Denton: Oladipo Growing at Both Guard Positions

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
March 16, 2014

ORLANDO – Whether Victor Oladipo eventually becomes a full-time shooting guard or a point guard for the Orlando Magic, he knows that the experience gained in his rookie season will greatly benefit him going forward.

If he’s a shooting guard, he’ll still be able initiate the offense, run pick-and-roll plays and know where everyone on the floor should be lined up like a point guard. And if Oladipo is at the point, he’ll still have the experience of knowing how to move without the basketball and take big shots from the wing from his time at the shooting guard slot.

At least that’s what Magic coach Jacque Vaughn told him, and he should know from having played both guard spots while teaming with Jason Kidd in New Jersey during his playing days. And that’s what Oladipo is told all of the time by Miami Heat star and close friend Dwyane Wade, who was originally drafted to be a point guard before eventually settling into his role as a wing scorer.

It’s great advice that Oladipo has taken to heart and used in his pursuit of becoming a more complete player for the Magic. When it comes to basketball, Oladipo has had to have something of a split personality as he’s bounced back and forth between the shooting guard slot and the point guard role. He has successfully juggled his time at the two spots throughout his rookie season even if he’s had to take two dramatically different approaches depending on which spot he is playing.

``At point guard you have to make sure everybody is in the right places and you have to try to get everybody involved,’’ Oladipo said before Sunday’s practice. ``But at shooting guard you just have to make the right plays and take the right shots. It’s a little different, but I’m capable of playing both positions.’’

Oladipo and the Magic (19-48) will face one of the NBA’s best combo guards in Steph Curry when they start their four-game West Coast trip at Golden State on Tuesday night. Curry plays like both a point guard and a shooting guard in that he’s scoring 23.2 points a game, while also handing out 8.6 assists a game. Oladipo marvels at the way Curry and his Warriors teammates make offensive basketball look like artistry.

``They’re a really good team and they have really good players,’’ Oladipo said. ``They have Steph Curry, who is the best shooter in the NBA and he’s the point guard so that makes it hard on guys guarding him. And they have Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, and they can all pretty much shoot. They are a really good team.’’

Oladipo has gone through several highs and lows this season, but for the most part he’s done a solid job of handling all that has been thrown at him as a rookie. He’s averaged 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds a game while steadily shuffling positions. The negatives are his 3.0 turnovers per game – a number that has continued to plummet for some time – and his shooting percentages of 41.5 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from the 3-point line.

Vaughn has attempted to take the pressure off Oladipo regarding his position by stressing to him that he’s simply a ``guard’’ and not necessarily a point guard or a shooting guard. When he’s started 37 games, he’s usually played alongside of veteran playmaker Jameer Nelson. And when he’s at the point, capable ballhandlers E’Twaun Moore, Doron Lamb or Nelson are usually on the floor with him as a sort of safety net.

Vaughn likes how the process has played out. He likes how Oladipo has responded when challenged and taken out of his comfort zone. But at the same time, Vaughn has taken great care not to overwhelm the rookie mentally or physically. All of it, Vaughn said, should pay off in the long run for the 21-year-old guard.

``I really think that it’s been good for him,’’ Vaughn said. ``A lot of times when you say that he is a certain position, then he only thinks that way. I think he sometimes can block off some opportunities of learning. Take the last game where he checks into the game and he’s playing (shooting guard). And down the stretch of the game, the ball’s in his hands. I really think that’s a good opportunity for him.

``It relieves him mentally and it gives you a mental break throughout the course of the game without him having the ball in his hands all of the time,’’ Vaughn continued. ``But then at the same time when the ball needs to be in his hands, he’s comfortable with it.’’

Vaughn often watches film with Oladipo and he’s told him stories of how he had to learn to play both guard positions when he was a member of the Nets from 2004-06. Kidd was the unquestioned starting point guard on that team, so Vaughn would sometimes play off the ball and sometimes initiate the offense to give Kidd a break. Vaughn said being able to play both spots benefited him greatly as a player and he’s tried to convey that message to Oladipo.

``It’s like some of those quarterbacks who end up playing wide receiver; they know how to read the defense and know how to get open because they have been in that position of (seeing it from a QB’s perspective),’’ Vaughn said. ``They don’t lose the ability to play quarterback. That’s a little bit behind the mentality of a guard in basketball.’’

Wade, an 11-year veteran, and Oladipo hung out and talked recently at the NBA All-Star Game weekend. They first met at The White House when Oladipo was a promising high school player and Wade was a NBA champion for the first time. And they really got to know one another a few years back because they played for the same college coach, Tom Crean.

On several occasions, Wade has preached patience to Oladipo when it comes to figuring out the NBA game. Wade, a shooting guard at Marquette in college, was drafted in 2003 by Miami to play point guard. He averaged 16.2 points, 4.0 rebound and 4.5 assists that first season as a point guard. He eventually switched to shooting guard where he ripped off seven straight seasons of averaging at least 24.1 points per game. Remarkably, Wade averaged at least 4.6 assists a game during that high-scoring seven-year stretch – and he credits much of it to his role as a point guard as a rookie. He’s told that story to Oladipo on several occasions.

``I love the way that his game has progressed,’’ Wade said earlier this month when Oladipo and the Magic were in Miami. ``I could tell the frustration (of playing point guard) on him when we played them once. He was out there on the court trying to figure it out and I went through the same thing.

``At the end of the day, he’s a player and I was a player and you’d rather have the ball in your hands and have opportunities,’’ Wade continued. ``That made me a better player and it taught me to read the game a lot better. Even though I couldn’t wait to move to (shooting guard) it made me read things better and it helped my play-making skills.’’

Said Oladipo: ``He tells me (about playing point guard) all of the time. I just have to be patient like he always tells me. I’m just trying to be patient, make the right plays and the right reads.’’

Regardless of where Oladipo ends up position-wise, he knows that the experience earned this season will benefit him. He looks at what has happened this season merely as a baseline and he wants to improve his game in every aspect in years to come. And while his mind is focused now on finishing out the season strong, Oladipo said he actually can’t wait until the offseason so he can start attacking some of his deficiencies so that he can make himself a better all-around player.

``I tell guys that it’s another world (in the NBA). People they think might not be that good as really good at what they do. This is definitely the best of the best and you have to realize that you are playing good players every night,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m always thinking about what I can do to improve myself and what I can do next year to better our team. I feel like if I can better myself it will give our team a better chance of winning. I just have to continue to keep growing.’’