Part of the reason the Cleveland Cavaliers escalated from single coverage to soft doubles to hard traps against the Pacers in the playoffs last season was because Victor Oladipo devoured their switches in Game 1.
Whenever the late-bloomer got matched-up with a big on the perimeter, it was almost as if he transformed into one of those pull-back toy cars with an internal coil mechanism.
He would retreat dribble to create space and build momentum, and then immediately unwind and propel himself rapidly forward so that he could use the area immediately behind the 3-point line like a diver would a spring board to rise up and knock down the pull-up jump shot over his defender.
Oladipo mercilessly rocketed his way into three of these types of shots (as well as some others which he was basically allowed to step into) because the Cavs were weary to come at him with equal force out of fear of being overwhelmed by his speed.
The only problem is seven months have since past and defenses have started to grow braver and wiser to his go-to move.
“When I get a one-on-one and back it out before I come, they take away my three. My dribbling threes. And they force me to drive into the rotation.” Oladipo said of the change in coverage following his team’s loss against Houston on Sunday.
“So it’s harder for me to kind of score,” he continued. “So I’ve got to make the right plays there.”
Rather than waiting at the three-point line like prey, the Rockets had Clint Capela take predatory steps out toward Oladipo as he backpedaled to force him left into the path of the help defender and dissuade him from springing into what would be a much deeper shot off the dribble.
Behind the scenes, P.J. Tucker stunts away from Thaddeus Young to stop the ball in the lane while James Harden positions himself in front of the lefty power forward and Chris Paul splits the difference between Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison.
Technically, Young is in position to set a backscreen on Harden and make Collison the most open stop-release following the chain reaction of defensive rotations, but with Capela’s 7-foot-5 wingspan sliding alongside Oladipo the angle is too dangerous.
The end result is Chris Paul snatching an errant pass intended for Bogdanovic in the corner.
A similar scenario played out minutes later, except this time Thaddeus Young was anchored to the corner as opposed to Myles Turner clearing out off the pindown, which meant the help defender had free reign to take extra steps away from his man to encircle Oladipo.
Missing 46 of his last 58 three-pointers dating back to last season’s All-Star break, opponents no longer look as though they’ll lose sleep over leaving Young unattended for a moment when he’s stationary.
As such, surrounded on all sides by flailing limbs like a clown fish in a sea anemone, Oladipo doesn’t feel comfortable making the drop-off pass to Turner in traffic and instead opts to launch a contested mid-range two that hits all glass.
All of which leaves the Pacers in need of a counter to the counter, despite not seeing Houston again until next season.
“They guard me differently probably than what I’m used to,” Oladipo said after finishing the game with 22 points on 24 shots. “I’ve just got to learn from it because I’m sure other guys will do the same.”
A possible thwart to the blueprint the Rockets drew up for the rest of the league’s teams with nimble bigs would be to have the high-octane guard attack the mismatch with a full head of steam off the catch rather than the dribble.
Consider this re-imagination of the above-referenced possession wherein Myles Turner would relocate to the dunker’s spot, for example. Rather than allowing Capela to force him left into Thad’s man, Oladipo would fire the ball to the off-ball guard and then cut middle in front of the Swiss big man as soon as he approaches to counteract his forward momentum before getting the ball right back in a sort of rapid fire give-and-go.
With Harden occupied at the nail by the quick reversal and Capela trailing from behind as opposed to be glued chest-to-shoulder, Oladipo would have more space to collapse the defense off the hitback and make a read in the paint with the defense outnumbered.
Regardless of what strategy is employed and unless they bring in reinforcements, crowds are the new normal for Indiana’s first-time All-Star and both he and the Pacers should prepare themselves to come equipped with more than the same ol’ same ol’.