Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo will take some time to return after one year away from NBA basketball: Patience will be key in the following weeks
It’s January the 29th, 2020 in Indiana as the Bankers Life Fieldhouse vibrates under “Oladipo” chants. With 4:12 minutes left in the first quarter against the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers‘ franchise player returns to the floor for the first time in over a year.
He misses his first shot of the season, a 3-pointer, and follows it up with a nice bounce pass in between two defenders for a Domantas Sabonis layup. Another assist on a Goga Bitadze jump shot and his first basket of the season in form of a floater from the free-throw line end an uneventful first quarter for Victor Oladipo.
The end of the fourth quarter is where the IU alumni really returned to the NBA: Down 97-100 with 11 seconds left, Oladipo stares down Chandler Hutchinson before draining a three a few feet behind the line into his face. The Pacers would go on to win the game in overtime.
Even though it sounds like a return out of a fairytale for Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers, not all has been well since their win against the Bulls. As of today, Oladipo has yet to find his jump shot and struggles to score the ball, hitting only eight of his 32 3-point attempts and shooting under 30 percent from the field in his first six games back.
Including his comeback on January 29th, Oladipo has played 25 minutes per game through six games of which the Pacers were only able to win his first game back against the Bulls. Losses against the Knicks, Mavericks, Raptors (twice) and Nets followed and Indiana is now looking at their biggest losing streak since their 0-3 start to the season.
Aside from his ineffective shooting, the Pacers’ recent losses can also be attributed to a lack of chemistry between Oladipo and the team’s new players. A connection that will be especially important for the Pacers going forward is that to his new backcourt partner Malcolm Brogdon.
Brogdon, who was acquired via a sign-and-trade from Milwaukee in the summer of 2019, has exceeded expectations with his new team and will be able to profit off of a healthy Oladipo as much as anyone on the roster.
With both of them being great two-way guards and ballhandlers who are also comfortable playing off-ball, they should theoretically complement each other well and generate better shots for not only themselves but the rest of the team as well when playing alongside each other.
Other players that Oladipo has not had a chance to play with a lot are T.J. Warren, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Justin Holiday and Goga Bitadze. It will take some time for Oladipo to get to know his teammates’ tendencies and playstyles and for them to know his, which will be an important process over the next few months that might play a vital role in the Eastern Conference’s seeding.
The Pacers hope for a deep playoff run this season and Oladipo could turn out to be the key in series’ against teams like the 76ers, Heat, Raptors or Celtics. With the emergence of Brogdon and Sabonis as All-Star caliber players, T.J. Warren as a great scorer and capable defender on the wing, one of the NBA’s best rim-protectors in Myles Turner and one of the deepest benches in the league, the Pacers can’t be slept on going into the playoffs.
If Oladipo finds his rhythm within the team’s offense soon enough and returns to his former self, the Pacers’ versatility will be tough to deal with over the course of a seven-game series.
There’s reason to believe that moment will arise before the playoffs begin. The confidence Oladipo has shown throughout his first week of basketball in over a year is remarkable and indicates a rather fast return to 100 percent for him.
He has shown improvement in terms of passing and in the pick-and-roll is not afraid of any shot. He knows that he helps his team the most by finding his rhythm now instead of taking a step back, which he has expressed in multiple interviews, such as this one after the loss against the Dallas Mavericks:
“Obviously, you know, I gotta catch my rhythm back and get in the swing of things but I feel like I’m taking good shots, open shots that I made my whole life so I’m just gonna keep shooting them to the best of my abilities. […] I mean, at the end of the day, I’ve been through far worse and I figured harder things out in my life, but I’m gonna keep the same mindset.”
Until then, it might not always look great on the floor. Passes will go into the third row of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, shots will be airballed and games against subpar teams might be close or even lost until the Pacers can count on Oladipo to be their best player again. While the whole State of Indiana can’t wait for Oladipo to hit shots like used to in previous seasons, the Pacers and Victor Oladipo know: Patience is key.