Victor Oladipo

Pacers Lift Victor Oladipo’s Minutes Restriction

Pacers star Victor Oladipo will no longer face a minutes restriction, head coach Nate McMillan said today (Twitter link via Bob Kravitz of The Athletic).

Oladipo, who returned to action on January 29 after a year-long recovery from a ruptured quad tendon, initially was limited to 24 minutes per contest. The Pacers bumped that restriction up to 28 minutes about two weeks ago. Going forward, Oladipo has the green light to play more than that, though the team figures to continue being cautious with its star guard, who has appeared in just seven games so far.

McMillan said today that Oladipo will still only play the first half of Indiana’s back-to-back sets, per Kravitz. However, as Scott Agness of The Athletic points out (via Twitter), that shouldn’t be too big a deal, since the Pacers’ schedule only features three more back-to-backs. And obviously, once the postseason begins, that won’t be a concern.

A two-time All-Star, Oladipo has struggled to score efficiently since returning, averaging just 11.1 PPG on .329/.244/.800 shooting. Still, his defense has been solid and the expectation is that the shot will start to fall once he gets a little more comfortable and rediscovers his rhythm.

The Pacers, who currently rank sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 32-23 record, will resume their battle for playoff positioning on Friday when they visit the Knicks in New York.

Central Notes: Hill, Oladipo, Jackson, Bulls

Sweet-shooting Bucks backup point guard George Hill may be on one of the best teams in the NBA as he visits the Pacers, but he will always be an “Indianapolis boy” at heart, as the Indianapolis Star’s Dana Hunsinger Benbow details.

An alum of Broad Ripple High and IUPUI, Hill has been a solid NBA mainstay since being drafted in 2008. Hill apparently does not harbor much nostalgia for the Pacers, who traded him in the 2016 offseason to the Jazz. “I hope we beat them (by 20),” Hill said. “The Pacers didn’t want me.” The 46-8 Bucks sure do. Hill is connecting on an astronomical 51.1% of his 6.4 three-point attempts per game this season.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Though Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo has been back on the court for seven games, he knows he has yet to reclaim his All-Star caliber play, per Royce Young of ESPN. “I missed a whole year of NBA basketball, not just basketball,” Oladipo said. “It’s the highest level of basketball. It’s different.” Oladipo is averaging 11.1 PPG, 2.9 APG, and 2.0 APG in 25.0 minutes per contest.
  • Oft-injured Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson is in the final season of his five-year, $80MM contract, but the Pistons may not want to buy him out due to their limited options at his position, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.
  • The slumping Bulls, losers of six straight games and owners of a paltry 19-36 record, offer more intrigue over the rest of this season than meets the eye, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Cowley notes that head coach Jim Boylen, several young prospects, and even Chicago’s front office decision-makers might be fighting for their futures with the franchise during the 2019/20 home stretch.

Central Notes: Oladipo, LaVine, Bulls, Pistons

Prior to the 2019/20 season, the Pacers and Victor Oladipo “very briefly” discussed the possibility of a contract extension, but decided it was best to revisit the subject later, sources tell ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

Oladipo will be extension-eligible again during the 2020/21 league year, so he and the Pacers could circle back to those discussions this summer. Still, it’d be a surprise if he agrees to a new deal before the 2021 offseason, when he could optimize his earnings as a free agent.

In a contract extension, Oladipo would be limited to a starting salary of $25.2MM. Based on the league’s latest salary cap projections for 2021/22, the Pacers guard could earn a starting salary of up to $37.2MM if he waits until free agency to sign his next contract.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Although the Bulls have acquired a handful of promising young players in recent years, it remains to be seen whether any players on the roster will develop into true stars. Eric Woodyard of ESPN takes a closer look at whether Zach LaVine is capable of becoming that sort of player.
  • Here’s what executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson had to say about the Bulls developing and evaluating their roster and seeking star-caliber players, via Woodyard: “We know what we have to get … in this business, you win with stars. Every team does. We went into a rebuild. You draft and you hope that those guys develop. We’re still trying to get to that phase of being a relevant, legitimate team. … The time after the All-Star break will be us evaluating who fits going forward, but we’ve not given up on our young guys. A lot of people make mistakes in this league. I know the balance is not hanging on too long, but it’s not giving up on guys too early.”
  • Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and swingman Denzel Valentine heard that there were teams interested in them leading up to the trade deadline, as Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago details. Both players suggested they’re happy to have the deadline behind them so they can move forward and focus on pushing for a playoff spot down the stretch.
  • After several years spent in the middle of the NBA pack, the Pistons‘ rebuild was a long time coming, writes Rod Beard of The Detroit News.

