Denton: Oladipo and Vucevic Developing Great Chemistry
By John Denton
March 26, 2014
ORLANDO – In a season where improvement is measured not always in wins and losses but in incremental player growth, we present to you the budding chemistry between Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo and center Nikola Vucevic.
To fully understand how far the two of them have come as an evolving 1-2 punch, you must realize where they began when the preseason opened back in October. Scoffed Oladipo: ``You should have seen us early in the season. We couldn’t even pocket pass, and on pick-and-rolls we couldn’t read each other for nothing.’’
Now, fast-forward to Tuesday night when Vucevic and Oladipo teamed up time and again to take apart a very good Portland team in a lopsided Magic victory at the Amway Center.
One particular sequence in the third quarter perfectly proved just how far the duo has come. Oladipo had the ball on the left wing ignored a top-side screen by Vucevic and instead blew by Damian Lillard toward the baseline. And just when center Robin Lopez came over to impede Oladipo’s progress, the Magic point guard deftly flipped a no-look pass to a cutting Vucevic for an emphatic two-handed dunk. The play put the Magic up 66-56 and sent them on their way to a 95-85 throttling of the Blazers.
Vucevic, for one, is as impressed as anyone with the progress he and his point guard have made over the course of this season. ``Early in the year we couldn’t really get it together on the pick-and-roll and stuff like that, which is normal since it’s our first year playing together,’’ said Vucevic, who had 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting Tuesday night. ``I just told (Oladipo) that last year I had the same issues with Jameer (Nelson) and J.J. (Redick) and it took some time to learn each other’s moves. (Oladipo) is a little faster than me, so I’ve had to catch up to him. It just takes time and a lot of practice. We’ve been working at it and now we have a pretty good chemistry when he drives. That’s great for us and it’s going to be huge for us in the future.’’
Starting the past four games at point guard with Nelson out because of a sore left knee, the rookie has shown some major improvement in his ability to get into the lane and find teammates for open looks. He had nine assists last Wednesday in Phoenix, 10 assists Sunday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers and another six assists in Tuesday’s win. Of course, Oladipo still has the occasional issues with turnovers – See: 8 Sunday night in L.A. – but playing the point guard position is finally starting to become more of an instinctual thing for him.
``He’s tough to guard. With his ability to get to the paint with his athleticism and his quickness, he’ll continue to learn how to finish at the rim with both hands,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``We’ve talked about him using his instincts and (his interior passing) also being predetermined sometimes what passes to make because of rotations. (Tuesday night), he was really good at doing both things.’’
Of Oladipo’s six assists against the Blazers, four led directly to layups or dunks for the 7-foot Vucevic. Often, Oladipo would blow by the one-on-one coverage of Lillard and draw the defense to him before dropping the ball off to a waiting Vucevic. Similarly, Oladipo has gotten better at getting in the lane and finding Arron Afflalo or Maurice Harkless for jump shots or connecting with power forward Kyle O’Quinn for plays along the baseline.
Slowly but surely, a true point guard feel coming for Oladipo. It’s totally understandable that it’s taken some time for Oladipo’s drive-and-kick game to flourish considering that this is the first time in his career where he’s been a full-time point guard. Well, full-time some of the time, Oladipo said jokingly.
``I’ve never played the position before,’’ he said candidly. ``This is my first time playing (point guard) full-time. And if you look at it, really, I only play (point guard) full time sometime when Jameer (Nelson) is out. It’s all a learning process and I’m going to keep getting better.
``Definitely the chemistry has grown and it can even get better than it is now,’’ continued the rookie, who is averaging 14 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game. ``I just want to continue to build the chemistry, not only with (Vucevic), but with all of these guys. I have to learn their favorite spots on the floor and where they like the ball by studying more film.’’
Oladipo has said repeatedly that it hasn’t been easy digesting Orlando’s 20-52 record and stretches where the team has lost 10 and 9 games in a row. But he has used this rebuilding season to familiarize himself with the NBA game and with his teammates so that he will be better in the future. Already, he’s thought about his plans for the summer when he will take a short break and then get right back into the gym to work on his ball-handling and shooting. Oladipo is still learning and the Magic are still very much a work in progress, but the steps taken this season by Oladipo and Vucevic have shown that brighter days are ahead if they continue to develop. That’s certainly the plan in place for the ultra-driven Oladipo.
``All of the stuff that happens to us, the ability to play this game, the success that we have and even the downs, it’s all a blessing. A lot of people wish they could be in my spot,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m just trying to make the most of it and not leave any doubt. I have one natural goal and that’s to be great. I want great things for this (Magic) program. I just have to keep getting better.’’