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The Pacers need better solutions when teams trap Victor Oladipo

A detailed look at why the Pacers need a more nuanced approach against double coverage than doubling-down on their scoring engine’s explosive acceleration.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When bigs drop into the paint against Victor Oladipo, the high-octane guard skips the pleasantries and cuts to the chase. He either pulls up on a dime and uses the free throw line like a diver would a springboard to rise up and knock in a jumper before the rearview challenger can recover, or he transforms the conceded airspace into a runway and prepares for takeoff.

Lately, however, his maximum cruise speed has started to hit some areas of turbulence. Not only is he shooting below 35 percent outside of the restricted area since the break, opponents are starting to adjust to his downhill momentum by attempting to redirect his flight plan away from the rim with hedges and double-teams.

Per Synergy, the 25-year-old late-bloomer has a 21.2 percent turnover rate when the defense commits in the pick-and-roll and a 40.7 percent turnover rate when trapped, marks which point toward the need for employing maneuvers to help him avoid choppy air rather than expecting him to repeatedly accelerate through it.

For instance, Myles Turner setting this pick near half-court with Giannis Antetokounmpo defending him as the screener leaves his All-Star teammate with scant options.

Immediately confronted by the Greek Freak’s quick feet and seemingly infinite reach, Oladipo can’t get a head full of steam. He needs to get rid of the ball before being enveloped by a swarm of limbs, but Turner is out of position to make a play off the dribble and he waits too long to dart toward the rim, so the congestion results in a traveling violation.

The opposite ensued the next night against the Wizards.

With Ian Mahinmi hedging and Bradley Beal going under both Turner and his showing teammate, Oladipo is diverted away from the paint.

This go-around, though, Turner alleviates the chaos by slipping to his sweet spot and leaving Mahinmi stranded well-above the opposite side of what initially appears to be a re-screen on Beal when Oladipo changes direction.

However, because the 25-year-old guard has a tendency to drop his head like a jockey attempting to limit wind resistance when he prepares to explode past his man, he doesn’t have the sight lines to make the left-handed pocket pass to Turner.

As a result, instead of getting an easy 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 once the defense was inevitably forced to commit to the 22-and-under shot-blocker with the feathery mid-range jump shot, Oladipo ends up throwing an errant pass through traffic to Bojan Bogdanovic that gets easily picked off by Otto Porter.

Of course, it’s tough to get the ball to the middle of the floor when opponents play fundamental one-pass away defense.

Here, for instance, Tomas Satoransky is able to stunt toward Domantas Sabonis when Marcin Gortat shows hard on Oladipo because the spacing is wonky and Cory Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic didn’t do anything to occupy him on the weak side.

In this case, if Joseph had set a quick pin-down screen for Bogdanovic to distract Satoransky, the calculated misdirection would’ve created enough confusion to enable Oladipo to make a clean pass to Sabonis at the free throw line. As it was, Indiana’s backup center had to come get the ball above the break and make a play from outside the 3-point line with under five seconds to play on the shot clock.

All of which is to say that whether punishing lumbering bigs for hanging back in the lane, whizzing past guards when they duck under screens, or transforming point-saving steals into point-creating transition opportunities, Oladipo’s relentless speed and skilled agility played a major role in him being named an All-Star, but it can’t be his team’s default response against overloading defense now that he’s being treated more consistently like an All-Star.