Oladipo on recent diminished role within Heat rotation: ‘It’s not something I’m used to’
As the Miami Heat’s rotation continues to evolve late in the season, so does guard Victor Oladipo’s role.
With the Heat’s roster as healthy as it has been all season, coach Erik Spoelstra has been forced to make tough rotation decisions late in the schedule. Those tough decisions have left Oladipo out of the rotation for the first time this season.
While Oladipo has missed 33 games this season because of injuries, he played in every game he was available for and has been an important part of the Heat’s bench rotation until recently. He entered Wednesday night’s matchup against the New York Knicks at Miami-Dade Arena with two DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision) this season and those two healthy scratches have come in the last three games.
“Really nothing,” Oladipo, 30, said off the message he has received from the Heat coaching staff regarding his sudden role change. “I haven’t really talked about it much. So I just stay ready. That’s really pretty much it.”
Oladipo’s diminished role has coincided with guard Kyle Lowry’s return from injury. Lowry missed 15 straight games because of left knee soreness but returned to play in four of the five games leading up to Wednesday’s contest against the Knicks.
With Lowry playing off the bench upon his return, Oladipo’s first two DNP-CDs of the season came in games Lowry played in after recently coming back from injury. The only minutes Oladipo logged over the three games leading up to Wednesday’s contest came in Saturday’s road loss to the Chicago Bulls, when Lowry was held out as a precaution on the front end of a back-to-back set.
“I wish I could answer,” Oladipo said when asked how he’s handling his reduced role. “It’s not something I’m used to. So I’m not really sure how to go about it. Like I said, I’m just focused on improvement and getting better.”
Just five years ago, Oladipo was considered one of the NBA’s top players when he was voted to the NBA All-Star Game, NBA All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Third Team in 2017-18 as a member of the Indiana Pacers. But two surgeries on the quadriceps tendon in his right knee in the last four-plus years have derailed his career.
Oladipo, who the Heat acquired in a trade with the Houston Rockets in March 2021, played in just 60 regular-season games during the previous three seasons because of injuries. He entered Wednesday averaging a career-low 10.1 points while shooting 39.1 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from three-point range to go with 3.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game in 38 appearances (one start) this season.
“I just didn’t know,” Oladipo said of how he experienced his first DNP-CD of the season in the Heat’s March 15 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. “So I was just sitting there and sat there and supported my team. I think after a while I could tell I wasn’t going in. And can’t really control that. Just got to control that moment in time and just doing what you can to help the team.
“At that moment all I could do was just motivate the guys and continue to talk to them, help guys like Omer [Yurtseven] and stuff like that, who were going in and might need some assistance. So that’s what I did.”
When asked to explain how he’s approaching rotation decisions with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, Spoelstra said everything is “day-to-day” as the Heat looks to finish the schedule strong to qualify for the playoffs without needing to take part in the play-in tournament.
“I’ve had to make a couple tweaks in the last week because we have our full health basically other than Cody [Zeller],” Spoelstra said. “These are good high-class problems and challenges to have. We need all hands on deck. These games are so competitive.
“Right now, this is what it’s got to be. Everybody has to clear their mind, help our team win. The roles might not be exactly what everybody wants. It doesn’t matter at this point. We’re way past all of that stuff. It is about one game, what do we have to do to get a win?”
Oladipo also closed last regular season out of the rotation before injuries to others helped lift him into a consistent role for most of the Heat’s postseason run that ended in the Eastern Conference finals. After not playing in the first three playoff games, he closed the postseason by logging double-digit minutes in 15 straight games.
“Just because last year happened the way it did, this year’s a whole different year,” said Oladipo, who signed a two-year, $18.2 million contract with the Heat last summer that includes a $9.5 million player option for next season. “So regardless of what happens or what doesn’t, I just got to continue to keep improving, keep getting better, focus on improving. And if and when my name is called, just be ready to play.”
The Heat only ruled out backup center Cody Zeller (broken nose) for Wednesday’s game against the Knicks.
The Knicks are expected to have their full rotation available for Wednesday’s game in Miami.