Victor Oladipo played in 19 games for a total of 528 minutes, ranking him 10th on the Pacers in total minutes played, behind the rotation guys who’d been there all season and ahead of the players who got most of their minutes in garbage time or spent a good chunk of the season in the G-League (the complete list in descending order: Goga Bitadze, JaKarr Sampson, Edmond Sumner, T.J. Leaf, Alize Johnson, Naz Mitrou-Long, and at just 31 minutes, Brian Bowen.)
Despite this reduced workload thanks to not appearing in a game until January 29, Oladipo posted the worst VORP on the entire roster at minus-0.2. The Pacers lost five of Oladipo’s first six games back with the team, all by single digits, and all save one (a nine-point loss to Toronto in which Oladipo shot a respectable 5-of-11 from the field) games in which it could be reasonably argued that Oladipo went full Lance Stephenson on a bad day and shot the Pacers out of a chance to win.
The team was better after that, going 10-3 in Oladipo’s other 13 appearances, and as a point of comparison they went just 4-3 without him after he came back from injury but in a game in which he wasn’t in the lineup due to load management.
But “worst VORP on the entire team” and .002 WS/48? That’s kind of the sum of all fears for Pacers fans who worried that Oladipo would lose something permanent when he suffered the kind of injury that can end careers (and indeed ended the career of Charles Barkley, though admittedly Sir Charles was a lot older than Vic is now.) This ain’t the 5-VORP guy Vic was in 2018.
The Pacers need to make some tough decisions in the offseason. Their shortlist of coaching candidates, at least according to rumors, seems to include guys who are absolutely, 100 percent not Nate McMillan in any way whatsoever. Whether it’s Mike D’Antoni, Kenny Atkinson, or (if the Celtics overreact the way some rumors seem to be pointing after the conference-final loss to Miami) Brad Stevens, the Pacers seem poised to, for better or worse, finally get dragged into the 2020s in terms of how they play the game on the court.
And that too doesn’t augur well for Oladipo’s game.
The elephant in the room is that Oladipo is simply not a great three-point shooter. He’s never topped 37.3 percent (his mark in 2017-18), he’s just a 35.0 percent shooter from long range in his career, and even in Orlando and Oklahoma City, he was averse to shooting them; his highest 3PAR before this season was .378 in 2016-17 on the Thunder.
And this year? He hit an atrocious 31.7 percent of his threes on a .423 3PAR, enough to drop his overall FG% to 39.4 percent and his eFG% to .461 even with the extra volume of long balls.
Which in turn suggests that he’s not able to attack the rim with his athleticism the way he could before he got hurt. Oladipo shot just 44.1 percent on shots from three feet and in this season, or layup-and-dunk range; he was a 69 percent effective finisher in 2017-18.
The question now is not whether Indiana can keep him in free agency when his contract is up after the 2020-21 season.
The question is whether they should.
Oladipo is a cap-friendly expiring contract on the trade market. That’s the stuff that generous packages from rebuilding teams or a slew of future picks from teams on the verge of contention are made of.
Recently, Dallas Mavericks fans have been talking amongst themselves about Oladipo’s potential as a piece next to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Read this whole comment thread (and big shout-out to Mike Bibbins over at NBA Twitter for inspiring this piece in the first place):
Alright. I need to know where you stand. Please explain why in the comments.
— Bibs (@BibsCorner) September 28, 2020
Mavs fans are talking themselves into the one-year rental, believing that if Vic gets healthy, they’ll be able to convince him to sign in order to make deep playoff runs with a guy whose ceiling is the Hall of Fame.
There are, of course, questions in terms of what the Mavs might have that the Pacers would want, but a team with the 10th-best 3-point percentage and the second-highest 3PAR as a team behind only the wacky and wonderful Houston Rockets does have a ton of wing depth (from Tim Hardaway Jr.—even though Hardaway can’t guard my dead grandmother—to sharpshooter Seth Curry to the 23-year-old Jalen Brunson, who despite a shoulder injury may be a great young gun to back up Malcolm Brogdon at point guard in Indiana next year and beyond.)
And, of course, they have draft picks, albeit draft picks that probably aren’t going to be that good if Doncic evolves Dallas into the team that fills the void in a post-LeBron universe down the road.
But it doesn’t have to be Dallas. Someone, somewhere in the NBA will be willing to take a one-year flyer on Oladipo believing they can re-sign him, and much like the trade that brought Vic (and Domantas Sabonis) to Indiana in the first place as part of the surrender of Paul George, if anyone can trade up out of what looks like a bad situation, it’s Kevin Pritchard.
The Pacers should sell high; if Vic has another dreadful season in 2020-21, or if he decides to walk in free agency, Indiana will be left with nothing but a memory and a wonder at what might have been had their star not been hurt or had they never hired Nate the First Round Playoff Choke Coach in the first place.