With Victor Oladipo set to return from injury Janu. 29, can the Indiana Pacers win the East this season?
The Indiana Pacers have had a reasonably successful season., They are sixth in the Eastern conference, 9½ games behind the first-place Milwaukee Bucks. They have managed to do this without the services of Victor Oladipo.
Prior to his injury, Oladipo was playing the best ball of his career. In his time with the Pacers he has played 111 games, averaging 21.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.1 assists per game. Oladipo is such a good defender, he led the league in steals in the 2017-18 season.
To add to these accolades, Oladipo was named to the All-Defensive and All-NBA teams in 2017-18 and capped it off by being awarded Most Improved Player.
He was also a first-time All-Star and deservedly so. He was named as an All-Star the next season, but was unable to play in the game due to the torn quad tendon which has kept him out since last Jan. 23.
The Pacers this season have done a lot of things right. Coach Nate McMillian has utilized the skill sets of their players incredibly well. Domantas Sabonis is leading this team in both scoring and rebounds. He is averaging 18.0 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game since moving across from the Oklahoma City Thunder with Oladipo via trade.
T.J. Warren has continued his normal excellent production with 17.9 points per game. Malcolm Brogdon has also joined team and has been hard to stop. His 17.7 points, 7.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds have paced this team in a lot of games.
Now, add Oladipo into this mix and you move Jeremy Lamb back to the bench, where he is an incredibly productive player. This has the impact of strengthening the bench, making the Pacers go even deeper with Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday and T.J. McConnell all ready to inject energy at the guard spots.
Focusing on the starting backcourt for a minute though, pairing Oladipo and Brogdon could take the Eastern Conference by storm. Brogdon is a terrific outside shooter with the ability to penetrate into the paint and also create for others.
Oladipo is also a threat from the perimeter and we know how well he can finish when he gets anywhere near the rim. His perimeter defense is also some of the best in the NBA as shown by his steals average.
This is going to equate to a rise in the standings, particularly as the Pacers have a pretty good eight-game schedule until Oladipo returns. They take on the weakened Philadelphia 76ers and then five games against non-playoff teams. Six games are on the road where the Pacers are 9-10, but expect this number to improve.
In the 35 games remaining after Oladipo returns, 18 of them are going to be against teams currently in playoff positions. However, if the Pacers are going to win the East, they are going to have to beat these teams anyway. And yes, the Pacers have a really good chance of winning the East.
They are not going to finish the season with the first seed, but with the schedule they have, the Pacers should finish in the top four in the East. This seeding should help them negotiate the playoffs reasonably effectively in the first couple of rounds.
The question which needs to be answered is whether the Pacers can beat the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors (when they get their players back) and the Bucks. The addition of Oladipo is the X-factor which could push the Indiana Pacers into the Finals.