When Victor Oladipo returned earlier this week it was a happy return but it wasn’t essential --surprisingly -- when you consider the Pacers’ success without him.
Granted, Indiana was going to need him to beat the best teams in the East. But they had done enough in his absence to not just remain afloat, but actually increase their position in the battle for a top three seed in the conference.
It wasn’t until Oladipo’s performance against the Knicks that he finally broke 20 points post-return. But even with the 20-point performance he has yet to take more than 16 shots in a game. Instead Oladipo has tried to fit in, letting the role players who flourished without him continue to succeed.
Oladipo has started to use the respect he commands as an offensive player to become a really good passer. He’s been setting up other teammates on the way to averaging 7.3 assists per game since his return.
Forcing Joel Embiid to guard him:
The threat and just plain panic Oladipo causes on opposing defense was never more evident than against the 76ers, where he had nine assists.
On two instances Oladipo was able to draw the Sixers’ star center and borderline MVP candidate Joel Embiid off of his defender to guard Oladipo instead.
In this first play during the third quarter Indiana starts with a simple Thaddeus Young screen to get Oladipo going towards the rim. Oladipo then does a beautiful job of splitting T.J. McConnell and J.J. Reddick, forcing Embiid to leave Myles Turner open or let him score an easy layup. This photo exemplifies what happens the minute he split the defenders:
In previous matchups Oladipo might have preferred to try and finish through contact from Embiid, hoping he makes the basket or gets a foul call. In the past that may have even been the right basketball call. Before Oladipo got hurt Turner was shooting 21.7 percent from three. But since the injury the 6’11” center is shooting 44.8 percent from three.
Later in the game the Pacers decide to put Embiid in the pick and roll, but this time he’s guarding Young. After setting the pick Embiid comes up and trap Oladipo as Wilson Chandler fights through the screen. Embiid is slower to get to the ball and Oladipo recognizes that, coming to a full stop and nailing a quick bounce pass to Young as he scores.
The Pacers were able to thrive on forcing Embiid into difficult defensive situations away from the rim. On this play that ended up sealing the game, Embiid is switched on to Oladipo where he’s put in the almost impossible situation of guarding him one-on-one. Oladipo makes a move past Embiid, freezing Chandler in the paint. Oladipo then makes an incredible pass to Young after he recognized Chandler’s movement; Young scores.
Oladipo and Turner pick and pop
The other way Oladipo has been really effective since his return is in the pick and roll or pick and pop with Turner. It helps that Turner has been on fire as of late, averaging 20.3 points per game over his last four.
It became obivous when they played against the Knicks; If Turner remains this good of a shooter in the “pick and something” with Oladipo and him might be one of the most lethal plays in the NBA.