The general disconnect is as obvious as Victor Oladipo's specific shooting afflictions, so the Pacers will try something different when they play in Toronto on Wednesday.
The cap on Oladipo's playing time will be increased from 24 to 28 minutes and he could be in the starting lineup against the Raptors, moves designed to help him find the groove that has steadfastly eluded him in the first three games since his return from a year-long layoff.
Nate McMillan revealed those changes Tuesday at St. Vincent Center, following a post-practice meeting with front office and training staff personnel that delayed his conversation with the media.
"We need to get him to that workload he needs to put on his knee," McMillan said.
The Pacers are coming off homecourt losses to Dallas on Monday and New York on Saturday and were only saved from a loss to Chicago last Wednesday by a dramatic 3-pointer from Oladipo that forced overtime. But that shot was an anomaly. He's hit just 8-of-39 shots in his 66 minutes of play, including 3-of-21 3-point shots.
Oladipo's return has clogged an offensive that flowed smoothly most of the season as everyone adjusts to his ball-dominant style of play. But McMillan isn't laying all the blame for the team's struggles on his star guard. The disconnect has traveled to the defensive end of the floor, where lack of communication has left shooters wide open and inadequate perimeter defense has opened lanes to drive to the basket.
So far, however, there are no hints of ruptures within team morale. The Pacers lost their first three games of the season as they adjusted to playing together and started 2020 with losses to Denver (at home) and Atlanta. This 0-2 run could turn out to be a blip on the 82-game radar if they find chemistry again.
"We have enough talent to beat anybody in this league," Doug McDermott said. "We just have to be together. We know we can be. It's all out there for us."
Nobody appears to be frustrated with Oladipo, either. Asked if he might be forcing shots, Malcolm Brogdon quickly demurred.
"No, no, no, I don't think he's forcing, I think he's just trying to get into his rhythm," Brogdon said. "He's being himself, he's aggressive every night, that's what we want from him. And then it's up to the rest of us to fill in the gaps to help him get more comfortable and for us to pull our own weight as well."
Added McMillan: "We're not going to put this on one player. It's all of us being connected out there and trusting in what we're doing."
Oladipo was by far the last player off the court on Tuesday, working with team personnel to simulate game shots. He appeared to shoot better than he had after previous practices, and certainly better than in the past three games. Speaking later with the media, he repeated his calls for patience.
"No need to overreact," he said. "That ain't going to solve anything. Just try to win games, man."
Oladipo spoke before McMillan and presumably wasn't yet aware of the extension of his playing time and possible move into the starting lineup. He had spoken after Monday's game, however, of the difficulty of finding a rhythm while playing four bursts of six minutes or less.
"It's a challenge trying to catch your rhythm in those short periods of the game," he said. "It's kind of like you're cramming. You study the night before instead of studying the whole week.
"I don't know what works or what doesn't work. I just go out there and play as hard as I can for as long as I can. It's an adjustment period for me and the entire team."
Oladipo has averaged 22 minutes in his three games so far, so there's room for him to play more. He says he "feels great" physically, and he appears to have regained the athleticism that made him an All-Star two seasons ago.
For now, he's keeping a broader perspective than shots not falling.
"I remember a year ago around this time I couldn't sleep at night because the pain was so excruciating," he said. "I'd rather go through this than go through that again. I'll figure this out just like I figured that out."
Warren Still Missing
T.J. Warren, who averages 18.1 points on 52 percent shooting, did not attend Tuesday's practice and will not travel to Toronto. McMillan is hopeful he can be available for Friday's game against the Raptors at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Warren suffered a concussion in Saturday's game against the Knicks and is going through the league-mandated protocol before returning.
McMillan said his return could impact which game Oladipo sits out this weekend. It has been determined Oladipo shouldn't play a back-to-back set, so he'll sit out either Friday's game or Saturday's game against New Orleans at The Fieldhouse. Should Warren be available on Friday, Oladipo could sit that one out. If not, Oladipo likely would play and sit out Saturday's game.
Brogdon Also Impacted
The greatest chemistry test involving Oladipo's return will be how he meshes with Brogdon. Their backcourt tandem was widely regarded as the team's greatest potential strength heading into the season.
It hasn't looked that way yet. Brogdon excelled in overtime against the Bulls, hitting all three of his shots and scored seven of the Pacers' 15 points while Oladipo sat out, but otherwise has struggled since Oladipo's return. He hit just 4-of-13 shots against New York, missing all five 3-pointers, and hit 6-of-17 shots against Dallas, hitting 2-of-7 3-pointers.
His production while playing with Oladipo also has not matched that before Oladipo's return. The two have re-entered the game together in the fourth quarter of each of the previous three games, but they have not been able to close well in the previous two.
Brogdon remains optimistic about the pairing, however.
"Me and Victor are going to be great together," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in him and he has a lot of confidence in me. We enjoy hanging out with each other on and off the court, and then we both bring different elements to the game. We play totally different styles of basketball so we're going to do well together."
Brogdon has shifted from playing primarily a shooting guard's role in Milwaukee to a point guard's role with the Pacers, to his and the team's benefit. His shooting accuracy has been negatively affected, however, because he's taking more shots off the dribble. A 43 percent 3-point shooter with the Bucks last season, he is hitting 33 percent so far this season.
He believes playing with Oladipo will improve his accuracy.
"He's going to have the ball in his hands a lot so...he's going to take a lot of responsibility from me," Brogdon said. "I think that's a good thing for me, a good thing for everybody."
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