Is Victor Oladipo Poised for a Breakout in 2015-16?
The Orlando Magic have been struggling.
Ever since Dwight Howard left in 2012, the Magic have amassed a grand total of 68 wins in three seasons. The Golden State Warriors had 67 last year alone.
While the Magic are stacked with young talent and seemed poised to jump back in the playoff chase, they are in desperate need for someone to lead them there. They need a go-to guy in the clutch. They need an All-Star.
Entering his third year in the league, Victor Oladipo is poised to be the star and franchise cornerstone Orlando is looking for.
Letâ€™s break down why.
Coming out of Indiana University, Oladipo was a highly decorated prospect known for his defensive tenacity and explosive offensive plays. A high energy athlete, Oladipo found himself high on draft boards due to his exceptional ability as a perimeter defender. Oladipo possesses the size and length to defend three positions as he uses his high motor and intensity to harass opponents, causing deflections, steals, and misdirection. His outstanding speed, quickness, and leaping ability give him an edge at rebounding from the backcourt.
Despite all the acclaim, many scouts did not see Oladipo becoming more than a defensive stopper in the NBA. He was perceived as too small, at 6â€™4â€, to be a shooting guard. His jump shooting was perceived as too weak to be a combo guard. He was also deemed absent of the ball handling and playmaking ability to run the point in an NBA offense.
All those worries did not scare off Orlando from selecting the guard and his immense upside with the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Like most rookies, Oladipo struggled with his jump shot in his initial NBA season. He shot 42 percent from the floor and 33 percent from beyond the arc. The former Hoosier appeared hesitant and lacking confidence in his shot at times. Oladipo was not working out too well as a floor general either. For the season, he averaged only 4.1 assists while committing 3.2 turnovers a game, an unacceptable ratio from a primary ball handler.
It was not all negatives his rookie season, however. There was plenty to get excited about from his inaugural campaign. Oladipo posted a triple-double, ranked in the top 10 with 129 steals, and in the 44 games he started, he averaged an impressive 14.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. Oladipo also finished second in the Rookie of the Year race to Michael Carter-Williams.
With his rookie season out of the way, Oladipo appeared acclimated to the speed of playing the NBA and ready to take a leap in his sophomore season. Not coincidentally, Oladipoâ€™s numbers saw an upswing in his second year in the NBA. As you can see below, he improved in his biggest areas of weakness from his rookie year: shooting and turnovers.
While his jump shot is still not at the level needed to be a prolific scorer in the NBA, Oladipo has at least shown enough incremental improvement from year one to two that is promising for the future.
When you break down how Oladipo progressed in the final stages of the 2014-15 season, you get a greater appreciation of his ceiling.
After the All-Star Break, his counting stats went up in part due to the insane number of minutes he was playing. But the fact that his turnover percentage and Net Rating improved shows that the quality of his play improved as well.
|Before All-Star Break||46||34.1||16.6||4.1||3.8||1.6||15.1||-9|
|After All-Star Break||26||38.5||20.3||4.3||4.5||1.8||13.1||-5|
Last season, only four players eclipsed the 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game line Oladipo posted after the All-Star Break. Those would be your top four MVP vote finishers: Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook. Good company to be in.
Oladipo also posted three 30-plus point nights after the break, including his career-high 38 point effort against Phoenix on March 4. Just two days later, Oladipo posted 32 points, 10 assists, and 5 steals against Sacramento, becoming the only player in the NBA to reach those numbers since Harden did one season earlier.
Topping off his season highlights, Oladipo showed off his capability to come through in the clutch. On April 8, he crossed over and drove past an above average defender in the Bulls' Jimmy Butler to drop the game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds left:
The Third-Year Rise
Over his first two seasons in the league, Oladipo did not have the luxury of an experienced head coach. Even with his background in the Popovich coaching tree, Jacque Vaughn appeared overwhelmed leading Orlando.
Many questioned his handling of Oladipo's playing time in 2013-14, as he was flip-flopped between starting and coming off the bench. Vaughn's handling of rookie Elfrid Payton last season was confusing to the casual observer as well and ultimately cost him his job.
New Magic head coach Scott Skiles will not be bringing the most sophisticated offense scheme with him to Orlando, but he does have experience. In his stops with Phoenix, Chicago, and Milwaukee, Skiles has built a reputation for his defensive game plans and no-nonsense coaching approach. With Oladipoâ€™s already aggressive nature defensively, he fits right in with Skilesâ€™ coaching style and should flourish with a competent man in charge of the squad. One underrated aspect of his coaching talent will be Skiles' ability to bring along young players and develop their entire game, offense included.
In his first year as coach of the Suns, Skiles inherited rookie Shawn Marion and helped develop his all-around game to an All-Star level by his fourth season.
In Chicago, Skiles helped Luol Deng achieve a career season while under his tutelage in 2006-07. Deng put up 18.8 points per game while shooting over 51 percent from the field and posting an 112 Offensive Rating, all career highs.
In Skilesâ€™ next coaching stop in Milwaukee, the former NBA point guard helped Brandon Jennings reach career heights as well.
Consistently, wherever Skiles has coached, he has helped young players get the most out of their abilities. That type of teaching has been something Oladipo has been missing in Orlando.
Also, his teammates in Orlando will help facilitate Oldaipo's rise. Payton has proven to be the point guard that Oladipo is not. Big man Nikola Vucevic is as consistent as they come on the offensive block. His offense in combination with the continued, quiet emergence of Tobias Harris will take pressure off of Oladipo's need to carry the whole scoring load.
Finally, the third season is generally a critical year in the career arc of an NBA player. They use their first year adjusting to the NBA game. The sophomore season is spent maturing and building on what was learned in the rookie year. Year three is when hopefully it all comes together and the career trajectory starts to rise.
There have been many players who have taken a monumental step forward in their third season. Deng and Jennings' career years happened to come in year three. Draymond Green, Derrick Rose, Paul George, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul are just a few of the most recent players who have put it all together and took a significant step forward in their third season.
The talent, opportunity, and precedent is there for Oladipo to achieve All-Star status and cement himself as the face of the franchise in Orlando. Come February 13, 2016, I fully expect to see Oladipo in Toronto donning an Eastern Conference uniform.