USA Basketball Announces 44 Finalists For 2020 Olympic Roster

USA Basketball has formally announced a preliminary group of 44 players who are candidates to be part of the program’s roster for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The final roster will only consist of 12 players, so most of these finalists won’t actually play for Team USA at the Olympics. Some will likely withdraw from consideration, while others simply won’t make the final cut. However, these players have all expressed interest in being involved in the process.

“This is the first step in USA Basketball identifying the 12 players who will represent the United States as members of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“… Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all of the athletes. Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process, and we will again attempt to select the very best team possible to represent our country and who we hope will be successful in our difficult mission of repeating as Olympic champions for a fourth consecutive Olympics.”

Although the U.S. men’s team has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the program had a disappointing showing at last year’s World Cup, finishing in seventh place. Team USA will be looking for a bounce-back performance in Tokyo this summer, with many players from that World Cup squad among the 44 finalists announced today.

Here’s the full list of players who are candidates to play for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Rockets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
  22. Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Lakers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
  36. Chris Paul (Thunder)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Nuggets)
  38. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  41. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  42. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  43. Russell Westbrook (Rockets)
  44. Derrick White (Spurs)

Pacers Shopping Leaf, Increasing Oladipo’s Minutes Limit

While the Pacers are unlikely to make a major move, they are not going into the 2020 NBA trade deadline quietly. The team is sniffing around to see if there is a trade for T.J. Leaf, sources tell J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star.

Leaf was selected with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2017 draft. He’s never really carved out a consistent role with the club, given the presence of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on the roster. Now, the Pacers could look to trade him for a true stretch four, per Michael, though they are not expecting a major asset in return.

Leaf, who has appeared in 22 games for Indiana this season, is shooting 35.7% from three, though he’s only taken 14 attempts this season.

Minutes should be even tighter now with coach Nate McMillan and the Pacers medical staff increasing the minutes limit for Victor Oladipo, who returned from a gruesome leg injury just three games ago. The star will be capped at 28 minutes now instead of 24, writes Mark Montieth of Pacers.com.

Indiana had initially planned to re-evaluate Oladipo’s minutes restriction at the All-Star break, but is hoping that loosening that restriction will help him find a rhythm and break out of his shooting slump.

“We need to get him to that workload he needs to put on his knee,” head coach Nate McMillan said.

Pacers Notes: Oladipo, Sabonis, Lamb, Practices

Pacers star Victor Oladipo downplayed his shooting struggles against the Bulls on Wednesday and Knicks on Saturday, with the 27-year-old still working to regain his rhythm and get back into the swing of things, as relayed by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star.

Oladipo, who missed the past 12 months after suffering a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, shot 2-of-8 against Chicago and 2-of-14 against New York. He appeared in limited time during both of those games (21 minutes and 22 minutes), coming off the bench in both stints.

“We’re still trying to figure each other out,” Oladipo said. “Obviously I’m still trying to get my rhythm. I’ve been out a year. Coming off the bench and obviously playing limited minutes is new, so I got to get used to that. I got to get used to the flow of the game again, we have to get used to each other again. 

“Obviously we won last game [against Chicago]. We made big shots in order to win, but unfortunately tonight [against New York] we couldn’t do that. We just can’t overreact. Everybody else might, obviously, but that’s just how everybody else is. We just got to stay even-keeled and get ready for the Mavs on Monday.”

During his last full season before the injury, Oladipo averaged a career-best 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per contest in 75 games in 2017/18. He was averaging 18.8 points and 5.6 rebounds through 36 games last season, remaining the team’s best player on the offensive end.

