- Pacers finished 12 games back of the Bucks in 2018-19
- Star guard Victor Oladipo likely out until midseason as he recovers from quad tendon surgery
- Indiana struggled down the stretch without him, going 4-9 to finish up regular season
The Milwaukee Bucks may have come up two wins short of an NBA Finals appearance last season, but don’t expect them to take their feet off the gas in their pursuit of a first championship since 1971.
That’s certainly reflected in their odds to win the Central Division, which have ballooned to an average of -1100 after opening at an average of -350.
The team most likely to challenge them remains the Indiana Pacers, with much of the rest of the division in rebuilding mode. After opening at an average of +300, Indiana’s average odds have now stretched to +610, much of which hinges on the health of star guard Victor Oladipo.
Odds To Win 2019-20 Central Division
*Odds taken on 09/24/19
The Oladipo Void
When Oladipo went down with a ruptured right quad tendon back on January 23, the Pacers were sitting at 31-15, third in the Eastern Conference and just three games back of the Bucks.
Though Indiana was tied for third in the conference as late as March 15, Milwaukee had pulled away in the division by then. And the Pacers’ late-season swoon, when they went 4-9 over their last 13 games, ensured they dropped into the fifth seed and ultimately finished 12 games back of the Bucks.
Victor Oladipo suffered a ruptured quad tendon back in January.
Comeback season ?
(? brycestanhopetraining ) pic.twitter.com/hmFULZkXrs
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 17, 2019
The timeline for Oladipo’s return to game action is uncertain, but Pacers president Kevin Pritchard has said December or January is most likely. But even when he returns, will he be close to the All-Star form he showed in 2017-18, when he averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.4 steals per game?
The Brogdon Factor
The addition of Malcolm Brogdon should be Indiana’s gain at Milwaukee’s expense. Brogdon is a versatile playmaker and a career 40.8 shooter from 3-point range and is coming off a career-high 15.6 points per game with the Bucks.
With Oladipo out, a greater responsibility falls on Brogdon to lead this team, and it remains to be seen if that is something he is comfortable with.
However, Brodgon is no stranger to injuries himself, having played just 112 games out of 164 the past two seasons, so time will tell if a clean bill of health gives him the opportunity to step in and help fill the Oladipo void.
Strength In Depth?
In addition to Brogdon, the Pacers also went out and acquired guard Jeremy Lamb and forward T.J. Warren to start alongside holdover Myles Turner. Lamb averaged a career-high 15.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game with the Charlotte Hornets last season, while Warren has averaged more than 18 points per game in each of the last two seasons.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 25, 2019
While Lamb and Turner have been fairly durable over their careers, Warren has played just 261 of 410 games since he was a rookie in 2014-15. Particularly in Oladipo’s absence, the Pacers will need the rest of the team to remain healthy if it is to stick around in the division race until the new year.
The team will also have to utilize the three point shooting abilities to maximize its scoring output, with the likes of Brogdon and Warren shooting beyond the arc at an above-40 percent clip, and Turner just north of 35 percent. However, only the San Antonio Spurs took less 3-point attempts per game than the Pacers last season, and that’s despite Indiana possessing the fifth-best 3-point-shooting percentage.
Question marks may surround this team’s offense, but the team has shown the ability to lock things down on the defensive end. Last year Indiana was first in the NBA in opposing points per game at 104.7 and sixth in opponent field percentage (45.0%).
The Pacers will need those rankings to hold into the new season to have any chance of keeping pace with the Bucks, but the division is still Milwaukee’s to lose.
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