t likely.
Keeping the third seed away from Boston and Philadelphia, even if it’s not going to be easy, is a more doable task. Boston has the seventh-hardest remaining schedule while Philly has the 14th-hardest schedule. Both of those teams will be coming at full force at Indiana as we enter the second half of the season. If Indiana holds strong, they should be proud of getting that third seed.
Then again, facing the red-hot Brooklyn Nets – who are starting to distinguish themselves as the sixth seed – may not be a much better fate than the Celtics or the Sixers.
The Trade Deadline
Before Oladipo’s knee gave out, there was much speculation – no confirmed interest as of now – that the Pacers would potentially be a player in the Mike Conley sweepstakes with Memphis appearing to be listening to offers for him.
Conley would give a fully healthy Pacers team a little more star power and playoff experience that they need to put next to Oladipo. As well-rounded as Indiana’s roster is, outside of ‘Dipo, they don’t have anyone on that roster currently who is a full-fledged all-star. Because of that, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston would all have an edge in a playoff series because of their star power. Conley would fix that.
Indiana appeared to be a perfect destination for him. As stated before, they had the money to match, expiring contracts and even a nice youthful asset in Holiday to attract the Grizzlies. Now that Oladipo is out for the season, that would probably throw a wrench in the Pacers’ plans in going after Conley if they wanted him beforehand.
But… What if it didn’t?
What if the Pacers truly don’t believe this season is over even with their best player out until next season? As well as they’ve played over the past year and a half, there’s no guarantee that they can land themselves a player as good as Conley via free agency. A player of his caliber doesn’t go on the trade market every day, and if they are really trying to keep their playoff push as strong as they can, getting him definitely would help in stabilizing the roster.
Conley is only 31 and his contract goes another two years after this season. Even if he is overpaid compared to most of the players in the NBA, he’s not a bad investment. And if it works, imagine what he and Oladipo could look like next season.
Again, this is all just pure speculation. Indiana may be happy the way it is and might decide to stay the way it is, but don’t be shocked if the team take its chances on Conley. Utah, who has recently played much better and is looking for more firepower to combat the loaded West, is reportedly interested in him. If Indy wants him aboard, they need to go after him now.
Nobody likes to see star players like Victor Oladipo have their season end right in the thick of an intense playoff race, but that’s the obstacle Indiana currently faces. It’s not going to be easy from here on out, but no matter what happens with the Pacers, they’ll be sure to go down swinging.