Denton: Oladipo Responds Well to the Pressure

By John Denton
July 11, 2013

ORLANDO – Four games into summer league play, the Orlando Magic had tested the playmaking skills of Victor Oladipo at point guard, they had tested his shooting stroke by playing him off the ball and they had gauged his toughness by having him guard bigger players.

On Thursday, the Magic tested Oladipo’s nerves under pressure and his ability to rise to the moment in a key spot. And much to the Magic’s delight, the overall No. 2 pick in the draft passed what might have been his biggest test yet.

With the Magic trailing by one point and in possession of the ball in the final seconds, Oladipo went right at fellow draft pick Michael Carter-Williams – a point guard who is three inches taller than him – and buried a 22-foot step-back jumper with 4.4 seconds to play.

It was easily the biggest moment of the rookie point guard’s young NBA career, and had he missed the shot it would have almost assuredly meant another Magic loss. But when Oladipo faked twice, drove to his left, confidently stepped back and pulled up for the jumper that hit nothing but net, it guaranteed Orlando a 90-89 victory over Philadelphia and the rookie had his first lasting NBA memory. Oladipo admitted afterward that he never thought of passing in that situation and that he was eager to prove himself at the biggest moment of the game.

``Coach (James Borrego) just told me to go at a good time (on the clock) when I was bringing it up the floor and I knew right then and there that he wanted me to shoot it. I created a little space for myself and shot it with confidence,’’ said Oladipo, who finished with 24 points and six assists.

``It’s basketball and you dream about those moments all the time whether it’s in the little Summer league or in the park when you are in front of your house and you go, `3 … 2 … 1,’’’ he said later. ``It’s just stuff that you live for, and moments like that are fun. … Being able to make a big shot like that just builds my confidence.’’

Upon making the jump shot, Oladipo jumped to bump shoulders with Magic guard DeQuan Jones and Orlando standout forward Tobias Harris came out from behind the bench to congratulate his new teammate. Afterward, Oladipo’s teammates and coaches had glowing praise for his willingness to take the big shot with the game on the line.

``It just shows that he’s got guts and he’s going to be really good,’’ said Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, who poured in 23 points. ``He’s going to be a really good player in this league. He has a lot of intangibles on the defensive end and the offensive end and he’s going to have a really good future.’’

Added Borrego: ``He looked comfortable to me and that’s why we didn’t call a timeout. He looked like he wanted the ball at the end and like he had been in that moment before. That’s the best way I can describe it. That’s a special talent, skill, mentality or whatever you want to call it – to take a shot like that and have the comfort to feel no pressure. That’s a big piece for us moving forward.’’

Oladipo’s heroics were made possible by some other big plays from his Magic mates – and the rookie was quick to point that out after the game.

Center Kyle O’Quinn, who had 11 rebounds, had the defensive play of the day by blocking Arsalan Kazemi’s dunk attempt with 23 seconds to play to keep the deficit at one. And Maurice Harkless scored six of his 15 points in the final 2:38 by relentlessly attacking the rim.

``You always want to win and I felt if I attacked that I was either going to get a layup or free throws, so I just stayed aggressive,’’ Harkless said. ``I’m a little more confident and comfortable now.’’

For Oladipo, it was a measure of personal revenge considering that it was Carter-Williams and Syracuse that knocked his Indiana University team out of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 round last spring. Carter-Williams, the No. 11 pick in the NBA Draft, bedeviled Oladipo and the Hoosiers on March 28 by scoring 24 points in Syrcuse’s 61-50 win. The two guards have been friends for years, and each requested to guard the other down the stretch of the game because of their fiery competitive nature.

``That’s the beauty of competition. I know Mike from a while ago and he beat me in the Sweet 16, so I wanted this one,’’ Oladipo said. ``He’s a cool dude and a good friend of mine, but at the end of the day when we get on the court we’re trying to go at each other’s neck. It was a good, solid win for us.’’

Approximately two dozen Magic season-ticket-holders were granted access to Thursday’s game and cheered each time Oladipo made a shot. And when his go-ahead, step-back shot went in over Carter-Williams, the group began a chant of ``O-la-di-po! O-la-di-po! O-la-di-po!’’

The rookie guard said it was somewhat shocking to the system to hear the chants because he didn’t think he’d have a chance to earn cheers from fans until the preseason tips off in October. But he stopped short of saying he’s officially a NBA player now, saying such a coronation won’t come until November’s regular season.

``(The name chants) means a lot to me because I thought I’d never hear those chants again – not for awhile at least,’’ he said. ``No, I’m not officially a NBA player until I play in a real game. I’m looking forward to that day. I know it’s going to be a rush that first game out there, but at the end of the day I’m looking forward to it. I think after a while (in the summer league) I’ve just realized, `It’s just basketball on an elite level.’’’

Oladipo made seven of 16 shots and three of five 3-point shots on Thursday against Philadelphia (0-4). He also got to the free throw line another eight times (with seven makes) and had six assists and three steals. The only negative was his five turnovers.

In the four summer league games so far, he’s cleared up some of the questions about his jump shot by 7 of 13 3-point shots (53.8 percent). He’s gotten to the free throw line an average of 10 times a game, making 33 of those 40 tries. And in addition to his 12 steals, he has more assists (20) than turnovers (19).

He has said repeatedly that his career has been fueled by doubts and that even though he’s played solidly this week and even has a game-winner under his belt now, it will likely do little to quiet his message-board critics. That’s why he was in the gym shooting with Harkless late Wednesday (an off day) and why he’ll keep working throughout this summer leading up to Magic training camp in the fall.

``I don’t care, I’ll go out there and make 10 in a row and they’ll still say, `Awww, it’s summer league and you have to wait until he plays in a real game and in under the real lights,’’’ Oladipo said playfully. ``They’ll find an excuse; that’s just what people do because that’s their jobs.

``At the end of the day, even if I shoot 10 for 10 I feel like I can be so much better with my jump shot. I missed a lot of easy shots today, so I’m going to get back in the gym and work on my shot and constantly work on my handle,’’ he continued. ``I’m never going to be satisfied – even if they credit me, I’m still going to work on (the jumper) because I want to be great.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





Follow John Denton on Twitter here