Victor Oladipo had a goal of playing in all 82 games this season. At about the time that goal got around through the media, Oladipo missed a week of action with a sore ankle as Orlando opted to let him sit.
In the five games since his return, Oladipo has struggled to recapture the electric play that defined his January and February. Some of that might be due to a changing role. In the time Oladipo was out, Orlando went with a bigger lineup that featured Kyle O’Quinn at power forward, pushing Oladipo to the bench.
He is averaging 13.2 points per game and 5.4 assists per game on 44.1 percent shooting. He has posted a 48.3 percent effective field goal percentage in that time and a 10.3 percent player impact estimate, according to NBA.com. His full season numbers have him with a 9.5 percent player impact estimate.
Oladipo has eased himself back into the lineup more and more. Jameer Nelson’s injury, he will once again miss Saturday night’s game against Utah, has given Oladipo more time and more control over the ball and over possessions. But Oladipo admitted he felt he lost his “juice” having had to sit out for so long.
“It just takes a few games for it to come back,” Oladipo said before the Magic left for their road trip. “I definitely feel like it’s there. Just have to continue to keep playing hard. It is something you really got to get used to. Like I said, just trying to be positive and play hard.”
That is certainly something else a player has to learn how to do as a rookie. Come back from nagging injuries after sitting out for somet ime. The NBA is a rhythm league in the way games come and go and the way the schedule moves.
Adjusting to that suddenly stopping is as big as anything else.
Take Tobias Harris.
He missed nearly the first month of the season with a high ankle sprain and it took somet ime for him to get back into rhythm after missing so much time. He had the added issue of having to miss almost all of training camp but it took even him a while to get back into the swing of things. Arron Afflalo recently missed time with an injury and, even as a veteran, he needed some time for his body to catch up with what his mind thought he was capable of doing.
“I definitely think it is a learning experience,” Harris said. “You have to really focus your mind and be patient on the process of getting back where you need to be. Your mind tells you you want to be at this point but your body isn’t where your mind is at. It takes a lot of patience as well.”
Oladipo’s patience appears to be paying off. He is starting to play at a much better pace and regain that comfort. His scoring and raw numbers are certainly up.
However, the Magic still need more and Oladipo is doing more on trial and error (as Brett Koremonos noted in Oladipo’s game against the Suns on Tuesday). Oladipo is still adjusting to life in the NBA in every facet.
Last night I saw a young player thinking too much and too little. Oladipo finished the night with just 14 points on 6-of-18 from the field and committed six turnovers. Things we often take for granted with veteran point guards — getting teams into sets quickly, making sure guys are in the right spots, etc. — still isn’t natural for Oladipo. And when he attacked the rim in the half-court, out of basic pick-and-roll sets, there wasn’t really a clear purpose. He had some impressive finishes thanks to his outstanding athleticism, but like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Oladipo just does things. Instead of being aware of how his movements change the shape of the defense, Oladipo merely reacts to the consequences of his actions.
The marathon is nearing its end, it is not surprising to see Oladipo have somet rouble taking on that last mile.
Learning to return is all part of that process.
“With Vic, it was more mental and physical with it,” Vaughn said. “It is, ‘Man I’ve been out a whole week, and my body doesn’t feel the same.’ I think he said something about feeling slow. It’s from these guys used to playing, having a day off and playing. When that doesn’t happen your body is like what is going on. That was his first time being able to feel that. What do I do to get back to the position of feeling good? It’s just a part of the game.”