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The trade deadline might’ve passed, but don’t forget about Victor Oladipo’s impending return

The former All-Star could have a big impact if he returns healthy and in shape.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat Photo by Carlos Goldman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Miami Heat didn’t acquire anyone during the 2021-22 NBA Trade Deadline. Their only acquisition featured sending third-year forward KZ Okpala to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 2026 second-round pick, which also included the Thunder amending protections on a separate first-round pick Miami owed the Thunder in 2023, pushing the protections back to 2025.

The aforementioned protection delay subsequently freed Miami’s 2022 and 2023 first-round picks for any potential trade before the deadline or this upcoming offseason, if it opted to go in either of those two routes.

Well, the former of those two options is now out the window. No move was made; the Heat’s roster stands at 13 players — plus a pair of two-way talents in Caleb Martin and Kyle Guy. While it feels all but certain that Martin will receive a standard contract, taking up a (well-deserved) roster spot, the other could be used for a potential buyout player if one becomes available before March 1 to retain playoff eligibility.

But I present to you one of the league’s best *air quotes* 2021-22 trade deadline acquisition *air quotes*: Victor Oladipo, who’s impending return from quadriceps surgery has been seemingly buried under the national radar for some odd reason.

No official return date has been set for him yet. And that’s perfectly understandable for a player who has undergone multiple quadriceps surgeries over the last three-plus calendar years. At the time of his May surgery, his projected timetable was sometime before the new year. But the Heat understandably want to reassure he’s 110 percent healthy before playing him in an NBA game.

But as his return nears — (hopefully sooner rather than later!) — let’s not forget what type of player the Heat will be adding to their rich, deep-seated roster.

It’s rather easy to look at what Oladipo did in four games with the Heat in 2020-21 and suggest his value rested within the eye of the beholder.

And to a degree, it was and still might be.

Though I believe he was progressing as time passed through those four games, Oladipo averaged just 12.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 27.8 minutes per game, shooting a ghastly 37.2 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent from 3-point range. For additional context, here was his four-game box score.

  • April 1, 2021 v. Golden State Warriors (23 MIN): 6 PTS (2-8 FG, 0-4 3PT), 3 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 3 TOV
  • April 3 v. Cleveland Cavaliers (30 MIN): 8 PTS (3-13 FG, 1-6 3PT), 1 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 4 TOV
  • April 6 v. Memphis Grizzlies (33 MIN): 16 PTS (6-14 FG, 1-4 3PT), 6 REB, 2 AST, 3 TOV
  • April 8 v. Los Angeles Lakers* (25 MIN): 18 PTS (5-8 FG, 2-3 3PT, 6-6 FT), 4 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 4 TOV

*Suffered quad injury in fourth quarter

Of course, those don’t tell the entire story (the film also doesn’t lie!), but it’s clear that the 6-foot-4 guard was just finding his footing before re-injuring his quad. He then inked a one-year minimum deal with Miami in the offseason — one of the league’s best player-dollar value contracts (from a team perspective, of course) in my view.

We can talk about what Oladipo provides, but I’d be remiss to not initially mention who he’s playing with. Here’s a look at how the current Heat shapes up:

Current 2021-22 Miami Heat depth chart

Positons: Starters 2nd string 3rd string 4th string
Positons: Starters 2nd string 3rd string 4th string
PG: Kyle Lowry Gabe Vincent Kyle Guy
SG: Jimmy Butler Tyler Herro Victor Oladipo (injured)
SF: Duncan Robinson Max Strus
PF: P.J. Tucker Caleb Martin Udonis Haslem Markieff Morris (injured)
C: Bam Adebayo Dewayne Dedmon Omer Yurtseven

Throwing Oladipo in different lineup combinations, one thing immediately sticks out — and, yes, we’re all (probably) thinking the same thing. Yes, you too, don’t lie.

The addition of Oladipo to the Kyle Lowry-Jimmy Butler-PJ Tucker-Bam Adebayo group immediately manifests the “Great (Defensive) Wall of Miami”, a lineup that will be nothing short of a nightmare to face when all five are on the floor together.

The aforementioned quartet has already been elite defensively this season; they’re surrendering an astoundingly-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions — ranking in the 100th percentile per Cleaning the Glass — holding foes to a 48.6 effective field goal percentage (96th percentile) with a 16.9 turnover rate (95th percentile).

Among five-man groupings with at least 400 possessions logged, those four with sharpshooter Duncan Robinson (its typical starting lineup), which has played 490 possessions together, has hindered opponents to just 92.0 points per 100 possessions (97th percentile), the second-best in the league behind the Boston Celtics’ Smart-Brown-Tatum-Horford-Williams lineup (88.1 points; 98th percentile).

The Lowry-Butler-Tucker-Adebayo quartet has only played 18 games together this season, and the offense has yet to completely find its footing — tallying only 106.9 points per 100 (21st percentile) with a 52.4 eFG% (43rd percentile) — but their cohesive, vigorous defense makes up for it any offensive deficiencies and then some.

Lump Oladipo, a former All-Defensive guard, into that bunch and buddy.....WHEW! I truthfully wonder whether we’ll ever see or hear Pat Riley manically laughing from his seat inside FTX Arena when Erik Spoelstra deploys this lineup on the floor.

