April 15, 2021

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Victor Oladipo’s Heat debut shows why his playmaking and defense are exactly what Miami’s been missing

5 min read

Heat Culture, a term which induces perhaps more eye-rolls than any other NBA idiom, preaches accountability — if something’s not going right for you, start by looking in the mirror.

That not only applies to the players, but to the Miami Heat front office as well. They could have sat idly by at the trade deadline, hoping that a return to health and a late-season surge could make the Heat, hovering around .500, title contenders once again. But instead of waiting for Victor Oladipo to sign as a free agent this summer, Pat Riley and the Heat braintrust elected to pony up the necessary resources to bring Oladipo aboard now as an injection of life for the stretch run.

“We need what he does well on both ends of the court — we need that to become who we want to become as a team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Oladipo. ” … We already had a good feeling about him, just competing against him the last several years. I think he just really fits and it’s coming at a time that’s really good, we think, right now.”

Even though he was saddled with foul trouble for most of his debut, a 116-109 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, Oladipo’s fit on both sides of the ball was immediately evident as he brandished his basketball IQ and playmaking skills just minutes into the game. After some on-court coaching from Jimmy Butler (Oladipo had limited time to learn the playbook before his debut), Oladipo cut back-door, took a bounce pass from Butler into the paint to force Draymond Green to help off of the corner shooter, then found Trevor Ariza for a wide-open 3-pointer.

“Offensively, he gives us that downhill, attack — another guy that can make plays, another guy that can put pressure on opponent defenses in the paint,” Spoelstra said after the game. “I think with more time, he’s going to get so much more comfortable and be able to really add to our offense.”

Playmaking has been an area of concern throughout the season for the Heat, particularly with Goran Dragic missing 15 games due to various ailments. With Butler and Bam Adebayo tasked with so much of the shot creation in the first unit, Oladipo provides some necessary relief. We didn’t get to see much of it on Thursday because of the foul trouble, but Oladipo can also be the primary scorer on the second unit alongside Dragic and Tyler Herro, if Spoelstra chooses to stagger him and Butler.

After just one game, he noticed the difference in spacing alongside Duncan Robinson and the other Heat shooters.

“It’s a lot of room to navigate. A lot of room to make plays, a lot of room to roam and do a lot of effective things with a guy like [Robinson],” said Oladipo, who finished with six points and five assists in his Miami debut. “We have a bunch of guys who can spread the floor, and that’s huge.” 

Oladipo dished out five assists in his 23 minutes, and his passing ability will fit in nicely with a Heat team that leads the NBA in assist percentage. While every member of the Heat, from Spoelstra to Butler to Oladipo himself, stressed that it will take time for the new addition to get acclimated, Adebayo said it’s not difficult to fit into the Heat’s system if you’re willing to be unselfish and put in the work.

“I don’t think it’s that hard. We share the ball. We’re unselfish. And we curse them out if they don’t take shots,” Adebayo said after the game. ” … You can figure out the plays later, but being incorporated in this system — it’s really easy to figure out things when we want you to be aggressive, we want you to have fun, we want you to share the ball, we want you to enjoy other people’s success, and we want you to lock up. It’s a pretty simple formula when you get incorporated with us.”

Even with Oladipo being a career 20-point-per-game scorer, the Heat are most excited about his defensive potential. We saw glimpses of it in his debut, as he used his length, athleticism and strength for some impressive one-on-one defensive displays. Watch here as he picks up Stephen Curry just after he crosses the half-court line, then proceeds to cut him off at every angle before poking the ball out of bounds. You can even see Curry give Oladipo a pat on the thigh after the play, an acknowledgment that he won that round.

Spoelstra called Oladipo’s fit in the defensive scheme “extremely natural,” and the lineup that closed Thursday night’s win could send shudders down the spines of every potential Miami playoff opponent. It’s hard to find a more intimidating defensive foursome league-wide than Adebayo, Butler, Oladipo and Andre Iguodala. Tyler Herro finished alongside them in this game, but that could easily be Dragic, Robinson or even Ariza for maximum versatility.

“Being able to switch everything, it kind of erases any opponent’s type of offensive flow, just because they can’t get the right triggers they want to get,” Adebayo said. “So it’s good for [Oladipo] to be out there. I’m happy he’s here, and I feel like he’s gonna enjoy the season.”

After a relatively rough start, the Heat are up to sixth in the league in defense, allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions. With Oladipo, the unit has the ability to put the clamps down in new and exciting ways, something they’ll certainly need need against potent offenses from potential opponents like the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks come playoff time.

“I think we’re in a league where it’s definitely offensive-driven. It’s about who can score the most points,” Butler said. “I want us to be able to score points and I want us to be able to get stops, because you’re not going to make shots every night. We’re a legit defensive team, but I think with the new pieces that we have, we’re gonna be even better.”

Colin Ward-Henninger
2021-04-02 01:08:22

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