Denton: Oladipo Returns vs. Bucks

By John Denton
March 10, 2014

MILWAUKEE – Prior to last Wednesday, Victor Oladipo was the only Orlando Magic player to appear in all 62 games and he had kept alive a streak of not missing a game because of injury since he was a freshman in high school.

Both of those streaks came to an end when Oladipo was held out of Magic losses to Houston and San Antonio because of soreness in his left ankle. He was back in action on Monday night in Milwaukee, and no one was happier about leaving behind the designer suits and time on the bench than Oladipo.

``I don’t even know how guys sit out so long. I’m going crazy and I sat out two games,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m trying to take it as a learning experience and see what I can learn from where I’m sitting. And at the same time, it’s frustrating. But it’s all a learning process."

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has been extremely cautious over the past two seasons with players who sustain injuries, and he was no different with Oladipo. There was no one play where Oladipo was injured, but instead he was bothered by general soreness in his ankle from playing 62 games and 1,982 minutes.

``Sometimes, as bad as you want to play, your body won’t cooperate with you,’’ Oladipo said. ``You’ve just got to listen to it.’’ Oladipo has played more and played more effective this season when he’s started (37 times) than when he’s come off the bench (25 times). As a starter, he’s playing 36.4 minutes a game and is averaging 14.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists a game. As a reserve, Oladipo is playing 25.5 minutes a game and is averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game.

MO IMPROVEMENT: In addition to playing with more physicality on defense and aggressively attacking the rim more the past month, Magic second-year forward Maurice Harkless has shown signs of becoming a playmaker for the Magic with the ball in his hands.

Harkless, still the youngest player on the team at 20 years old, had two assists on Saturday against San Antonio, including a no-look flip to Tobias Harris for a dunk following a hard drive to the hoop. And last week, Harkless set up several other Magic baskets by driving hard to the rim and finding teammates for three assists.

The growth for Harkless has come because he is doing more ball-handling drills before and after practice with assistant coaches. Also, Harkless has been getting more consistent minutes and he’s finally feeling more comfortable with the ball in his hands.

``I want to be able to go out there and make something happen for myself and my teammates,’’ Harkless said. ``When I get into the lane, it really opens things up for everybody. It’s just about working for me. That’s where you get the confidence – from working. I’ve put in a lot of work and that’s why I’m feeling more comfortable.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn feels that as Harkless’ body and game mature, he can become a player who is good at making plays for others. Harkless has the size to see over defenders and his vision is improving as he’s gaining confidence and chemistry with his teammates. And Vaughn loves that Harkless’ success on the floor is a direct result to the hard work that he’s put in on the practice court.

``It is definitely part of his growth,’’ Vaughn said. ``Just having the ball in his hands (as a playmaker) is a little different for him. He’s done a good job of, whether it’s extra work with coaches or studying film, of getting more comfortable with the basketball in his hands. That just comes with opportunity and him trying to take advantage of it. He has been creating a little more and using his ability to get to the rim.’’

DREAM COME TRUE: It wasn’t exactly headline-grabbing news when the Magic signed Adonis Thomas and Dewayne Dedmon to second 10-day contracts, but it certainly meant the world to Thomas. The Memphis native said he is living out a dream by playing in the NBA and he is very appreciative of the opportunity to learn the NBA game with the Magic.

``Everybody who plays basketball wants to make it to this level, and that’s the case with me,’’ Thomas said. ``This is the ultimate level where you see the elite guys that you grew up looking up to and now I’m finally on the same court with them. So I’m living a dream right now and I want to continue to be a part of this Magic program.

Thomas, a 6-foot-7 wing player, came into Monday having appeared in four games. He had the first points of his career last week against Miami and he’s scored two other baskets in three games. He said it’s important for him to show the coaches what kind of player he is every time he steps on the floor – in games and practices.

``I think they see a lot in me. The coaches have told me that they are satisfied with my play, even in practice,’’ Thomas said. ``I don’t get a lot of run in games, but in practice they see how hard I’m working on defense, the work I’ve put in and the shots that I am making. I feel like I’m doing the necessary things to make a team.’’ Thomas’ second 10-day contract expires on March 16 and under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Magic will have to decide to either waive him or sign him for the rest of the season.