With the Pacers on tap to play the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight on the third stop of their five-game road trip, Victor Oladipo also took to the road, once again heading north up I-69 to join the Mad Ants for practice. Not an upcoming game, which the two-time All-Star revealed on Wednesday will not be part of his recovery plan, per reporters.
Oladipo added that his final hurdle will be playing a game with the #Pacers. Said he doesn’t plan on suiting up for the Mad Ants.— Akeem Glaspie (@THEAkeemGlaspie) December 4, 2019
From Rajon Rondo (torn ACL) to Tony Parker (torn quad), staying close to home for rehab assignments isn’t an entirely foreign concept to NBA stars, but it is rare — if not unheard of — for players of that ilk to actually suit up for their squad’s affiliate team.
In February of 2018, Indiana assigned fringe rotation player Glen Robinson III to Fort Wayne for two games as part of his recovery from left ankle surgery, and it was about another three weeks after that before he passed his conditioning test and returned to action for the Pacers. Nevertheless, the assignment afforded him the opportunity to broach some of the psychological hurdles of his recovery without disrupting Indiana’s rotation.
Fittingly, Robinson’s first made basket for the Mad Ants was a layup in transition which required him to plant his left foot. It wasn’t artful, but his willingness to attack the basket and finish through contact was, at the time, an encouraging sign with regard to the mental aspect of trusting his ankle again.
With some of his shots barely grazing the front of the rim, and still another sailing several feet long of the basket, the former Slam Dunk Champion also got a chance to work on his in-game rhythm and timing away from the bright lights of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
To this point, Oladipo has only been going up and down at practices and on off days with the Mad Ants, so being cleared to play in an actual regulation game will, quite obviously, be a big deal, since it will mean that his knee has responded to sustained practices and is ready for the rigors of competition.
“I’m just trying to get the feel back,” Oladipo said of his approach to the full-court sessions. “(I’m) coming out here, just playing. Taking it easy. Not trying to do anything spectacular, just getting the feel back of basketball.”
With the Pacers jelling as winners of 13 of their last 17 games, exchanging his street clothes for a Mad Ants uniform (when ready) arguably would’ve given him the opportunity to shake off some rust and not hurt his team while rebuilding some confidence in his leg and regaining his conditioning.
Granted, he isn’t going to get all of that back in a few games, and he would still likely need to go through several practices with his actual teammates before an accurate timetable could be set for his return to play (as was the case for GRIII), but at least he would be less dependent on 5-on-5 sessions to accurately replicate game action — especially amid an increasingly tough portion of the schedule.
Starting Monday, seven of Indiana’s next 11 games are against opponents with win-percentages above .700 (yes, .700).
Per Oladipo, there is still (understandably) no timetable for his return.