Indiana, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, are fearful that Oladipo suffered a knee injury that will require surgery and end his season. Depending on the severity, the All-Star guard could also miss the start of the 2019/20 campaign too.
The Pacers are currently third in the Eastern Conference, sitting three-and-a-half games back on the top seed. Oladipo’s breakout year last season elevated Indiana. He has not been at quite the same standard this season, shooting at a lower percentage and scoring less, but he is still unquestionably the Pacers’ best player.
The third spot is key in the Eastern Conference. The best five teams in the East are considerably better than the rest.
As it stands, Indiana would have a homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have been better this season, with D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie performing well, but it is incomparable to facing the Sixers or Celtics, who are Indiana’s likely opponents if they drop in the standings.
Losing your best player hurts every teams, and there’s a case that it hurts Indiana less than others. Their strength in depth is key to their success, which makes it hard to pick their second-best player. That’s a good thing in many ways – particularly in the regular season – but it’s a concern come playoff time, when the best players are difference-makers, as Indiana witnessed as LeBron James put Cleveland on his back in the first-round last season.
With Oladipo potentially out for the year, Indiana are in a good position to sell. Bogdanovic is having a good year, shooting over 43% from three, and would get a good return as teams hunt for more shooting. Collison is shooting the ball well too. Young is an excellent defender.
Without Oladipo, it is probable that Indiana exit in the first round. They could, of course, make a move to strengthen their roster regardless of what happens to their All-Star. Mike Conley is an option, but it’s scoring that they desperately need if Oladipo is out. His ability to beat his man off the dribble creates open shots for others.
The Pacers are built on a great defence (it ranks second in defensive rating on basketball reference). That alone is not enough, particularly against Philadelphia or Boston. With Oladipo and Myles Turner tied down for two more seasons, acquiring assets that can help in 2020 and 2021 makes sense if Oladipo is out for the season.
It’s unlikely a third-placed team decides to weaken themselves down the stretch this season. It’s not necessarily a popular strategy, but perhaps it would be best for the franchise as they look to compete with Boston and Philadelphia in years to come.