When the Indiana Pacers were last faced with the prospect of losing their franchise star in Paul George, they hit the trade table 12 months ahead of his pending free agency.
In that George deal, Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis became Pacers, in what was widely viewed as highway robbery from the Oklahoma City Thunder, pairing the dynamic All-Star wing with Russell Westbrook.
Fast forward three years and George has become a polarising figure among fans, while Oladipo and Sabonis have become All-Stars in their own right, leading a pesky Pacers franchise to the postseason each year since.
With Oladipo now 12 months away from his own unrestricted free agency, the fan favourite's future with the franchise is up the in the air, with a long term injury clouding his projection as a star in the league moving forward.
While many scoffed at the return for George, history will look back on that trade fondly for the Pacers, and they now must make another difficult decision this offseason or potentially risk losing Oladipo for little if any return.
Any discussion around Oladipo simply must begin with his recent injury history.
On the back of a breakout 2017-18 season where he averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists, Oladipo was once again leading the Pacers in 2019 before disaster struck. Racing back to defend Pascal Siakam on a transistion possession his leg gave way as his quad tendon was ruptured, requiring major season-ending surgery.
The injury occured in January of 2019, keeping him off the floor for a full 12 months until his return against the Chicago Bulls in January this year.
"I know I'll get better as time goes on and I've got to be patient with my body and patient with the game. But I'm a competitor. I know it isn't going to be easy," Oladipo told reporters prior to his return game.
He would make 13 appearances prior to the season shut down due to coronavirus, with his best performance coming against the Celtics in Indiana's last game before the break. Oladipo would drop 27 points in the 3-point loss, collecting seven rebounds and dishing four assists while shooting 9-for-16 from the field.
Victor Oladipo return to the court + LATE GAME HEROICS for the @Pacers in January!- NBA (@NBA) April 3, 2020
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📲💻: https://t.co/OwfRij4fI3 pic.twitter.com/nVRXp09azm
After originally stating that he would not play in the bubble due to concerns of re-injuring his quad, Oladipo backflpped to indeed suit up for the Pacers in the seeding games and their first-round playoff exit to the Miami Heat.
It will be virtually two years since the injury by the time the 2021 season is likely to tip-off, but without a large enough sample size to make definitive assessments on the 28-year-old's health, projecting his value is a difficult task.
WILL THE OLD 'DIPO RETURN?
At his best, Oladipo is a top-20 player, a dynamic scorer both in transition and half-court offences, with an ability to explode to the basket or pull up from the outside.
On return he was far from that, with his efficiency as a scorer significantly dipping from his All-Star levels.
|2017-18 (FG%)||2019-20 (FG%)|
|At the rim||67%||44%|
In fairness, the numbers are being compared from his 2519 minutes in 2018 compared to just 528 minutes last season, but the struggles at the rim are of particular note. According to Cleaning the Glass, Oladipo's 67 percent finishing at the rim in 2018 put him in the 77th percentile for his position, while his 44 percent last season left him languishing in the 17th.
Given the mechanism in which he suffered the initial injury, some adjustment period was to be expected on return, the unanswered question is whether or not this was a product of rounding back into game shape or a sign of lost athleticism and strength post injury.
An encouraging trend in that regard was his play in the bubble, where he finished 10-for-19 (52.6 percent) within five feet in the seeding games and 7-for-13 (53.8 percent) in the playoffs. While not at 2018 efficiency, it was a major spike from his 19-for-45 (42.2 percent) mark in the regular season.
Vic's crossover 🤯#INDvsHOU x @VicOladipo pic.twitter.com/K5I4FhPVda- Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) August 12, 2020
WHAT IS HIS VALUE
Oladipo is owed $21 million (usd) in the final year of his $85 million dollar contract.
Set to turn 30 during the first season of his next deal, he will most certainly be looking to cash in next offseason.
Recent reports from the Miami Herald suggest the guard would "be happy staying [in Indiana] with a big new contract, but that if he were to leave, Miami would be No. 1 on his list."
With that in mind, the Pacers will have to decide whether or not they would be willing the fork out a max contract to their All-Star guard. If they have any uncertainty around Oladipo's ability to play to return to his best post injury, a trade could be an option with the Milwaukee Bucks recently reported as a team who may have interest.
On the back of quad surgery and one year out from free agency, the return value on any trade would be signifcantly dimished, though, the Pacers may hold the view that any return is better than nothing if they don't intend on signing Oladipo to a major extension.
The Pacers struck gold the last time they faced a difficult decision with the face of the franchise - can they do it again?
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