Early Seasons: The Magic and the Thunder

Victor Oladipo, selected second overall by the Orlando Magic in the 1st round – a draft class with a very slim number of future or even current NBA players.

Oladipos public perception may have been impacted, good or bad, by the inadequacy of his draft class. A precedent had been firmly set. Oladipos rookie campaign wasn’t relentlessly dissected in mainstream outlets, although Anthony Bennetts’ weaknesses were splattered in big bold letters all over the media, a failed outcome more titillating than a predictably capable young guard being predictably capable.

If you contrast Oladipo to his fellow draft prospects/peers, such as Anthony Bennett or Ben McLemore, he seems enormous in production and potential – a relative giant.

In Oladipo’s rookie year, his basic per game averages were pretty solid, putting up 13.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.6 steals. He played unusually heavy minutes for Orlando, clocking in at 31.1 minutes per night.

He established himself in the league in an old fashioned, almost outdated manner: through experience. If you aren’t Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons, teams won’t give you years or even months to properly develop into a valuable professional athlete.

Oladipo wasn’t nurtured in his role in the kind of way Mario Hezonja has been for the past couple of years, (although the Magic’s guard-heavy roster and Hezonja’s poor defensive skills were a factor, too).

The Magic played him as a streaky, defensive-minded point guard – the position that one would assume him to be, officially marked as 6 3′ and 210 pounds during his first year in the league. He’s too short for a two-guard but doesn’t have the requisite vision or passing skills to be an NBA point guard.

One response to his below-average stature is to flip the negative into a positive: he might have a slight size advantage as a point guard, even if there are plenty of six foot plus guards in the NBA. Point guards rule the league, putting up both historic usage rates and insanely consistent, nearly 30-point per game scoring outputs. There are at least 10 PGs that have averaged twenty or more points during the last two seasons.

Orlando discovered soon enough that Oladipo wasn’t the next uber athletic scoring point guard like Westbrook or Damian Lillard. As a result, whether you blame it on poor coaching or inexperience, Oladipo coughed up some pretty nasty turnover numbers. He struggled to orchestrate the offense in even the most typical, fundamental actions, such as this failed outlet pass:

tolakers

He tosses the ball way too close to the opponent and doesn’t have any creativity in terms of his passing. He could have went with several variations of any of these:

  1. Lead his teammate with a snappy, quick bounce-pass low to the ground, though this pass could have been intercepted as well.
  2. Hold on to the ball and dribble past half court, feeling out the floor and responding to the spacing of the Laker defenders.
  3. Pass it off while attracting the attention of the Laker defenders, as Oladipo’s a slasher and can fairly easily attract eyes while driving into the paint.

In the following two years leading up to the OKC deal, Oladipo was squashed into a blender of roles on Magic’s consistently below .500 roster. The coaching staff struggled to find an appropriate lineup scenario to insert Oladipo, though his defense remained consistent and reliable in many situations.

In his last year with the Magic, Coach Scott Skyles moved Oladipo out of the starting lineup, using him as a sixth-man for a team that really didn’t have the luxury of a spark plug, sitting Oladipo for a significant amount of time during first quarters. Oladipo was a two-way player in his third-year and had evolved and developed enough to pop-up on opposing teams scouting reports.

The potential morale or self-esteem loss wasn’t worth it for a player who, on some nights, could start a roaring fire from the minutiae, dark residue of a ten point quarter. Oladipo would be most effective as the Magic’s two-guard, moving Evan Fournier, a 6’7′ guard/forward, to the small forward position.

Setting a good tone from the jump is important for a team that had lost the last eight games. Oladipo has the potential to space the floor and create for himself off-the-dribble, such as here, an early season game where he shot 6/7 from 3pt range:

oladipono2CLE3pts

The success of Victor Oladipo as the focal point for the Indiana Pacers, a playoff caliber team, proves just how misused he had been firstly in Orlando and then in OKC. His story expresses the importance of a player’s situation. If all of his previous coaches hadn’t been on a perpetual hot-seat, trying to keep their head afloat with any and all types of lineup rotations/adjustments, Vic may have broken out as a star much earlier in his career.

Westbrook didn’t help and he didn’t hurt. The impact and experience from playing along side such a superstar is undoubtedly valuable. It can’t be measured empirically, but it must have helped Oladipo in some way as he navigated his new role as a go-to scorer on a winning NBA team.

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