Denton: Oladipo Earns First NBA Start
By John Denton
October 14, 2013
ORLANDO – From the very start of training camp, Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has repeatedly made one thing very clear as it relates to the playing time for rookie Victor Oladipo – everything he gets will have to be earned.
Following impressive outings in his first two preseason games, Oladipo earned his first-ever starting nod Monday night in Dallas. And after the rookie delivered his first double-double in 26 solid minutes, he proved that he belonged on the floor in Orlando’s 102-94 defeat of the Dallas Mavericks.
``At the end of the day you want the respect from your teammates. And I think if you ask his teammates, Victor has brought an energy and an effort every single day. That’s what this thing is about for him,’’ Vaughn said late Monday night. ``He’s brought a youthful enthusiasm that is contagious. And it’s great to having him go hard in practice because that translates into games.’’
A big part of the reason that Oladipo started on Monday was because Vaughn decided to rest veterans Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price. That foursome should be ready to return to action by Wednesday night when the Magic face the Rockets in Houston.
Minutes after hearing his name called out for the starting lineup for the first time at the NBA level, Oladipo helped the Magic race to a stellar start. His first quarter 3-pointer sparked the Magic to an early league. And by the end of the night he had finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Vaughn made the decision to elevate Oladipo to the starting lineup after the No. 2 overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft proved himself in practice and in Orlando’s first two preseason games. Vaughn said that Oladipo’s playing time will be completely merit-based, and he feels the rookie has put in the work to earn more minutes on the floor.
The only negative from Monday night for Oladipo was his five turnovers. As a team had 28 turnovers. Oladipo’s transition from shooting guard to point guard is still a work in progress, but he’s making steady progress, Vaughn said.
``He’s playing guard for us. Sometimes that is point guard and sometimes it’s guard,’’ Vaughn said. ``Tonight, for the most part he was handling the basketball. He’s done a good job of distributing the basketball and being aggressive when he needs to be. He’s very quick at learning so he’s done a good job at learning.’’
Oladipo had 10 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals in his first professional game last Wednesday in Jacksonville. He followed that up by scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds – both Magic highs – in last Friday’s game at the Amway Center.
Oladipo has been extremely humble with his success thus far, admitting that he is mostly playing off instinct and there are several lessons to be learned in his rookie season.
Oladipo has had high praise for Magic veterans Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and E’Twaun Moore, players who have served as mentors for the rookie making the transition from college to the NBA. Oladipo took the place of Nelson in Monday’s starting lineup.
``My mindset is to just let the game come to me and be patient,’’ Oladipo said recently. ``I had some turnovers from rushing a little bit (on Friday night), but it’s all a learning process. I’m trying to learn from players like Jameer and learn to take my time.’’
Oladipo is also attempting to make the tricky transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard. He’s handled that adjustment well in the first two games, getting the team organized in half-court sets and pushing the ball in transition. He is continuing to walk the fine line of looking for his own shot and knowing when others need the ball – something that Vaughn said even veteran point guards struggle with from time to time. Vaughn, who is in his second season as Magic’s head coach, should know a thing or two about that as he was a point guard in the NBA for 12 seasons before becoming a coach.
In his first two games against all-star point guards Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday, Oladipo has 12 assists compared to just six turnovers. He also has four steals – many of them coming from hounding opposing guards all over the floor with his elite savvy on defense.
He has said his focus early in training camp and the preseason has been on creating opportunities for others because he knows how dangerous the Magic can be with the likes of Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Afflalo in the lineup around him.
``We’re an unselfish team and we play really well together,’’ Oladipo said. ``When we do that (play unselfishly) and take care of the ball, we can be really good.’’
Oladipo sought out the advice of several veteran NBA players this past summer to help him adjust to life in the NBA. Their prevailing message was to savor the journey and have as much fun as possible along the way. Oladipo has vowed that he will enjoy this process because he knows he’ll only be a rookie once and he wants to take pleasure in small firsts such as Monday night’s first-ever start in a NBA preseason game.
``I’ve been so focused on trying to win the game and when you get out there and get up and down the floor a few times you just realize it’s the game of basketball,’’ he said. ``But I’m just so blessed and fortunate to be here and I give glory to God to be here, be able to play and be healthy. I hope he keeps blessing all of us so we can do this all our lives.’’
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