Playing lackadaisical ball for the first 20 minutes, Miami was sparked by Tyler Herro’s offense to rally and take the lead before the first half concluded. It was all Heat from there on, as Herro scored 31 points off the bench to lead his team in another stellar performance.
But the biggest win for Miami on Monday was the play of Victor Oladipo, who made his long-awaited return from a right quadriceps surgery.
In Oladipo, the Heat got a former All-Star who displayed glimpses of reliable on-court production before he got hurt last season. With better surgery and rehabilitation this time around, they get a high-upside player whose role isn’t as essential because of how deep Erik Spoelstra’s team is.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t make great use of what Oladipo brings to the table.
“Physically, he’s in a so much better place than where he was last year,” Spoelstra said postgame. “I think looking back at on it, you really marvel that he was able to do what he was able to do basically on one leg for the two previous seasons. That was very uplifting for everybody.”
Oladipo finished with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting to go with four assists and two charges drawn. He’s currently limited to 15 minutes per game as he gets re-acclimated to NBA games.
Oladipo’s potential, Herro’s rise as a prominent scorer, Miami’s depth, and the core trio of Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and Bam Adebayo make up a team that can contend for an NBA title.
Let’s take a look at how Oladipo can help them out:
Look at the players the Heat have on defense here – all 10 eyes are on Alperen Sengun, who has the ball at the top of the key. Oladipo denies the post-entry pass the Rockets big man wants to get to Kenyon Martin Jr., so he takes Dewayne Dedmon off the dribble instead.
Oladipo is watching this manifest while denying the post entry pass then positions himself outside of the restricted zone, anticipating that the rookie’s 6-foot-10 frame will collide with his.
It’s the type of “sacrifice-your-body-to-take-a-charge” play that’s associated with hashtag Heat Culture, and why Miami is one of the best defensive squads in the NBA.
Oladipo is also close enough to steal the ball in case Sengun drops a pass to Martin earlier than expected, but when the Turkish player gets in the paint, Victor slides his feet to take the charge, with hands straight up to avoid the blocking foul, right before Martin gets an easy dunk.
Drawing a charge is not as cool and definitely more painful than going for the block, but it can be a more effective defensive option. Vic is in with the program.
He picked up his second drawn charge later in the game:
Miami still leads the NBA in charges drawn with 93, per NBA Stats.
The next team on that list? The Rockets, who have 51.
This is the type of open shot Oladipo is going to get a healthy dose of when Spoelstra positions him in the corner.
The play starts with a Herro-Adebayo pick-and-roll. Jae’Sean Tate, who’s manning Bam, has to switch out on Herro because Tyler’s initial defender, Daishen Nix, is left behind by the pick – that’s how good of a screener Adebayo is – and because the Heat’s 6th Man of the Year candidate was shooting well from the floor.
Adebayo rolls to the rim but his path is blocked by David Nwaba, who was initially defending Lowry. This leads to Kyle getting momentarily open from deep, forcing Garrison Matthews to leave Victor in the corner and close out.
Lowry makes a perfectly-timed pass to Oladipo in the corner the moment Garison runs towards him, forcing Matthews to suddenly shift his body’s momentum back to where it came from.
Too late. Oladipo gets a clean look and gets his first bucket in nearly one year.
This is where Oladipo can really help Miami on offense.
The Heat are one of the most creative contenders in the NBA when it comes to off-ball wizardry to get decent-looking shot attempts, but they lack a penetrator who can break down a defender in isolation with his dribble and get to the paint either to score or create an opportunity for a teammate.
The healthier, still-athletic Oladipo might be the answer.
On this play, Victor pauses for half a second to observe the floor after receiving a pass in the corner from Caleb Martin.
Houston’s Martin overplays Vic’s left side with the baseline acting the role of a what’s essentially a secondary defender. Oladipo, however, is too quick for his man and uses a sudden burst to attack a wide-open lane to the rim.
Tate, who’s already leaving an inferior 3-point shooter in Butler open from the corner, commits to Oladipo who’s on the attack. While this happens, Dedmon maneuvers himself close to the rim for the easy two points in case Victor drops off a pass.
David Nwaba makes the mistake of slightly committing to Butler rather than impede Dedmon’s way.
The result? A wide-open dunk, all started by Oladipo’s penetration.
This is exhibit B of what’s essentially the same play. With the FTX Arena crowd chanting his name, Oladipo is too quick for his initial defender atop the key. This time, no help defense comes as Nix refuses to leave Dedmon alone for another easy basket. So, it’s Oladipo who gets the easy two points. Speed kills.
Dwyane Wade was one of the players Oladipo idolized growing up. It could have been a reason why he was interested to become a player for the Miami Heat. This move here is straight out of that Heat legend’s playbook.
Vic can’t shake off Nwaba, who’s an aggressive defender. So, what does he do? Use that aggressiveness against him. A simple pump fake gets his man in the air, Oladipo stays grounded and patient, then goes up at the right time to draw the shooting foul.
If there was any play from this game which resembled Cornelius Fudge shockingly gasping “he’s back” in Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, it was this one.
One of Oladipo’s best traits at peak health is his elusiveness getting to the rim. Nix is guarding him out here in the perimeter as Adebayo goes to provide a screen. Dipo uses it and gets open for a pull-up three, but chooses to attack instead. That allows Bam’s man - Je’Sean Tate – to essentially switch, but Oladipo uses a half-second hesitation dribble followed by a sudden burst of explosiveness to attack the rim.
Either Josh Christopher or Martin didn’t want to make a defensive effort, or Oladipo’s speed had them unable to process what was happening before they could avoid it.
One of Vic’s weaker points on offense is his inconsistent outside shooting. He’s never averaged above 37% from deep in his career. He went 2-of-3 on Monday. Perhaps Miami’s encouraging history of player development can work its magic. Or already has. We’ll see. Oladipo did once convert 55.6% on corner 3-pointers during his career season with the Indiana Pacers in 2017-2018. The early signs indicate he’ll get opportunities from the corner zones playing in this offense.
The play here starts with Martin trying to throw a post-entry pass to Adebayo, who’s being fronted by the leaner Martin. Nix leaves Oladipo open from the corner on the weak side to be ready in the paint in case Adebayo makes the catch.
Martin retreats and swings the ball cross-court to Lowry, who immediately swings it to Oladipo in the corner as Nix is trotting back. Oladipo is smooth in releasing a feathery-looking 3-pointer with a clean shooting form: the body looks balanced in an upward motion as he releases.
“Oh, hail to the Victor,” Heat play-by-play announcer Eric Reid said after.
To be fair, the Rockets defense this season, which ranks as one of the worst in the franchise’s 55-year history, isn’t the right barometer to determine how far along Oladipo has come from his injury and how impactful he can be for the Heat in a playoff-type-of situation.
The next contest against the Phoenix Suns could be just that.