After 370 days spent rehabbing and working his way back from a torn quad tendon that required surgery, Victor Oladipo returned to the court on Wednesday night when his Indiana Pacers hosted the Chicago Bulls. The crowd, all holding special signs for their star man, erupted into "Ola-dipo!" chants as he waited to check in for the first time, and greeted him with a standing ovation.
A few hours later they were screaming even louder after Oladipo drained a clutch 3-pointer from way behind the line with just nine seconds left to tie things up and send the game to overtime. He didn't play in the extra frame because of his minutes restriction, but the rest of the Pacers had things covered, and secured a 115-106 win.
Oladipo finished his first game back with nine points, two rebounds and four assists on 2-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes. While his shooting numbers weren't great, he proved he's still the man when the game's on the line, and showed off some excellent passing. Again, this was his first game back in more than a year, and he played limited minutes, so there isn't a ton of film to work with, but it's still worth taking a closer look at how Oladipo fared in his return to action.
Shooting: Bad and good
It's one thing to get up shots during workouts, and there's no question Oladipo has done plenty of that over the past year while he worked his way back from surgery. But there's nothing that can simulate game shots, and it was pretty clear that Oladipo was feeling that rust.
The Pacers got him a look from 3 on his very first possession and he tossed up a brick. His next five shots from behind the arc ended up the same way; they weren't terrible looks, he just didn't have it. But then, with time winding down and the Pacers still trailing by 3, he stepped up as he did so often in his first season-plus with the Pacers and drilled a deep 3 to send the game to overtime.
Oladipo is definitely known more for his scoring, but he's quietly a very solid playmaker, and was averaging a career-high 5.2 assists per game last season before he got hurt. It didn't take him long to show off those passing skills in this game, as he came off a screen from Domantas Sabonis and dropped a sick bounce pass through traffic to get his big man an easy bucket.
That sweet little bounce pass became a theme on the night, as Oladipo dropped dimes time and again. Whether it was sitting back and splitting the double team with a pass, or getting downhill into the paint, he was making plays left and right. He finished with four assists but he easily could have had double that. Here's a little compilation of some of his best passes from the night.
Familiarity with his new teammates: Work in progress
Last season, Oladipo was the main man in Indiana, and once he's 100 percent he'll reclaim that title. But they also have Malcolm Brogdon now, and the former Bucks guard has been running the show to great effect so far this season. He's not just going to take a complete backseat moving forward.
Oladipo played 16 of his 21 minutes with Brogdon in this game, and for what it's worth the Pacers were even from a plus/minus standpoint during that time. It will be interesting to see how coach Nate McMillan decides to work those lineups moving forward once Oladipo is off his minutes restriction. On the one hand, it's easy to see why you'd want two of your best players on the court together. At the same time, both are better at operating with the ball in their hands, and they obviously can't each be doing that at the same time.
In any case, you could see clearly how this process is going to be a work in progress. Not only does Oladipo have to get back into game shape and regain his confidence, but him and his teammates have to get comfortable with him being back on the floor. Late in the fourth quarter, the Pacers had two key turnovers because they weren't used to Oladipo's tendencies.
First, Brogdon tries to toss the ball ahead with a mini outlet pass, but Oladipo was expecting him to just bring it up the floor and wasn't ready.
Later on, when Justin Holiday gets a kickout from Brogdon, he fires a pass into the corner expecting Oladipo to be there, but the newly returned star had already started floating up to the wing.
Those kind of things aren't that big of a deal, though, and will just take time and repetition to sort out.
Sure, he didn't have his shot, and there were a few mistakes due to rust and unfamiliarity with his teammates, but overall this was a really solid debut for Oladipo. He hadn't played in over a year, but you really wouldn't have known that from watching him get up and down the court.
He seemed to be in great shape, showed off some bursts of his usual athleticism, dropped some awesome passes and, most importantly, was already willing to step up in the clutch.
The Pacers have already been causing problems in the East, but now that Oladipo's back, they're going to be even more dangerous.