Arguments between Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra will not hold Victor Oladipo back from helping the Heat return to the NBA finals this postseason.
The March 23 flare-up between Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler, head coach Erik Spoelstra and 20-year veteran Udonis Haslem has been talked about ad nauseam. But fans worried about the team’s chemistry and how it’ll impact their performance in the postseason – the main reason Pat Riley hand-selected this group – need to look no further than the return of Victor Oladipo.
Since initially injuring his right knee and having his first surgery in January 2019, Oladipo has been an afterthought in the NBA, bouncing around from Indiana to Houston before being acquired by the Heat. Over the three years since initially rupturing his quadriceps tendon, during one of which he played for all three teams in the same season, he suited up for just 58 total games.
But after a full offseason and nearly an entire NBA season to recoup from his most recent operation in May 2021, Oladipo is finally being brought back to game shape slowly and in a calculated fashion, and this should get Heat fans excited for the playoffs.
Return to Form
In the eight games since returning to the court on March 7 to conclude the regular season, Oladipo averaged 12.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, in just 21.6 minutes in an off-the-bench point guard role. This sample of games includes two incredible performances against the Toronto Raptors (21 points in 27 minutes off the bench) and Orlando Magic (40 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists in 35 minutes as a starter), games in which he shot a combined 20 of 33 from the field, and 11-for-20 from three.
This rehabilitation period has been a different animal compared to what Oladipo is used to. Instead of medicine, Miami has made patience the main ingredient of his recovery. Since joining the Heat, he’s changed who has been rehabilitating him, handing over his recovery to Stefan Valdes, a doctor of physical therapy.
Valdes told The Ringer that Oladipo is “150 percent stronger” than he was before the second quad injury. After a five-on-five scrimmage with the Heat’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Oladipo was re-evaluated and was determined to be ready for game speed, The Ringer reported.
It’s been a long road back, but Oladipo has stayed positive the entire way. His head coach and teammates know the caliber of player they have returning and how hard he’s worked to get to where he is. “He’s just so excited to be here,” Spoelstra told the outlet. “It’s been a very frustrating three years.”
Teammate PJ Tucker told The Ringer, “It’s a beautiful thing to see him back out there.”
The Jack of All Trades
Miami has the luxury of placing an uber-talent like Oladipo into specific roles that made his career blossom into an All-NBA (Third Team All-NBA, 2018) quality player. He’s a lockdown defender (All-Defense, 2018), and a capable shooter who displayed serious three-point firepower to finish the season. Add to that his incredible ability to play off the ball as a backdoor cutter, and Miami has itself a Swiss Army bench contributor.
It’s not difficult to imagine a closing lineup of Kyle Lowry, Oladipo, Tucker, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo dominating the opposition defensively – while maintaining extremely potent offensive capability. Every one of those players can defend with the best – and Oladipo rounds out an already stout defensive team, currently ranked fourth in the league in opponent points per game (105.6).
So, on a team filled with stars and championship pedigree, it’s the most unlikely of stories and comebacks that the Heat’s playoff hopes hinge on, and Oladipo is frothing at the opportunity to make his impact on the biggest stage.