Pacers' All-Star Steps Aside, Aids the Cause

He's the team's leading scorer, the player most capable of creating offense for himself, and a freshly-minted All-Star.

If anyone could have been forgiven for looking to score when the Pacers met Phoenix at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday, it was Victor Oladipo. It could even be argued it would have been a sound strategy, particularly against an opponent that gives up more points than any team in the NBA and has nobody remotely capable of containing him.

But there was Oladipo on the Pacers' first possession, passing up a shot three times to move the ball to teammates. And there was Oladipo on their second possession, picking up the assist on Bojan Bogdanovic's basket. And there was Oladipo again and again, compiling four assists in the first quarter while getting around to taking just two shots of his own.

Oladipo finished the Pacers' 116-101 victory with 21 points on 11 field goal attempts and nine assists, all of which had been registered with five minutes still to play in the third period. It might not have been a typical All-Star performance, but then Oladipo doesn't seem a typical All-Star. Doesn't seem a typical anything, really.

His only significant fault this season has been the occasional hunting excursion when he's forced shots or shot too quickly in the halfcourt offense. He's had 20 games in which he's taken 20 or more shots. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but on some nights, he's gone too far. Remember that home loss to Oklahoma City, when he hit just 9-of-26 shots? For that matter, just last week he hit 11-of-26 shots in the loss at Portland and then 9-of-25 shots in the loss to the Lakers the following night in Los Angeles?

He and Nate McMillan had a chance to talk about that over the weekend, and It's no coincidence Oladipo took just 14 shots — and hit eight — in the win at San Antonio on Sunday. Just as it's no coincidence that he took 11 shots on Wednesday, and hit six.

Efficiency isn't always the goal of great scorers, but it's a great asset to have.

"He and I talked about the way to play the game," McMillan said Wednesday, after his team improved to 26-22. "I think he plays the game the right way.

"Teams are committing to him. He has to be a willing passer, and tonight he did that. That's going to open up some things for him later. We constantly talk to our guys about playing the game the right way, respect the game, and I thought Vic did that tonight."

It doesn't appear to have been a hard sell. Oladipo was every bit as blissful in the postgame locker room as when he scored 47 points against Denver earlier this season. He was singing a couple bars of "Copacabana" as reporters gathered around his chair, then lightheartedly tossed his uniform at equipment manager Josh Conder, who was sitting across the room with Cory Joseph, landing one piece of it in Conder's face.

He landed a good line, too, when asked how he felt about Domantas Sabonis' selection to the Rising Stars game over All-Star Weekend.

"It's just like when you realize your brother is going with you on a school field trip or something," Oladipo said. "You're excited. I'm looking forward to it."

Oladipo's modified approach should be taken seriously, though. The greatest players keep their teammates involved, even if they're scoring champions. Think Michael Jordan dishing to Steve Kerr or John Paxson for game-winning shots, or LeBron dishing to everyone for crucial field goals. Think of Reggie Miller's efficiency, his knack for scoring 20-plus points on about a dozen field goal attempts by hitting 3-pointers and getting to the foul line.

It's not that Oladipo is going to be averaging 11 shots from here on out, but every now and then it's a good idea. And if he didn't know it before, he does now.

"Just trying to get my teammates involved," he said. "It's a team sport. There's four other guys out there.

"It just depends on the game. Every game is different, right? You have to go in there with the mentality I'm going to play the right way and just make adjustments throughout the game. if I need to be more aggressive, I'll be more aggressive."

Sabonis was one of the primary beneficiaries of Oladipo's unselfishness, scoring twice on layups off Oladipo feeds in the first quarter and again in the third.

"Vic is a team player," said Sabonis, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. "He's like all of us. We just want to win. We're just playing basketball the right way and good things are happening."

Oladipo's selfless and enthusiastic nature showed late in the game, too. The Pacers led by as many as 38 points midway through the fourth quarter, but the reserves were so sloppy with the lead McMillan had to return a few starters back into the game with a few minutes to go to assure preservation of a 16-point lead. Some players might have been annoyed to be recalled for mop-up duty after they thought they had clocked out for the evening, but Oladipo jogged to the scorer's table, clapped his hands and lifted his arms, bringing cheers from the fans nearby.

"I was excited," he said. "Did you see me? I ran in there, I was clapping, I was ready. I'm always excited (to play). Blessed. You have to always be ready."

As long as the Pacers' star remains ready to shift to a supporting role now and then, they should write a fascinating story this season.

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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.