(“The Gallery” is an end-of-season series featuring one uniquely titled picture or video installation for every player that best summarizes or encapsulates that player’s season in a single snapshot. These aren’t highlights, they’re seminal moments expressed through the medium of art placards. Enjoy your tour!)
Guard, Age 27
Break in the Clouds
Madison Square Garden
Appealing to both the mind and the eyes, Break in the Clouds references the crevice of space that Victor Oladipo found in the defense with this play, as well as the light that peered through the interstices of his segmented season.
Though the two-time All-Star appeared in only 36 games, three clear subdivisions emerged from his second campaign with the Pacers: His first 16 games, wherein his usage rate was higher than any full season that Paul George played for Indiana; the immediate aftermath of his indefinite absence in late November, when he struggled to strike a balance between asserting himself and deferring to his teammates; and what followed thereafter, when he sustained his season-ending injury.
Occurring during the odd quasi-purgatory period spanning from mid-December through that fateful night on January 23, the skill that Oladipo demonstrated when he effortlessly whipped this one-handed pass to Bojan Bogdanovic in the weakside corner was a rare moment of “oh, that’s new” in a sea of otherwise...well...weird. He wasn’t waiting until the 5:40 mark of the second quarter to make his presence felt, like he did against the Wizards when he didn’t attempt a single shot inside the restricted area. He wasn’t automatically responding to the turnstile of different looks he was being shown with pre-determined reads, as had been the case in the weeks prior. And he wasn’t exhibiting disturbing signs of lack of lift, like had been visible a few games earlier in Atlanta.
He was just playing, demonstrating one of the new tricks he had coyly teased at Media Day.
“It would be hard for me to tell you, but I can show you very well,” he said.
Almost as if the ball were on a string, Oladipo delivered the lefty one-handed pass to his intended target on the opposite side of the floor with his strong hand only barely grazing the side of the ball as he transitioned from dribbling to distributing in one fluid motion. And yet, the thing of beauty wasn’t just art for art’s sake. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, mastering that sort of pass also serves a practical purpose.
During his breakout season, because he demonstrated a repeated tendency to abort his dribble and either jam left-handed pocket passes to the screening big at the free throw line or demurely toss the ball to the off-ball guard when trapped, there wasn’t much guesswork involved for opponents to play solid one pass away defense. That changes if he can work the corners with greater consistently.
He isn’t there yet in terms of precision (so, tap the breaks on shifting him to point guard), and he’ll likely need to ramp up his game as the season progresses after spending the summer rehabbing his quad tendon. Still, the moment captured in Break in the Clouds offers a respite from the rain in a season rife with setbacks (both physically and statistically), and it has the power to do the same when he returns.