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NBA Daily: Nate McMillan Believes Trade Is Motivating Victor Oladipo

Nate McMillan says Victor Oladipo has been underestimated, and he’s playing like he’s out to prove it.

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After the Indiana Pacers rebounded from Tuesday’s brutal loss to the visiting Celtics with a 105-95 win Wednesday in Atlanta, coach Nate McMillan said that part of Victor Oladipo’s breakout season may be the result of playing with a chip on his shoulder.

“He’s come into the season with confidence, I think, to prove himself,” McMillan said after the win over the Hawks. “After a couple moves from Orlando to OKC and then to Indy, there was a lot of conversation out there that the Pacers didn’t get enough in that trade. I think he is proving to the league that he does have talent. We are still learning what he’s capable of.”

Although McMillan and Oladipo’s teammates have suggested that a new confidence level has contributed, Oladipo downplays confidence as a factor. Told that McMillan suggested that the trade to Indiana provided him with extra motivation, Oladipo downplayed that as well.

“I was already motivated before that, then that just happened,” said Oladipo in the visitors’ locker room. “So it kind of looked like that motivated me.”

McMillan has referred to Oladipo as one of the most serious students of the game that he’s coached. In interviews this season, Oladipo has often come across with gravity and intensity. On this occasion, however, he let his guard down for a moment.

“It might have added on a little bit, but I was already motivated,” he allowed with a grudging smile as reporters chuckled around him.

Oladipo also touted the rapidly-developing chemistry of a Pacers group that’s had limited time to gel. McMillan pointed to a 19-point game from forward Bogdan Bogdanovic as evidence of how the team rallied around him after his costly turnover against Boston.

“It was good to see him bounce back and go out there and play the game he’s capable of playing,” said McMillan. “We all talked to him about, you know, don’t worry about it. We’re a family and we’re a group that we want to show our tightness and how close we are. The guys really supported him in that situation our last game.”

Among McMillan’s many insights was a description of how center Myles Turner has contributed defensively in a league where roles for big men are rapidly changing.

“He’s very capable of defending the basket,” said McMillan. “The way the bigs are defending the basket now, shot blocking is kind of a thing of the past. People teach being straight up and contesting shots. He’s a guy who’s capable and will go after some blocks.”

While the old-school McMillan has embraced Turner’s traditional approach to rim protection, he added that one of the challenges facing Oladipo is the way defenses are adapting to him.

“This is really the first time in his career where he is seeing a different defensive coverage, where he’s seeing the top defender every night,” said McMillan. “Teams are really game planning for him.”

Oladipo concurred.

“Every night it’s somebody new,” he said. “Every night it’s a game plan trying to slow me down. I’ve just got to be ready for anything, try to watch film and try to learn … just learn from experience.”

While Oladipo has to adapt to new coverages, McMillan reiterated that opposing teams haven’t seen all that he’s capable of.

“It’s early for him. He’s still showing growth.”

Oladipo sometimes downplays the central role he’s playing for the Pacers, but there’s no question his breakout has factored in allowing a young team to exceed expectations. Indiana currently sits in fourth in the East. In an exclusive interview with Basketball Insiders senior writer Michael Scotto, Oladipo didn’t shy away from the team’s high internal expectations when asked how good the Pacers can be by season’s end.

“We could be really good,” he said. “We’re obviously new to each other, new group. We’ve got a lot of room to improve. It’s not always going to be perfect but we’ve got to keep working hard.”

While Oladipo denies heightened confidence or a chip on his shoulders as big factors in his career season, there’s no question that he’s a major catalyst for Indy’s success. Almost nobody predicted that Indiana would be in position for home court this deep into the season. But to listen to Oladipo is to hear a veteran beyond his years who seems unlikely to get caught up in the hype … either about himself or his surprising team.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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