Victor Oladipo debut: Back from injury, Pacers star returning to team set to challenge top contenders in East
Oladipo, who hasn't played since rupturing his quad tendon last January, is expected to come off the bench vs. the Bulls
It's been a little over a year to the date when Indiana Pacers' star Victor Oladipo collapsed on a fastbreak against the Toronto Raptors due to a ruptured tendon in his quad. After relentless rehabbing for his body and mind, though, Oladipo's hard work has finally paid off as he's set to return to the Pacers lineup Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls.
The Pacers announced the highly-anticipated return of their star guard via their Twitter account, with a motivational video narrated by Jalen Rose detailing the journey from Oladipo's injury all the way through his rehab process. Getting any player back after a long-term injury like this is terrific news, but it's even better when that player is an All-Star.
When Oladipo steps foot on the court again it will be a memorable moment for not only him, but the entire Pacers organization, and all of his friends and family who supported him during his time away from the game. But besides just being a nice moment for Oladipo and the fans from an emotional standpoint, his return will have a big impact on the Pacers on the floor, though he is reportedly expected to come off the bench in his debut.
After a busy summer that included bringing in Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers have surprised everyone halfway through the season with an impressive 30-17 record, which has them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and only three games outside of the No. 2 seed. But if you look a little closer, you'll notice that they're 9-9 against teams .500 and better, and 21-8 against everyone else. They've established that they're a solid playoff team, but they don't have the top-tier talent to consistently beat the other top teams in the East; Oladipo can help change that.
He's a true lead guard, and has proven multiple times in his short tenure with the Pacers that he can handle big moments. While his efficiency was down a bit before he got injured last season, he can still score at all three levels, and knows how to get his teammates involved as well. Perhaps most important is that he brings just that little extra bit of burst and dynamism that the Pacers are missing. His work on the defensive end, meanwhile, has never been questioned, and he earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team in his last full season before getting injured.
Getting a player like that back will make the Pacers a better team in the long run. At the same time, there may be some issues to work through in the short term as both Oladipo and the team get reacclimatized to his presence.
Brogdon, for example, has thrived as the Pacers' primary ball-handler. While he proved with the Bucks that he can operate off the ball, he also left in part because he wanted more of an opportunity. How he adjusts to a reduced role, and fits alongside Oladipo will be interesting to watch. Both are smart and flexible enough that they should fit together well, but there will be an adjustment period there.
Likewise, there will be less touches and minutes for guys like TJ Warren -- who is currently leading the team in scoring at 18.2 points per game -- and Jeremy Lamb, and especially more fringe rotation players. Lineups, rotations, all of those sorts of things that many fans just take for granted will have to change, and that can throw teams out of rhythm. However, if there's any benefit to the fact that Brogdon, Lamb and Myles Turner have all missed a chunk of games this season, it's that the Pacers have experience moving pieces around.
Oladipo, too, will have his own personal issues to work through as he shakes off his rust and gets back into the routine. He seems confident in his physical and mental condition, but he's not going to walk on the floor and immediately produce like an All-Star. It will take him some time to regain his feel for the game after over a year off the court.
But even acknowledging that working Oladipo back into the fold could lead to a few clunky weeks, this is tremendous news for Indiana. With a late January return, he should have plenty of time to figure things out before the playoffs, and as the Eastern Conference continues to look like the Milwaukee Bucks and everyone else, the Pacers could make some noise come the spring.
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