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NBA Daily: The Effects Of Victor Oladipo’s Injury

Victor Oladipo’s unfortunate season-ending injury will make a sizable impact for both the Pacers and their Eastern Conference competitors, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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First thing’s first: Pray for a full recovery for Victor Oladipo.

The man has been one of the most inspirational stories since arriving in Indiana a year and a half ago, as he went from disappointing lottery pick to unexpected superstar. His evolution as one of the league’s top two-way guards has made him the main attraction for one of the most likable teams in the NBA.

It’s also such a feel-good story because players and reporters alike have time and time again praised Oladipo for his likability. To see one of the most revered players in the league blossom into the excellent player that he is today really warms the heart.

And it really breaks the heart to see his knee give out the way it did on Thursday. Oladipo deserves props for taking his injury like a champ. It couldn’t have been easy with his trainer covering his kneecap with a towel and being carried off in a stretcher. Yet, he still seemed to be in high spirits, gesturing to the fans and high-fiving teammates.

It’s good that he stays positive because suffering a season-ending injury is tough to endure. Now that he’s been officially been diagnosed with a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, Oladipo has officially been deemed out for the season, which has ramifications in various facets across the league.

The Pacers

Losing Victor Oladipo would certainly appear to be a death blow for Indiana. He is the unquestioned alpha dog of this team who would have made his second consecutive all-star team before his injury prematurely ended his season.

Something to keep in mind though: ‘Dipo’s stats had taken a slight step back in his second season in Indy.

His first season, he averaged 23.1 points on 47.7 percent shooting including 37 percent from three, as well as 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game. He also had an effective field goal percentage of almost 53 as well as a true shooting percentage of 57.7. These numbers were good enough to get Oladipo a spot on the All-NBA Third Team.

Compare that to this season – it’s been an almost all-around drop. Oladipo’s averaging 18.8 points on 42.3 percent shooting including 34.3 percent from three, as well as 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists. His effective field goal percentage has dropped all the way to 48.6 and his true shooting percentage dropped to almost 52 percent.

All of this is being said not to take anything away from Victor – his numbers could point to his knee holding him back all season – but to point out that, despite his regression, the Pacers haven’t suffered much from it. In fact, they’ve actually gotten better overall as a team even with his struggles.

Remember that the Pacers won 48 games last season thanks to Oladipo’s superhuman efforts. This season, they currently sport a record of 32-15, which puts them on pace to win about 56 games. That pace will more than likely falter with him down for the count, but the point is the team’s evolution since last year could help them manage even without their star.

What also works in Indy’s favor is that outside of Oladipo, they have a lot of top-notch role players on expiring contracts. Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans and Bojan Bogdanovic among others among others will all be playing for a new contract this summer. All of them will surely be trying to look the best they can to look good for their next contract. With Victor out, they’ll get more touches which should give them the opportunity to prove themselves.

Lastly, we’ll get to see what Myles Turner and Aaron Holiday are made of. Turner still hasn’t exactly turned the corner, but he currently ranks sixth in Defense Real Plus-Minus right now. Now comes the test to see if he can handle a bigger offensive role, which could do wonders for him reaching his potential.

In Holiday’s case, rumor had it that the Pacers were trying to trade either Collison or Joseph in order to make room for Holiday because he’s been impressive when he’s gotten minutes. The only issue is that the Pacers have Joseph and Darren Collison to take up the majority of the minutes at point guard. Now that more minutes will open up, the Pacers get the opportunity to see just how polished Holiday is without trading one of their guys.

It’s not the prettiest outlook, but the Pacers are still a rugged playoff team, with or without Oladipo.

The Eastern Conference

The worst part about Oladipo’s injury is the timing. If this had happened at the start of the season, then so much could be different for Indy right now. The Pacers would be given the choice to either make a playoff push or tank for the lottery. Sadly, we’ve gone past the halfway mark this season which doesn’t give the Pacers much freedom to do what they want to do considering where they stand.

Indiana’s 32-15 record currently has them placed as the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They are currently two-and-a-half games in back of both Toronto and Milwaukee for the top seed while also being one game ahead of Philadelphia and two-and-a-half games ahead of Boston.

Oladipo’s knee injury could certainly shake a lot up. How Indiana does in his absence depends on how they handle their schedule. According to Tankathon, Indiana has the 11th-hardest remaining schedule. Since Toronto has the easiest remaining schedule and Milwaukee isn’t too far behind with the 27th-hardest remaining schedule, catching them isn’t likely.

Keeping the third seed away from Boston and Philadelphia, even if it’s not going to be easy, is a more doable task. Boston has the seventh-hardest remaining schedule while Philly has the 14th-hardest schedule. Both of those teams will be coming at full force at Indiana as we enter the second half of the season. If Indiana holds strong, they should be proud of getting that third seed.

Then again, facing the red-hot Brooklyn Nets – who are starting to distinguish themselves as the sixth seed – may not be a much better fate than the Celtics or the Sixers.

The Trade Deadline

Before Oladipo’s knee gave out, there was much speculation – no confirmed interest as of now – that the Pacers would potentially be a player in the Mike Conley sweepstakes with Memphis appearing to be listening to offers for him.

Conley would give a fully healthy Pacers team a little more star power and playoff experience that they need to put next to Oladipo. As well-rounded as Indiana’s roster is, outside of ‘Dipo, they don’t have anyone on that roster currently who is a full-fledged all-star. Because of that, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston would all have an edge in a playoff series because of their star power. Conley would fix that.

Indiana appeared to be a perfect destination for him. As stated before, they had the money to match, expiring contracts and even a nice youthful asset in Holiday to attract the Grizzlies. Now that Oladipo is out for the season, that would probably throw a wrench in the Pacers’ plans in going after Conley if they wanted him beforehand.

But… What if it didn’t?

What if the Pacers truly don’t believe this season is over even with their best player out until next season? As well as they’ve played over the past year and a half, there’s no guarantee that they can land themselves a player as good as Conley via free agency. A player of his caliber doesn’t go on the trade market every day, and if they are really trying to keep their playoff push as strong as they can, getting him definitely would help in stabilizing the roster.

Conley is only 31 and his contract goes another two years after this season. Even if he is overpaid compared to most of the players in the NBA, he’s not a bad investment. And if it works, imagine what he and Oladipo could look like next season.

Again, this is all just pure speculation. Indiana may be happy the way it is and might decide to stay the way it is, but don’t be shocked if the team take its chances on Conley. Utah, who has recently played much better and is looking for more firepower to combat the loaded West, is reportedly interested in him. If Indy wants him aboard, they need to go after him now.

Nobody likes to see star players like Victor Oladipo have their season end right in the thick of an intense playoff race, but that’s the obstacle Indiana currently faces. It’s not going to be easy from here on out, but no matter what happens with the Pacers, they’ll be sure to go down swinging.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

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The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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