Jake Smith: Year One of the Victor Oladipo Experience was fantastic. Coming into the 2012-13 college basketball season, I lamented the fact that the Magic didn’t have a second round pick to use on the Indiana guard (he was projected to be taken there before the season began), but was pleased as his name continued to rise up draft boards. He was the right choice for the Magic at the time of the draft and that sentiment is still felt by most today-- after a season of gradual improvement and flashes of brilliance, Oladipo has Magic fans believing that he can be a special player in the future for this team. That’s a function of him having extraordinary athletic ability and a work ethic that is unmatched amongst his teammates, and it’s important to point out that he didn’t have a good season just because he’s “talented.” If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m driving the Oladipo bandwagon, so you should probably interrupt me with some rational commentary. How would you grade Oladipo’s rookie campaign?
Scott Fisher: It’s really hard to not fall in love with Oladipo. He is the future of this team, with fans clinging to every one of his jaw-dropping dunks as hope that a championship-contending roster is on the way. And he is an amazing human being, a high-character individual that Rob Hennigan is looking for to help build this team. He was everything Magic fans could have hoped for and much more.
Having said all that, it’s not like Victor was flawless in his first NBA season. He struggled at times running the Magic offense -- we’ll get to the point guard experiment later -- and predictably wasn’t an amazing shooter. And while he attacked the basket like a madman, if the defense figured out to send Oladipo to the left, its job became much, much easier. But I doubt there is a Magic fan out there who is disappointed with what they saw from Victor this year, so I would give him an A-. Oladipo wasn’t so kind to himself, grading his season at a “D” during exit interviews and saying he needed to work on “everything”. While that grade is outrageous, it shows the drive, hunger, and passion that Oladipo is known for, which is why I have no doubt he will be better than ever next season.
Before we move onto the important stuff, like Oladipo’s position of the future, here’s a fun question for you: What’s your favorite Oladipo game of the season? So many come to mind, but I’m partial to the Bulls game.
Jake Smith: I was lucky enough to be covering several of his outrageous performances this season, but none of them can compare to that 30-point, 14-assist, 9-rebound (!!!) night against the New York Knicks on February 21st at the Amway Center. The second half and overtime periods of that game were enchanting, and if you don’t remember what I’m talking about, I’ll invite you to read the lengthy piece I did on his performance after the game ended. That performance showed me many things, with some of them being that Oladipo has the potential to be a lead guard in the NBA, his ability to drive to the hole at 100 miles per hour will be his staple, and that there might just be another big bang if he can pair his athletic ability with improved basketball skills.
Back to the question of whether or not he can really be an NBA point guard: my answer is yes, he could orchestrate an offense as the head facilitator. However, I don’t think that it would be in Orlando’s best interest to take that route, and that’s simply because there’s an even juicier option at play for them-- why not try to place another uber-athletic combo guard next to him who could also shoulder some of those floor general responsibilities (how much longer do I need to go on before you realize I’m talking about Dante Exum????). Oladipo’s pocket and transition passing steadily improved as the year went along, but there are still concerns regarding his ability to read the defense in half-court sets and also his inability to find open shooters off of drives to the rim. By no means am I saying that those weaknesses can’t be fixed, but there is cause for concern in those areas that has the birds continuously chirping about how he “can’t play point guard.”
I wouldn’t be against another year of experimentation, but I’d also like to see Orlando snag a backcourt mate for Oladipo in the draft just so we can see how they could both play on and off the ball. I assume you agree with that notion, right?
Scott Fisher: I’m salivating right now thinking about how great an Exum/Oladipo backcourt would be. But I don’t like that the general public is trying to label Victor as either a “point guard” or a “shooting guard”. Instead of trying to fit him into a specific mold, he should be embraced simply as a “guard”, as he has qualities of a player typically associated with both backcourt positions. Luckily, the Magic aren’t getting caught up in the discussion, and letting him just play as a guard, and I applaud them for it.
Changing subjects, the NBA is sure to announce the Rookie of the Year winner soon, and while Oladipo is likely going to lose out to Philly’s Michael Carter-Williams, it doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe that’s because he didn’t care about the award during the season, or maybe it’s because I just feel strongly that Oladipo is going to be the best player from this draft class and his play this year is just the beginning. The future is bright from the Indiana product whether or not he is named Rookie of the Year.
Jake Smith: Even as a super-homer, I don’t think there’s a chance that Oladipo will snag the RoY hardware from Michael Carter-Williams. The Philadelphia point guard won four of the six Rookie of the Months awards (with Oladipo winning the other two), and his more impressive per-game statistics will be enough evidence for the voters who rarely got to see these two in action to place him above Oladipo in the final tally. Even if Carter-Williams ends up winning the award, however, there’s still an argument to be made that he had a worse season than Oladipo-- with more minutes, shot attempts, and Philly’s fast-as-hell pace, he was destined to have better counting stats than his counterpart in Orlando who had other mouths to feed on the offensive end. I still think that Oladipo will end up having a better career than Carter-Williams, so the award will have no bearing on that personal point of view.
All in all, it was a successful season for Victor Oladipo. While he might not be the transcending superstar that a team needs to win an NBA championship, he’s an excellent cornerstone to have in the foundation of the rebuild. After he said in the locker room after a game this season that he “wants to be one of the best players to have ever played the game”, I knew that Hennigan had unearthed a gem.