Denton: Oladipo Makes 38th Start of Season

By John Denton
March 19, 2014

PHOENIX – A nagging knee injury to veteran Jameer Nelson put Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo in a spot to start Wednesday night against one of the most productive backcourts in the NBA.

Oladipo made his 38th start of the season on Wednesday – and his third start at point guard – because Nelson reinjured a troublesome left knee injury in Tuesday’s loss to Golden State.

While Oladipo’s adaptation to the point guard position is still very much a work in progress on the offensive end, the Magic have been happy with his play defensively. He came into Wednesday night’s game ranked 19th in the NBA and second among NBA rookies in steals with 1.55 per game. He’s picked up the defensive rotations well and he’s done a solid job of staying in front of his opponent.

``(Defense) is one part of his game that we thought would translate pretty seamlessly his ability to guard multiple positions,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He’s done a pretty good job of that. He’ll continue to be disciplined throughout the course of (this season) and that’s his challenge, whether it’s not fouling the shooters, not reaching in at times when he’s showing good defensive presence. That’s just a part of growing in the league and being disciplined on every play.’’

Quite possibly, no backcourt in the NBA could test Oladipo’s defensive aptitude more than Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. With Dragic (20.4 ppg. and 6.0 apg.) and Bledsoe (17.4 ppg. and 5.8 apg.) both having stellar seasons, they are trying to become the first teammates to average at least 18 points and 6 assists since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1991-92.

As for Nelson, he said that his knee has been bothering him for some time and he aggravated it again on Tuesday night. Nelson had four points, seven assists and four rebounds in 23 minutes on Tuesday.

``I just have to be smart about it and listen to my body and listen to my training staff,’’ Nelson said.

FORMER TEAMMATES NOW COACHING PEERS: Neither Jeff Hornacek nor Vaughn ever talked much about coaching in the NBA during their playing days together with the Utah Jazz. But at the same time, it wasn’t necessarily a shock to either of them that the other ultimately became a coach considering their heady nature on the court during their playing days.

Hornacek, 50, played for Utah from 1994-00 at the end of his career. He played alongside of Vaughn, 39, from 1997-2000 under former head coach Jerry Sloan. Vaughn remembers the way that the older Hornacek mentored him early in his career and he said it’s easy to see how he’s evolved into the leading candidate to win the Coach of the Year award.

``I never knew if he would coach at this league, but I could have seen him coaching his kids,’’ Vaughn said with a laugh. ``He coached me as a rookie and a second-year player. He’s a very smart guy and he liked being around smart guys like himself. He could challenge you, he was competitive and he could shoot the basketball. He’s put his (Suns) guys to have success; he understood the game when we were together in Utah.’’

Hornacek said that even though Vaughn spent much of his time in Utah backing up Hall of Famer John Stockton, he was the epitome of the clichéd ``coach on the floor.’’ Hornacek said that he always marveled at how Vaughn could relate to every teammate in the locker room.

``Jacque was a smart player. When he came into Utah, he was a point guard who could direct traffic because he saw things that would happen,’’ Hornacek said. ``He was a great guy to have on the team. He was a smart player and that’s translated to his coaching. His team is young and Jacque has them playing the right way.’’

AFFLALO’S INDIFFERENCE: In his quest to constantly improve his game, few players on the Magic study more game video than veteran guard Arron Afflalo. Afflalo will watch footage of himself, of upcoming opponents and of legendary players such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to pick up tips.

But outside of that, Afflalo isn’t a huge sports fan and hardly ever keeps up with college or professional sports outside of the Magic. For example, he was asked if he had plans to fill out a bracket in anticipation of the NCAA Tournament and Afflalo grimaced and shook his head. In fact, he had little to no knowledge of the kind of season that his alma mater, UCLA, had during the regular season.

``I’m not a bracket guy and I haven’t filled out one,’’ Afflalo said chuckling. ``It’s sad, but I haven’t watched the tournament since I left. I did watch UCLA the following year with Russell (Westbrook) and Kevin (Love) because I had a few teammates on there. But I haven’t watched college basketball since.

``I didn’t even really know that UCLA was doing well this year,’’ said Afflalo of the Pac-12 champion Bruins. ``Supposedly they are doing well this year. I’m always a (UCLA) family member, so to speak. But I just don’t catch many of the games.’’