Heat’s Oladipo looking forward to first healthy summer

As Victor Oladipo works his way back from a second major knee procedure, we see a snapshot of the offensive game that helped make him a two-time All-Star:

A three-pointer here, a reverse layup there, a pull-up jumper over here.

On certain nights, it all comes together, including the 21-point game in Toronto, the 40-point season finale in Orlando, the dazzling 23-point close-out game of the first-round series against Atlanta and the 23-point effort in Monday’s lopsided Game 4 loss to Boston.

But Oladipo — who has regained much of his elite defensive form — hasn’t yet recaptured the offensive efficiency that he displayed when he averaged 23.1 points and 47.7 percent shooting from the field and 37.1 percent shooting on threes in 75 starts for Indiana in 2017- 18.

He said working on every part of his offensive game will be an offseason priority.

“I really haven’t had a summer healthy to really work on my game,” he said. “This summer I’m looking forward to fine-tuning all the stuff I’m great at, which includes [three-pointers, pull-ups, drives to the basket] and more. Transition, half-court, all the stuff that was second nature to me.”

Oladipo is fourth in the Heat in postseason scoring average (11.5) and has had some good offensive moments in these playoffs — including three games of 19 or more points. But his shooting percentage (38.7) and three-point percentage (31.3) are below his career averages of 43.8 and 34.8.

He has consistently displayed an ability to drive and draw contact; he’s third in the Heat in free-throw attempts this postseason and has made 37 of 47 from the line.

So is his biggest room for growth offensively and not defensively?

“Definitely [offensively], especially because I didn’t have an opportunity to find my rhythm,” he said last week. “I can still be effective, find ways to affect the game. Even offensively, it’s more of a mind-set thing. I haven’t played a lot. I don’t have as much reps as everyone else but I can still play at a high level.”

What’s his ideal mix offensively?

“A little bit of everything,” he said. “That’s what it has been my whole career. I can mix it up in the paint, pull-ups, threes. That’s why it’s hard to guard [me].”

Oladipo has been a starter for most of his career, and he admits coming off the bench has been “a big adjustment. I’m not used to that. It’s about sacrifice, especially when you’re trying to do something special.”

His defense has been very good, including a four-steal, eight-deflection second half against Boston in Game 3, after Jimmy Butler left with knee inflammation. He has 16 steals and four blocks in 12 playoff appearances.

Oladipo, who had major knee surgery last May and didn’t appear in a game until March 7, said that “it took a village for me to get back where I’m at,” and reminded reporters that “I came back in the middle of the year. Guys were already in top-tier shape playing all year. Trying to find your way is tough.”

Oladipo can appreciate the moment, being thrust into an Eastern Conference finals after not playing until March 7.

“A year ago this time I was watching,” he said. “To be able to play on this stage is a blessing. To be able to play basketball in general is a blessing. I’ve come a long way. I’ve got a long way to go. I’m enjoying the journey.”

This is Oladipo’s first trip out of the first round. His 2017 Oklahoma City team lost in the first round, 4-1 to Houston. His 2018 Indiana team lost in the first round, 4-3 to Cleveland. And his 2020 Pacers team was swept by the Heat in the Orlando bubble.

“In my first three years, I wasn’t even sniffing the playoffs,” Oladipo said. “Fourth year, great playoff experience. Year after that, went to the playoffs and [again] lost in the first round. After that, I’ve just been hurt ever since then.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra appreciates how Oladipo has adjusted to frequently changing roles with a cheerful attitude.

“Opportunity has come at various times,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not going to be scripted in a perfect way. If you keep your mind right and stay positive — which he does, and that’s what I love about him — and you give into the team, there’s a karma to it.

And when your number is called, you’re not frustrated or focused on all the wrong things or listening to all the chatter about what most people fall [prey to]. And he’s ready for it. There are going to be sliding parts because of Kyle [Lowry] coming back.”

What is Oladipo most proud of?

“I would say being resilient, that I have a purpose and understanding I’ve come such a long way from here. I understand the role. On this team, I have to be a star in my role.”

But then after giving the question more thought, he offered another answer.

“I’m most proud of my patience. That’s the biggest thing. My patience has grown over the years.”

He’s an impending unrestricted free agent, with the Heat holding his Bird Rights and thus the ability to surpass the salary cap to re-sign him.

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Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.


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