The play was perfect—Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana: Victor Oladipo is playing his first game of the season after a knee injury that kept him out for over a year. The Indiana Pacers are down by 3 points with 15.3 seconds to go. Oladipo was only 2/8 on FGs in about twenty minutes in that game, but he was determined to make a difference. On the inbound, Oladipo received the pass and stood outside the three point line for about five seconds before shooting it over Chandler Hutchison for the game tying triple—in true Oladipo fashion. He even credited his game winning shot to the Mamba Mentality of the great Kobe Bryant, who had passed away a few days before this game. But was that superstar shot a symbol of Oladipo’s return? Recent games and statistics say maybe not yet.
Since the OT win by the Pacers that was fueled by a deep Oladipo three, there has not been much of a revival in the Indiana franchise. In his first five games back, Oladipo’s stats were less than impressive: 10.6 PPG, 28.1 FG%, and a 23.8 minutes per game average that would make a G-leaguer ecstatic. Yet somehow, Oladipo’s performance seems to have had an effect on the team as a whole—prior to the star’s return, the Pacers won seven of their last 10 games; as of Feb. 9th, the Pacers have gone 1-5 since his return. Once again, the question remains: when will Oladipo really make his return?
This situation is one that is all too familiar to the Pacers: all star acquired, playoff run, season ending injury—rinse and repeat, most notably with Danny Granger and Paul George. Each time, the Pacers learned to play as a team without their star players, which has been a recurring scenario. Keeping this in mind, it can be helpful to look at the recent past of the Indiana Pacers and use it to keep realistic expectations.
When Paul George returned to the Pacers at the end of the 2014-15 season, he had little to no impact on the team’s status—he averaged 8.8 points per game over six games. The next season, however, George returned and played basketball at a prime level, boosting his team’s overall status along the way. This is the truth about basketball players, including both George and Oladipo: basketball players (with the exception of Brian Scalabrine) are entirely human.
The answer to the aforementioned question is one that nobody likes to hear. Oladipo will be elite again eventually—but the timeframe is indefinite. In the meantime, fans will just have to trust that history really does repeat itself and give Oladipo the well-deserved trust that he will come back and play at a high level once again. As it happened to the Pacers before, it will happen again: superstar acquired, superstar injured, superstar returns—and let’s just hope the Pacers skip the “superstar traded” stage.