When operating with maximum speed and burst, Victor Oladipo launches straight-on attacks, jetting from north to south with his upper body crouched like a jockey attempting to limit wind resistance. Against the Cavaliers, however, while continuing to work his way back from an injury that sapped his ability to stick his stops for most of last season, he took on some traits from his injured teammate, working off ball on the left wing to drive toward his right like T.J. Warren. In fact, Oladipo didn’t just weave around without the ball like T.J. Warren, he was plugged into a play which is typically called for T.J. Warren (three times on the same possession, even!) in a way that could have greater implications for a starting lineup that is once again down by a man.
Borrowing from the Toronto Raptors, per usual, the set involves an Iverson cut followed by an overcut leading into a screen for the ball-screener. In case that sounds like a jumbled up mess of basketball-speak, here’s what it looks like step-by-step.
Step 1: Warren cuts across Myles Turner and Justin Holiday at the elbows.
Step 2: Turner cuts over a screen from Justin as Malcolm Brogdon passes the ball to Warren on the move.
Step 3: Turner chases the screen from Justin with a ball-screen for Warren.
Step 4: From there, Warren does what he does best and shovels the ball to the rim with his delicate touch — a slight departure from how the Raptors screen for the ball as opposed to the cutter.
Got it? Ok, now, with that design in mind, let’s return to our discussion of Oladipo and why it matters that he was deployed in that same role numerous times on the same trip down the floor. For one, notice how during the first sighting, the play originates not as a means to kick-start the offense but rather mid-possession at the urging of Sabonis.
In the past, when the Pacers weren’t able to generate points in semi-transition, the offense would oftentimes devolve into an isolation or stop after the initial action — be it standstill pick-and-roll or some sort of simple, off-ball stagger — without any semblance of flow or continuity. Granted, Sabonis is barking out orders, here, but the ability to reorganize on the fly at least points toward there being fewer hitches in terms of getting to the next play with fewer one-and-done schemes.
After losing his handle, however, and fortunately getting fouled on his way to the basket, Oladipo inbounds the ball and once again makes a mad dash across two picks at the elbows, a la Warren. This time, though, after previously stunting at the drive away from the ball, Collin Sexton sniffs out what’s coming as the chaser and deflects the pass to the opposite end of the floor.
At this point, it seems rather foolhardy for the Pacers to set up in the same alignment yet again, but watch what chess move happens next. Instead of orchestrating the second overcut, Brogdon enters the ball to Sabonis at the elbow with Oladipo practically executing a three-point turn, faking as if he’s about to loop to the basket before sticking his stop and fading behind the arc for three.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right? Well, beyond the stick-to-itiveness of finally getting the job done with Oladipo operating in the Warren role, notice how his brakes are grabbing as he’s weaving around away from the ball. Not only is he taking an alternate route to work in terms of the direction in which he’s navigating the defense, he’s demonstrating the ability to sell the cut by stopping on a dime. Plus, he knocked down the rhythm jump-shot, putting him at 3-of-6 on threes coming off of screens in four starts compared to 1-of-8 last season in 19 regular season games.
To be fair, as can be seen in the chart below, Oladipo has never been particularly effective, nor prolific, operating off of screens in his career, but the addition of that skill over a larger sample size could help the Pacers mitigate some of what they’re losing in east-west tension with Warren out indefinitely while also adding to ways in which the two-time All-Star can squirt free on team-high usage as he continues to take over 40 percent of his shots as threes with Brogdon doing the vast majority of the team’s handling.
After all, although Oladipo has shown some encouraging flashes of spryness and on-target finishes in the lane, which will be critical to weathering the nights that are sure to come when he’s no longer shooting 54 percent from deep, he’s still barely getting to the line and his volume of drives per game (8.3) is roughly the same as last season (8.8).
For that reason, until he can put consistent pressure on the rim in the half-court with improved ball control, mixing in ways for him to weaponize his speed away from the ball, darting instead from left-to-right, has the potential to replace some of Warren’s game while also refreshing his own.