In his 20-game sample with the Houston Rockets in 2020-21, Oladipo was one of the best post defenders in the league, per NBA.com. Oladipo placed in the 99.7 percentile amongst post defenders (0.8 possessions per game), surrendering just a 27.3 field goal percentage while opponents’ also sported a dismal 31.3 turnover rate in such scenarios — albeit the small sample size.

I’m not sure that figure is something to necessarily write home about. For perspective, he placed in the 63.1 percentile in 36 games in 2018-19 and in the 16.7 percentile in 2017-18, when he made the All-Defensive team and a 25.1 percentile in 2016-17. So there might be some upward trajectory in regards to his post defense, but Oladipo has still shown the capability to thwart entry passes against bigger players — an area where he’ll likely have greater opportunity to thrive in with Miami’s switch-heavy scheme.

Integrating Oladipo rewards Miami a near-surplus of quality guard and wing defenders — Lowry, Vincent, Butler, Caleb Martin, etc. — who can punch at or above their weight defensively. In particular to the Lowry-Butler-Tucker-Adebayo quartet, or even substituting Gabe Vincent or Martin where in that mix, and you have yourself five versatile defenders that can press, play zone, drop, switch or blitz without many conceivable weaknesses.

Oh and he’ll take charges! Y’all already know the mantra in these spaces: “Death, taxes and Miami Heat drawing charges.”

(Side note: If you’re seeking a blow-your-brain type statistic, look no further than the Miami Heat’s charges drawn numbers — they have drawn a league-leading 81 charges. The next most? The Houston Rockets with 44; that’s a larger gap than it is from Houston to the Utah Jazz, who’s second-to-last in charges drawn with nine.)

Zooming out to a broader lens, though, Oladipo and guard Tyler Herro will presumably be their lead guards for a bench unit that’s been one of the most productive in the league. Herro — the frontrunner for sixth-man of the year (Kevin Love objectively deserves consideration, too) — Vincent, Max Strus, Dewayne Dedmon and Martin, among others, have made serious contributions amid different injuries and COVID-absences Miami’s suffered throughout 2021-22.

Oladipo adds a fascinating blend of rim pressure, downhill shot creation and spot-up shooting that slots in perfectly next to Herro and the rest of this Heat offense. If they opt to close with him in certain situations, he will also provide Miami with additional downhill juice to help draw fouls or defenders from the weak-side that could open up creases for Butler and Adebayo to operate.

The Heat have struggled down the stretch in games throughout the season; in clutch situations — defined as a circumstances with a five or fewer point differential in the last five minutes of a game — Miami’s 25th in offense (97.7 ORTG), 22nd in free-throw attempts per 100 possessions (31.8), 19th in true-shooting percentage (53.1 percent) and 27th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.04).

Oladipo will help ail those late-game detriments, as well as providing the requisite late-game defense needed to squeak out games.

Throughout the last several days, Miami was linked to several names leaguewide, particularly players who would project to be backup 4s in-place of the injured Markieff Morris, who’s missed the last 46 games with a serious neck injury; Five Reasons Sports’ insider Greg Sylvander reported Sunday to keep an eye on P.J. Washington, Rui Hachimura and Nic Batum. He also cited Thursday on 5RSN’s Five on the Floor that Dorian Finney-Smith was a name that kept popping up towards the tail-end of the deadline in terms of potential targets for the Heat, with nothing obviously coming into fruition.

They can still add “Tucker insurance” in the less-desirable buyout market or continue downsizing with Martin, Robinson or even Butler as a small-ball four come playoff time in April — while also experimenting with the Dedmon-Adebayo and Adebayo-Yurtseven two-big frontcourts that head coach Erik Spoelstra has occasionally dabbled in throughout the season.

After the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade (finally happened!) hours before Thursday’s deadline, the Eastern Conference playoff push became even more interesting.

Miami sits atop the Eastern Conference at 36-20, even with so much fluctuation; the Chicago Bulls and Cavaliers are tied for the second seed at 34-21; the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks have won 10 of their last 13 and sit mere percentage points behind Cleveland and Chicago at 35-22; the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors are fifth and sixth, respectively, a game out of each other.

In short: There’s a four-game difference between Miami and Toronto for the top-seed in the East with Boston and the Brooklyn Nets lurking in the dark in play-in game territory. For perspective, there’s a 4.5 game difference between the Phoenix Suns, who boast the league’s best record at 45-10, and the second-seeded Warriors (41-15). Yeah, this Eastern Conference is tight.

Brooklyn and Philadelphia set the Eastern Conference ablaze on Thursday for the Harden-Simmons trade; Milwaukee made a few notable transactions to refine its edges, as did Boston and Cleveland over the last few days.

Miami stood pat (no pun intended), and it’s very reasonable to side with them with that thought process, but it’s also understandable why some fans wanted trades (they’re fun, sometimes!). But in conjuring such reactions, we can’t ignore Oladipo’s impending return and the potential ripple effect it could have on this team.

The Eastern Conference playoff race is, and will continue to be a bloodbath. But it wasn’t that long ago when Oladipo was an All-NBA player and an All-NBA defender. If injuries didn’t impede, his career trajectory might be completely different.

Nevertheless, if Miami gets even a 75-ish percent of the 2017-18 version of Oladipo, it’s a huge bonus for an already-deep Heat squad that might push them over the top in a seven-game series if the chips fall right for them. He’ll be here soon, folks, this time as a faux deadline addition, but an addition nonetheless.

And it’s exactly what Miami needs.