Here are some other notes out of Indiana tonight:

  • Domantas Sabonis has taken an impressive path since joining the team, climbing the ranks from a bench player to a starter (and now an NBA All-Star), Mark Montieth of Pacers.com writes. Sabonis was selected to his first All-Star team last month, holding season-averages of 18.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
  • Oladipo will help establish the Pacers as one of the beasts of the East, giving other top-tier teams a run for their money as the postseason nears, writes David Aldridge of The Athletic. Players such as Jeremy Lamb will have to sacrifice minutes for Oladipo, a two-time All-Star, with Indiana eventually expected to sport a starting lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Myles Turner and Sabonis.
  • Indiana is emphasizing a lighter practice schedule going forward as multiple players work to come back from injuries, J. Michael writes for the Indianapolis Star. Instead, the Pacers will focus on recovery and film study.

Dramatic Shot Marks Victor Oladipo’s Return

Victor Oladipo had a storybook return to the court tonight, capping a Pacers‘ rally with a clutch 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime, writes Mike Wells of ESPN.

Playing for the first time in more than a year, Oladipo scored nine points as Indiana pulled out a win over the Bulls. He played 21 minutes, three short of his restriction, and felt thrilled to be back on the court.

“It was amazing. Words can’t describe it,” Oladipo said in a post-game interview with Fox Sports Indiana. “It’s been a hard year, really tough year. God is good man, God is good.”

Oladipo was sidelined for 375 days after suffering a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee last January. He practiced extensively with the Pacers’ G League affiliate over the past few weeks to help get him ready to return to action.

Three weeks ago, Oladipo announced that January 29 was his target date, raising the hopes of Pacers fans, who have watched their team remain competitive without their All-Star guard. With tonight’s win, Indiana is 31-17, tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Oladipo arrived at the game wearing a Kobe Bryant All-Star jersey. Afterward, he credited Bryant for providing inspiration.

“Mamba mentality, Mamba mentality, Mamba mentality,” he said. “That was for Kobe, Gigi, all those people on the helicopter, that was for them.”

The Pacers plan to have Oladipo play in seven of their remaining eight games before the All-Star break, but he won’t be used in back-to-backs. Coach Nate McMillan said his condition will be examined during the break to determine his role for the rest of the season.

“We’re not putting pressure on him to go out there and do anything but get a feel, start to trust your body,” McMillan said. “Work on things. Catch up to what we’re doing out on the floor. There are no real expectations.”

Central Notes: Bucks, Oladipo, Valentine, Young

The Bucks currently have a 41-6 record, which nearly puts them on a 72-win pace. Only two teams in NBA history have ever won that many games in a single season — the 2015/16 Warriors (73-9) and the 1995/96 Bulls (72-10).

As Eric Woodyard of ESPN.com details, Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry recently got to speak to a key player from one of those two teams, touching base with Hornets owner Michael Jordan when Milwaukee and Charlotte made their trip to Paris last week. According to Lasry, he asked Jordan what he thought of the Bucks’ chances to win 70 games – or perhaps even 72 like Jordan’s Bulls – this season.

“And he goes, ‘Look, my advice to you is don’t focus on beating our record, focus on winning a championship,'” Lasry said, recalling the conversation. “And I said, ‘Wow, that’s great. Thank you for that. Just so you know, we’re going to focus on beating your record and winning a championship.’ I think we should do everything, but that’s me.”

Whether or not the Bucks maintain their current pace for the entire season, Lasry’s belief in the team is real, as Woodyard relays.

