Should Victor Oladipo Start for the Orlando Magic?
Victor Oladipo was taken second overall in the 2013 NBA Draft behind Anthony Bennett and conceded Rookie of the Year honors to Michael Carter-Williams, but he's still being pegged as the most promising player from his draft class by the majority of pundits, and he's certainly shown flashes of star potential over his first two and a half seasons in the Association.
In 186 career games, he's averaging 16.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes, while shooting 42.2% from the field, 32.5% from long range, and 80.0% from the free throw line. The 3.1 turnovers per 36 minutes is a bit of an eyesore and the shooting efficiency is not quite where you'd like it to be, but overall, pretty darn good numbers for a 23-year-old that was thrust into a face-of-the-franchise role from the get-go in a post-Dwight Howard rebuilding project in Orlando.
While most would consider him the closest thing to a budding star the young Magic have, new head coach Scott Skiles seems to have no plans to hand him the "franchise player" title for nothing. In fact, back at the end of November, in a move that confused many basketball fans and analysts alike, Skiles shifted Oladipo to the bench, where he's stayed ever since (with the exception of the last two games that he's started in place of an injured Elfrid Payton).
It would be easier to question Skiles' move if the Magic were failing to making progress, but with a record of 19-17, Orlando is posting their best winning percentage (.528) since the days of Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard. To lend further credence to the coach's tinkering, the Magic have a record of 5-9 with 'Dipo in the starting lineup, compared to a mark of 13-7 with him coming off the bench.
There are plenty of factors that could account for the difference in records, so is Oladipo really better suited to be a reserve?
What's Good for the Goose...
In terms of Oladipo's personal production, his numbers as a starter have been very similar to his numbers as a reserve, albeit in nearly eight fewer minutes per contest:
The scoring and efficiency remained constant between the two roles, with the main difference being that Oladipo has rebounded less and recorded more assists as a reserve than he did as a starter. That is fairly logical, since Oladipo playing less time with the starters means less time with a more natural point guard in Elfrid Payton, and more time handling the rock against second units. To wit, Oladipo's Usage Rate as a reserve is 25.2%, compared to a 21.3% mark as a starter.
Since starting or coming off the bench has had little effect on Oladipo's personal stats, how has it affected the Magic as a team?
...Is Good for the Gander
Well, it is clear that the Oladipo and Payton pairing has its drawbacks.
Both are fairly ball-dominant players, so they tend to do better on their own, when they can eat up a larger share of the team's possessions. They are also both below-average shooters -- particularly from long range -- meaning defenders can sag off them to pack the paint, which is particularly detrimental when they are both on the floor together.
They are both considered good defenders, but the team actually does better when only one of them is on the court, compared to how it does when they play together. In fact, that's true of both ends of the floor (per NBAWowy.com):
|Oladipo and Payton together||473||943||102.2||105.5||-3.3|
So, perhaps it is a good idea for one of Oladipo and Payton to start and the other to come off the bench. Oladipo would seem like a more logical choice to stick with the starting five at first glance, but the team has been playing fairly well lately (including an East-leading 10-5 record in December that won Skiles Eastern Conference Coach of the Month), so the choice to move Oladipo to the bench seems justified, at least for the moment.
And the numbers back it up fairly convincingly. Here's how the Magic have fared with Oladipo on the floor in his minutes as a starter, versus his minutes as a reserve:
Payton is questionable for tonight's game against the Brooklyn Nets, so we're likely to see Oladipo draw his third straight start. He's been excellent in his two games since rejoining the starting five, and Skiles has even hinted that he might stick there going forward, even after Payton returns.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, Skiles might have been onto something with using Oladipo off the pine. He's still arguably the Magic's best prospect, but so far this season, the team has simply done better when he doesn't start.
His demotion to the bench might not have jived with popular opinion, but you have to commend Skiles for going against the grain and finding a way to turn this team around. The Magic have gone from being an Eastern Conference basement dweller to a playoff contender in his first season as the team's head coach, and this controversial move might have been partially responsible for the quick rise.