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INDIANAPOLIS – Unfortunately, this isn’t foreign territory for the Indiana Pacers.
They’ve had to handle a serious leg/knee injury to their star player before, back when Paul George broke his leg in August 2014.
The ruptured quad tendon in Victor Oladipo’s right knee has ended his 2018-19 season. A Thursday MRI confirmed the injury for Oladipo, which has a recovery period in the 6-to-12 month range. Surgery for Oladipo will come at a later date.
With that news, the Pacers have some immediate questions for Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan.
Those questions impact the current path for this team and how they will handle things long-term.
Here’s a look into the dilemmas facing the Pacers after Oladipo’s injury:
Getting Oladipo to Return Fully
This is the most important part.
Nothing matters more than the Pacers getting their star back to his All-Star form.
When you look at the current makeup of the Pacers, they are unequivocally building around their 26-year-old All-Star, who is under contract through the 2020-21 season.
While modern medicine and elite athletes rehabbing with great resources readily available should lead to a full recovery, you still have to have a bit of concern in guaranteeing that Oladipo gets back to his explosive self. Rehabs from this injury have varied greatly for athletes, in the 6-to-12 month range.
Oladipo will turn 27 years old in early May. His greatest asset as a player is his rare athletic makeup.
For a 6-4 guard, Oladipo plays bigger than that, routinely attacking the rim and finishing against longer/larger guys. He’s not some dead-eye shooter that leans heavily on his perimeter shot. For Oladipo to be among the game’s best, he needs that elite athleticism in his game.
Getting Oladipo all the way back to that level is the biggest factor in his rehab.
Time for Tyreke Evans to Step Up
In the here and now, the Indiana Pacers need Tyreke Evans to continue the recent run he’s had.
Evans has scored in double figures in 7 straight games, following a PRP injection into his knee when the Pacers were in New York a few weeks back.
The expectation is Evans will now slide into the starting lineup and become the lead guard, when it comes to scoring and occasionally distributing.
When the Pacers signed Evans last summer, they did it with the intention that he could carry some scoring burden if Oladipo was out or being taken away.
It’s quite the load for Evans to now take on, with the bench also having to scramble.
Evans has battled some inconsistency with the Pacers in his first season, but they now need him more than ever to live up to the similar numbers we saw last year, when Evans averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game with Memphis.
Along with Evans, the Pacers will need more from Aaron Holiday sliding into the rotation, Edmond Sumner will be called up from the G-League and Nate McMillan needs to be open to using Myles Turner/Domantas Sabons more on the floor together to try and bring a unique look for other teams.
2018-19 Season Outlook
At 32-15, the Pacers are currently in the No. 3 spot of the Eastern Conference, a game up on the 76ers and 2.5 games clear of the Celtics.
Earlier this season, the Pacers went 7-4 without Oladipo. But they beat just one team currently in the playoffs during that span (the Utah Jazz).
Life without Oladipo for the final 35 games of the season is going to be very daunting though. Specifically in-game, how the Pacers handle through end of the game situations will be critical without their go-to guy late.
The schedule toughens up majorly and practice time is obviously limited to try and work Evans more with the starting lineup or change/mesh rotational pieces (i.e. more Aaron Holiday taking Evans’ spot with the second unit).
Realistic expectations for a playoff run likely went out the door when Oladipo was stretchered off on Wednesday night.
The Pacers should still make the playoffs without Oladipo, but it’s hard to imagine them winning a series with a roster filled of more complementary pieces.
Change Pritchard’s Plans?
The Oladipo injury probably means Pritchard will not be looking to buy too much at the upcoming trade deadline, which comes on February 7th.
Why would you sacrifice resources for a team that isn’t expected to make any sort of playoff push, without their star player?
The injury situation for Oladipo though could impact how the Pacers handle an offseason where they have many free agents (Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn) and cap space in the $50 million ballpark.
Does the Oladipo injury mean that prospective free agents might be more hesitant to join the Pacers, fearing that the 2019-20 season won’t see Oladipo at his best?
Instead of finding more pieces around Oladipo, does Pritchard now think the Pacers need more of a lead guard this summer, as insurance for Oladipo?
These are, unfortunate, questions that Pritchard and his staff must ask regarding the direction of their franchise.
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