The mere fact that the Indiana Pacers are 0-3 without Victor Oladipo in the lineup does not on its face tell us anything in particular; teams, even good teams, go on losing streaks. The Rockets just lost five in a row, after all, and they’re the third-best team in all of basketball by record, second if you go by the advanced point differential stats. Likewise, if Bojan Bogdanovic hadn’t gifted them a win, the Celtics would’ve suffered a three-game skid of their own right before Christmas.
What we really want to measure in terms of Vic’s impact is just why the Pacers are 0-3 without him and don’t exactly look like the favorites in Milwaukee Wednesday night. And while everything you are about to see is based on a catastrophically small three-game sample size, let’s see if the context of the season can make a bit more sense of it.
The Simple Replacement Dropoff
I love Lance Stephenson as a bench guy, a clubhouse leader, and an infinite source of entertainment at the expense of the other team. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want anchoring your second unit, the kind of guy who makes players better not by his play on the court but by his intangibles off it.
I do not love Lance Stephenson as a starting shooting guard, not even if he were on the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
As a starter, Lance is a genuinely lousy 17-of-45 (37.8 percent) from the field, and that number is propped up by the 7-of-12 he posted in the loss to Dallas.
Against Minnesota, Lance was so awful that he posted a negative Game Score. His Offensive Rating was 63. In the last five games stretching back before the Oladipo injury, Lance’s offensive and defensive per-game rating splits were, on average (and unadjusted for the pace of each specific game because screw math, this point makes itself quite fine with simple arithmetic), 82.6 on offense and 120.2 on defense.
You could fish any half-decent shooting guard out of the G-League and expect a better result.
When you go from Victor Oladipo to Lance Stephenson as your starter, you’re basically agreeing with your dog to switch meals on Steak Night. The dog gets the steak. You get the dog food.
The Team Effect
One thing that always plagued Paul George during his Pacers days, and one reason he’s so intriguing in Oklahoma City (more on this Thursday in the latest Is He Any Good, shameless plug over), is that when he played in Indiana, he had a severe shortage of outlets to keep the defense away from him. He couldn’t pass to Monta Ellis because Ellis would take a bad shot and miss it. Ditto C.J. Miles, who is streakier than dollar-store window cleaner. Myles Turner hadn’t (and still hasn’t) developed his post game. So PG13 had to do too much himself, and the defense could stifle the Pacers’ offense.
And indeed, after a decent performance by the squad against Dallas because it’s the Mavs, not exactly the Golden State Warriors defensively, the Pacers shot the ball at a mediocre 46.2 percent clip against another awful team in Chicago before having the bottom fall out against Minnesota, where the Pacers shot just 38.8 percent as a team, while the starters without Oladipo shot an utterly putrid 32.4 percent and made only 12 shots total for the game.
When you have the threat of Oladipo, who’s going to get his 25 points by hook or by crook, it’s not Vic’s 25 the other team has to worry about. It’s Bogie’s 20 or Thad’s 15 or Myles going off for 20. Oladipo is averaging four assists a game, personally setting the table for a fifth of his teammates’ shots and facilitating ball movement that has Collison posting the highest assists per game and second-highest per 100 possessions of his career.
That ball movement disappears when you have a ball stopper like Stephenson and gets especially ground into dust when the defense doesn’t have to give the other shooters room because they’re respecting what Vic can do with the ball.
Plus, There’s The Whole Having An All-Star Thing
Not for nothing does Oladipo have a 23.9 PER, .159 Win Shares per 48 Minutes, and 1.8 VORP. Those are All-Star numbers, and the Pacers miss those numbers when they’re not on the floor. Oladipo is a (barely) plus defender, he’s a fantastic offensive machine, and without him, Indiana, a top-notch offensive team with Oladipo, looks a lot less like a force of nature, posting offensive ratings of 104.8, 109.4, and 99.9 against two bad teams and a good one. On average, that’s five points per 100 possessions less than their season average of 109.8 (which is 8th in the NBA.)
Let’s take that middle figure, 104.8, and consider that over a full season that’d be 27th in the league, ahead of only the hapless Lakers, Bulls, and Kings, who are a combined 36-73, a single-season pace of 27-55.
That’s how bad the Pacers are without Vic in the lineup. They go from being the fourth-best team in the East to being down there with the Magic and Hawks.
Get well soon, Vic. We need you at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.