Context and Circumstance Key for Victor Oladipo in Miami

Victor Oladipo is finally part of the Miami Heat after a short tenure with the Houston Rockets and a drawn-out thorny final few months in Indiana. While Victor could perhaps have handled the lead-up to his exit from the Pacers with more tact, I do think he’s been unnecessarily crucified to an extent; he never shipped in a performance by my account, and at the end of the day, it’s just basketball.

Injuries are extremely difficult and a finicky ordeal especially when it comes to long-term impact. Something that I think tends to get lost in the discourse around Oladipo is the difficulty of having to shift mentally and adjust to physical difference you’re not accustomed to. Victor Oladipo was a borderline Top-10 player, entering his prime, on the brink of a max contract, and coming off a season that took the NBA by storm prior to his knee injury.

Many have been frustrated with Oladipo’s effciency and overall offensive play, wishing that he’d take a backseat or relegate to a lower usage role. That is so much more difficult to do than we give credit for as a consensus. No, Vic isn’t that max player still, but I don’t think you can berate him for still having the mentality that he is. I get being frustrated with some of the shot selection and how he views himself, but I’d also posit that we weren’t frustrated in the same way when he was at the top of his game.

That shot was falling, the confidence was enthralling, and it was a huge part of who he was and is now. There isn’t just an on/off switch to drop that mentality. It takes time to find out who you are after a significant distortion in self-image and ability.

I think the pendulum can swing too far at times on what we think of a player, and I thoroughly believe that to be the case with Victor. While he has definitely lost a bit of his athletic pop and burstiness, as well as some unexpected struggle with his handle post-injury, Victor Oladipo can still contribute at a high level on both ends.

He’s not an All-Star player anymore and he might never be again, but in the right context Victor Oladipo could be one of the better secondary creators in the league. The Miami Heat and Victor Oladipo are a perfect marriage of scheme, system, and opportunity.

Jimmy Butler & Team Hierarchy

Arguably the most important aspect of Victor to Miami; Jimmy Butler is the established star and leader. That is unquestionable. I have no comment on “locker room chemistry,” because I’m simply not in the locker room. However, Butler is unequivocally the best player and lead initiator on the Miami Heat and Bam Adebayo is a close second.

Given how Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and the Heat overall operate, Oladipo is coming in with a clear and established role both in the offense and the hierarchy of the team.

With the Houston Rockets, Victor was tasked with doing far too much on-ball than he is currently capable of doing efficiently. I don’t put blame on Stephen Silas or Victor really, Houston was an incredibly tough situation both in terms of personnel and injuries/health and safety protocol issues. It felt like Oladipo forced his offense regularly, and while you can certainly haggle over the process, there weren’t many better options.

So how does Oladipo fit with the Heat and why is it optimal?

The vision for Oladipo in an ideal offense is him operating off second-side action, attacking an already tilted defense, with much less of an emphasis on his own on-ball creation in initial actions.

There are very noteworthy and well noted concerns about his handle/burst and ability to create seperation from the perimeter. However, I think what’s important to point out is why those weren’t quite as problematic in Indiana, and how that may foreshadow that those issues are overstated in relation to his fit with the Heat.

Pull-Ups & Rim Pressure

A significant part of Oladipo’s All-NBA level campaign in 2017-18 was his high volume, accurate pull-up shooting. While the numbers swayed in the season after and the half season since returning from injury in 2020, those numbers have cratered this season.

Shooting20/2119/2018/1917/18
Catch & Shoot39.4%27.5%40.2%38.9%
Pull-Up 3’s28.6%33.3%29.7%35.6%
Pull-Up 2’s (FG A per game)32.1% (3.7)46.2% (3.4)44.3% (5.1)44.3% (5)
Adjusted FG% At Rim59.5%45.2%52.8%59.7%
Data from BBall Index and NBA.com/stats

I’m not out on the pull-up three; it’s not falling at a high level, and it hasn’t since 17-18 outside a small stretch last season. However I would probably like to see less of them, I get mixing it in to a shot repertoire, but four per game is A LOT to shoot below 30% on.