“We have all these capabilities, and what’s actually unique about our team is how much it’s a team,” Lasry said of the Bucks. “If you sort of think about it, everybody looks out for each other, and everybody sacrifices for the other player. You don’t see that with a lot of NBA teams.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Scott Agness of The Athletic takes a look at what to expect from Victor Oladipo when he returns to the court for the Pacers on Wednesday. “We’re going to be slow with him, be patient with him,” head coach Nate McMillan said on Tuesday. “Is he close to the old Vic? There’s no way he could be there after being off for a season, so you have to be patient. We’ll give him some minutes (Wednesday), allow him to get out there and get his feet wet and get out on the floor in a competitive game.”
  • As Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago points out, Denzel Valentine‘s Bulls teammates had nothing but praise and support for the swingman after a strong performance on Monday, even as their comments seemed to hint at the possibility that Valentine could be traded.
  • Thaddeus Young, another one of the Bulls‘ veteran trade candidates, has taken on an expanded role in the offense with Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen sidelined, writes Mark Schanowski of NBC Sports Chicago. Schanowski suggests that the Bulls’ injury-depleted frontcourt and their proximity to the No. 8 seed (they’re two games back) likely diminish the odds of Young being dealt.

Victor Oladipo To Have Minutes Restriction Upon Return

Pacers guard Victor Oladipo remains on track to make his return to the NBA on Wednesday night vs. Chicago after missing the last year with a torn quad tendon. However, the team will be cautious with the 27-year-old upon his return.

According to Nat Newell and J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star, Oladipo will face a minutes restriction in his season debut and for at least the first few weeks after that. The team intends to re-evaluate that restriction at the All-Star break, at which time it could be adjusted or lifted entirely.

The Pacers haven’t indicated exactly how many minutes Oladipo will receive per game. The team was also noncommittal about his potential role, though Scott Agness of The Athletic suggests (via Twitter) there’s a good chance he’ll come off the bench for now. As Agness points out (via Twitter), Oladipo still hasn’t practiced with the starters and head coach Nate McMillan is aware that an adjustment period will be necessary.

Before going down with his quad injury last January, the veteran guard had been named an All-Star in each of his first two seasons in Indiana. He has averaged 21.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.1 SPG on .461/.362/.780 shooting in 111 games since joining the Pacers in a blockbuster 2017 trade.

The Pacers have played very well in Oladipo’s absence, with Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis stepping up as the team’s leaders and making strong cases for All-Star consideration. At 30-17, Indiana currently ranks fifth in the Eastern Conference. With Oladipo back, the club will be pushing in the second half to secure a top-four seed and first-round home court advantage.

Central Notes: Cavaliers, Bulls, Oladipo

Following last Thursday’s loss to the Wizards, Cavaliers players expressed disappointment that the team doesn’t seem to be making any positive progress, as Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com details. Tristan Thompson suggested the club seems to be “at a standstill,” while Kevin Love said he feels as if the Cavs should be better than they are.

“We have to start trending in the right direction again because we felt like we were playing good basketball, even in a couple of the losses we had, and these are uncharacteristic — losing by double-digits to these two teams,” Love said following a series of Cavaliers losses to Chicago, New York, and Washington. “Nothing against them, we just feel like similar records and these are teams we can compete with, especially on our home floor. We should have a chance to really win.”

While the Cavaliers may shake up their roster a little prior to the trade deadline, there are no guarantees that veterans like Thompson and Love will be moved, so it’s no surprise they’d like to see the team become more competitive if they’re going to remain in Cleveland for the rest of the season. Things didn’t get any better on Saturday, when the Cavs lost at home to the Bulls to extend their losing streak to seven games.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times wonders if there’s any chance the Bulls could be buyers, rather than sellers, at this year’s trade deadline. Head coach Jim Boylen said those conversations haven’t taken place yet – at least not with him in the room – but he’d be happy if the team stands pat. “I love the guys we have, and we’re going to keep coaching and teaching the guys we have, and I’ve got a good group, a willing group, a coachable group,” Boylen said. “It’s going to be ‘we and us,’ and ‘we and us’ are going to keep working.”
  • Nathan Brown of The Indianapolis Star spoke to knee specialist Dr. Rodney Benner to get a sense of what Pacers star Victor Oladipo might look like upon returning from his year-long injury. “It’s going to be a little bit, trial-and-error isn’t the right word for it, but there’s going to be some adjusting of activity up and down to see what he can handle, just because it’s such an uncommon injury that it’s hard to predict,” Benner said of Oladipo, who remains on track to make his season debut on Wednesday.
  • In case you missed it, we passed along a handful of Bulls notes and Pacers items over the weekend.