After sitting out 53 weeks while rehabbing and recovering from surgery for a ruptured right quad tendon injury, All-Star guard Victor Oladipo will return to the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo will come off the bench in his first game back on Wednesday evening against the Chicago Bulls.
Oladipo suffered a gruesome injury last January. At first glance, it appeared that he blew out his knee, but his right quad tendon essentially exploded.
One year later, the Pacers (30-17) occupy the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re lumped into a group of five teams chasing the Milwaukee Bucks (41-6). The Bucks have the best record in the NBA, and Giannis “the Greek Freak” Anteokounmpo is on pace to win 71 games. The Bucks extended their lead over the Toronto Raptors to eight games. The defending champion Raptors hold down the #2 seed. Only three games separate the Raptors and the Pacers, with the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers ahead of them.
Dipo Bench Mob
Head coach Nate McMillian will ease Oladipo back into the lineup. The ruptured quad tendon is a rather unique injury, so there’s no precise timetable on when he will return to full strength.
“I don’t expect to do anything out there miraculous,” said Oladipo. “I just expect to play basketball to the best of my ability. I know I’ll get better as time goes on, and I’ve got to be patient with my body. I’m a competitor. I know it isn’t going to be easy.”
“A year is a long time, and it takes you a while to get your timing and rhythm, your feel and trust,” said McMillian. “All of that takes some time. I don’t expect him to be the Victor of old. I expect him to go out and play.”
For now, Oladipo will be the sixth man for the Pacers until he shakes off the rust.
Long Road Back
The Oklahoma City Thunder traded Oladipo as part of the Paul George mega-trade in the summer of 2017. Oladipo returned to the state of Indiana, where he played his collegiate ball at Indiana University.
Oladipo thrived with the Pacers. During the 2017-18 season, he averaged a career-high 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He also elevated his defense with 2.4 steals per game.
Oladipo played only 36 games with the Pacers last year before missing the remainder of the 2018-19 season. He averaged 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists before his quad injury.
Oladipo and the organization were cautious about getting him back into the rotation. He played several games with their G-League team, the Fort Wayne Fire Ants.
McMillian will limit Oladipo’s playing time until after the All-Star break, but obviously, chemistry is one of the most important things he’ll have to develop. The Pacers added a trio of new starters since last season, and none of them played with Oladipo before.
“This will be the first time we have all of our guys back, and all of us are going to have to sacrifice, even Victor,” McMillan said. “It’s not going to be all about Victor. It’s about us. Roles are going to change. The rotation is going to change. I expect us to embrace it.”
Former San Antonio Spurs point guard, Tony Parker, experienced a similar injury, but it took him seven months to return. Obviously, no two players are alike, and everyone’s body varies. The Pacers are taking a conservative approach.
“We’re going to be slow with him, be patient with him,” added McMillan.
If Oladipo can return to his old self after the vexing quad injury, the Pacers will be a dangerous squad in the east.
Will Oladipo Alter New Chemistry?
The Pacers have a knack for staying competitive with non-marquee players. The organization runs on a healthy philosophy, which is the exact opposite of the toxicity of other franchises (e.g., the Knicks). The Pacers have only missed the postseason once in the last 20 years.
In his absence, the Pacers rallied around Domantas Sabonis, TJ Warren, and Malcolm Brogdon.
“Having him back on the floor is going to take us to another level,” said Brogdon “He’s a special player. He’s going to make us more special.”
The Pacers acquired Warren in trade with the Phoenix Suns. The Suns selected the small forward with the #13 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Warren recently took over as the Pacers leading scorer with 18.2 points per game.
Sabonis, a 6-foot-11 power forward, is second in scoring with 18.1 points per game. Sabonis leads the team with 12.8 rebounds, and he’s an excellent passer with 4.6 assists per game.
The Pacers acquired Brogdon in the offseason from the Milwaukee Bucks. Initially, the Pacers signed Brogdon as a stop-gap to hold the line until Oladipo’s return. Brogdon, who missed 14 games with various injuries, averages 17.1 points as the team’s third-best scorer. He’s ranked #10 in the NBA in assists with 7.3 dimes per game.
For now, Oladipo joins the Pacers’ stellar bench. The Holiday brothers, Justin and Aaron, love playing defense, and post a combined average of 18.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.
Doug McDermott’s defense has vastly improved while averaging 10.5 points off the bench.
According to William Hill, the Indiana Pacers are 50/1 odds to win the 2020 NBA championship.