What’s most perplexing is Vic’s drop-off on pull-up 2’s; this is the worst Vic has shot on pull-up 2’s in his NBA career, and not by a small margin. His rookie year, he hit them at a 37.8% clip and that was his previous season low.

In Miami, I imagine (and hope) that Oladipo will take far less pull-ups while getting up more catch and shoot 3’s, which should in theory, be there more than in Houston. Concurrently, he should get a lot more opportunities to attack off the catch, which is where I think he can have his most impact in the Heat’s offense. Rather than taking some of the pull-ups he did in Houston, there should be more opportunities to attack a tilted defense and kick back out to the perimeter if there isn’t an open lane to the rim.

After a rocky showing at the rim from last year through to the beginning of the season with Indiana (47.8% 56/117), Victor has refound his footing as an at-rim finisher in Houston. He’s shooting 63% (would be the 2nd best mark of his career) at the rim in just under 100 attempts, and has been slightly springier and more in control in the restricted area. Couple this with how much he’s driving; 14 drives/p75 in the 93rd percentile for guards who have played 500 minutes or more.

Where Oladipo can clean up his individual game and grease an offense that is struggling, is through his driving and finding more opportunities to kick the ball out to shooters.

Imagine here that David Nwaba is Bam Adebayo, and Justin Patton is anyone who can shoot

The shot falls here, but illustrates what Oladipo can provide. He’s more than capable of hitting the corner off a drive resulting in a paint touch.

While much has been made about the regression in Miami’s outside shooting, and rightfully so, the Heat are ripe for some shooting luck. Since March 1st, the Heat are 5th in Location eFG%, yet 26th in actual eFG% in that time, largely due to an atrocious shooting stretch (32.3% from three in March, tied with the Cavaliers for the worst outside shooting in the month). More open shots off of drives will likely contribute to shooting improvement that Miami is in dire need of.

Vic draws in the tagger on the drive, fantastic rim contest by Kyrie Irving btw, but he’s either getting a solid at-rim look if he’s pulling over a guard, or kicking to the corner if a real rim-protecting threat rotates.

One development I hope to see is for Oladipo to be a bit quicker off the catch. He has a tendency to hesitate while reading the defense rather than driving straight in. That’s not a bad thing by all means, but in attacking a close-out/tilted defense, doing it decisively and would be better in most circumstances.

It’s a bit of nitpicking, but you can see here, if Vic attacks a half second earlier right after Okoro finishes stunting, he’s catching Jarrett Allen still on his close-out and likely dusting him.

Oladipo notices the mismatch and Barnes shifting his body and attacks taking him off-guard for the easy look at the rim. Vic is going to get a ton of opportunities like this attacking off of Jimmy Butler’s initial advantage.

Dynamic Screening & Advantage Creation

As illustrated with attacking off the catch, Oladipo largely needs the initial action to dent the defense so he can be the hammer to the anvil. In watching him run pick and roll both this year and last, the difference in screening and the screener has stark impacts on Victor’s ability to generate an efficient look.

While Oladipo has defintiely regained a lot of that speed and burst he had pre-injury, he needs more of a runway to get going. His acceleration on his first step used to be among the best in the NBA, but now it’s noticably slower, which hinders what he can do one-on-one from the perimeter.

Credit to Nathan Knight for positioning himself well and sliding his feet, but in 2017/18, he’s getting matadored on a baseline drive and tomahawk at the rim.

Step in Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis screens open Victor to get the intial seperation he needs to accelerate, resulting in the drawn foul. Enough can’t be said about how synergystic the Oladipo/Sabonis two-man game was in Indiana. Victor really thrived running high screens and utilizing the lanes Sabonis would create to explode towards the rim. He’s never had the most tight or crafty handle, so that extra split second of space did wonders for him as a driver and opening up his playmaking as well.

Notice the difference just between these two screens while he was with Houston.

On the first play, Patton sets a solid screen and Oladipo gets that split second he needs to get an advantage to the rim. The shot doesn’t fall, but the process is sound. On the second play, Patton sets a light screen so he can roll hard to the paint, but Tony Snell fights over fairly well and stays right on Vic’s hip, preventing him from getting his first step in.

His struggles to gain an initial advantage are also apparent when defenders play up at the level of the screen.

Again, this is nitpicking. Victor hits the shot, but that’s a shot the defense wants from him. Pre-injury, he’s rounding the corner and putting the defender on their backfoot.’

Another way in which good screening has helped Oladipo; snaking the PnR.

Sabonis’ gravity keeps Theis from playing up and giving Vic the open floater. Now, imagine this between Bam Adebayo and Victor?

Vic has never played with a lob threat outside a few games with Christian Wood. But, as good as a roll man as Wood is, he’s a fairly poor screener. Adebayo and Sabnois have many similarities in terms of their ability to screen ballhandlers open and operate with the ball themselves. Getting actions like this between Bam and Vic could provide quality looks for both players and a dynamic two-man game.

Bam Adebayo is phenomenal at slipping as well. Victor is capable of hitting a slipping screener if doubled, Bam slipping, catching, and either finishing himself or drawing attention and kicking out will create great looks.

Dribble hand-offs between Vic and Bam will likely play a huge part in integrating Oladipo into the offense as well. Getting him a running start off the wing into a quick-hitting DHO off a pindown (Miami staple) could also assist in getting him much simpler looks and early advantages.

Overall, I anticipate and quietly hope that Miami won’t ask much of Oladipo as a lead initiator outside some bench line-ups. I just don’t think he quite has the burst to do that at a high level which is why we’ve seen him resort to so many floater range pull-ups and push-shots/runners/etc. However, as highlighted, I think he’ll be excellent as a second side creator who can attack off of initial actions from Jimmy Butler as well as the other ballhandlers deployed by the Heat.

Oladipo’s Defensive Impact

Victor Oladipo’s defense simply has not been given enough credit this season. He wouldn’t likely make an All-Defense team because Houston just suffered a 20-game losing streak, and that doesn’t equate to individual awards being given out.

But, Oladipo is back to being an elite off-ball free safety and events creator, bending passing lanes to his will. His fit in Miami defending in the half-court with Adebayo and Butler is tantalizing and I can’t wait to soak in every minute of it. Adding an All-Defense caliber player to the league’s 8th best defense, and 5th best defensive unit since Jimmy Butler returned from injury, pushes the Heat into an elite range on one end.

Oladipo’s ability to sniff out plays as they’re happening and then act accordibly is remarkable. He routinely robbed opposing hand-offs of the ball in Indiana and has created havoc from the backline in Houston as well.

Oladipo averages 3.1 deflections p/75 (85th %ile among guards), and rates in the top 12% or better among guards in D-LEBRON, Defensive RPM, Defensive Raptor, and Luck Adjusted Defensive RAPM.

Victor is a solid and above-average on-ball defender, but his off-ball ability sets him apart from the majority of wings and guards in the NBA. With Jimmy Butler honing in at the pount of attack, I expect Oladipo to be quite aggressive roaming off the weakside, especially considering that he has Bam Adebayo often at the back line.

I’d also be remiss to not mention Victor’s ability to rotate as the low-man and either draw charges or contest a shot.

Oladipo is a gamechanger defensively, and with the right adjustments and context, I think he can be offensively as well.

Considering how little Houston had to move bring Oladipo to South Beach, I think he was more than worth the gamble. I know some thought it might make more sense to just wait until he comes in free agency. I’d point out that Victor will likely be one of the top free agents this summer in a class that has dwindled as extensions have been signed. Taking the opportunity to see how Oladipo looks in what should be a near perfect context for him before sending him an offer is great for Miami and possibly more ideal than waiting to bring him in until next year.

While I don’t think this makes the Miami Heat contenders this year, or at least not in the same class as Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, this sets the Heat up to be flexible in the summer and have an inside track to re-sign Oladipo. Talent wins titles and Pat Riley knows that.

Victor Oladipo is an immensely talented player still, and while he has seen some regression due to injury, I think the pendulum has swung too far in regards to how he’s seen as a player. This is a great opportunity to showcase that he can still be a high level player in the NBA, likely in a smaller offensive role. The concerns with his ability to create on-ball are real and fair, but the context will be different and more favorable in Miami, where as the context was dreaful for him in Houston. I’m intrigued to see how his tenure in Miami gets going and will be closely watching to note his impact on the Heat’s immediate and long-term aspirations.

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