Denton: Oladipo Shines in Debut

By John Denton
July 7, 2013

ORLANDO – For all of those doubters who Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo says have fueled his legendary work ethic and his meteoric rise as a basketball star, there was a little bit of everything in the guard’s NBA debut on Sunday.

Thought to be a somewhat shaky shooter at times during his college career, Oladipo drilled a 3-pointer seconds into Sunday’s Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League opener. Then, for good measure, he stroked another long jumper and converted a tough layup in traffic for the Magic’s first eight points.

And for the critics wondering if the 6-foot-3 Oladipo can make the transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard, he offered up a play that was a thing of beauty late in the fourth quarter.

With the outcome still hanging in the balance, Oladipo rubbed off a high ball screen and crossed over Boston power forward Kelly Olynyk to create some space. Then, after drawing the defense to him, Oladipo found Kyle O’Quinn with a nifty no-look pass. O’Quinn finished off the layup as he was fouled, causing Oladipo to flash a broad smile and pump his fist.

And after Oladipo’s stat-stuffing debut of 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds, five steals and two 3-pointers in the Magic’s 95-88 defeat of the Celtics, the guard looked every bit worthy of being the No. 2 pick in the recent NBA Draft.

``It’s all about energy for me because the ball finds energy. Energy can change the momentum of a game,’’ Oladipo said with another big smile. ``I think I showed a little bit of energy out there today.’’

Did he ever? Oladipo did a little bit of everything for the Magic (1-0), while also earning high praise from Summer League coach James Borrego and several of his teammates. Those same teammates were the ones encouraging Oladipo to make his mark on his first game early on Sunday afternoon.

Oladipo was quick to credit teammates Maurice Harkless, Doron Lamb and O’Quinn for coaxing him into taking the two early 3-pointers that found nothing but net and calmed his pre-game jitters.

``It did (help him relax), but credit my teammates because they were the ones who told me to shoot the first shot because I wasn’t going to shoot it. They kept saying, `Shoot it, shoot it,’ so I just kind of let it fly. And the second one felt good as well,’’ Oladipo said. ``But I credit (Magic teammates) because they definitely helped me today. Without them I’d be all over the place and they kind of settled me down.’’

Harkless, who has worked tirelessly on his game following a promising rookie season, supported Oladipo quite nicely with 15 points, eight rebounds and key blocked shot late in the game. The 19-year-old Harkless said he couldn’t have been more encouraged with the way Oladipo played and he said this week will be good for the two to build some chemistry on and off the floor.

``I love his game because (Oladipo) is very unselfish, playing two positions and being active on the defensive end,’’ Harkless said. ``I do that same thing, so I love that. At the guard position he brings that pressure on the point guards and makes it tough on. That gets everybody else going. I love to see that.’’

The Magic also got big lifts from second-round draft pick Romero Osby (18 points and five rebounds), O’Quinn (11 points and 11 rebounds), Lamb (13 points and three 3-pointers) and Rodney McGruder (11 points and two fourth-quarter 3-pointers) on Sunday. The Magic outscored the Celtics and Olynyk (25 points) 25-16 in the second quarter and 25-17 in the fourth period to wipe out deficits.

``All of those days in the gym, sacrificing your summer and staying here putting in the work with the coaches and (Strength and Conditioning coach) Joe (Rogowski), you want to put it on the show,’’ O’Quinn said.

Borrego, head coach Jacque Vaughn’s top assistant during the regular season, threw plenty at Oladipo to test the rookie in his NBA debut. Oladipo started the game at shooting guard, opened the second quarter at point guard and alternated between the two positions in the second half. He did miss the his first five shots of the second half and turned the ball over six times, but Borrego said he couldn’t have been much more pleased with the way the rookie handled his dual roles.

``I thought he was solid. He took what the defense gave him and they started to pressure him some as the game went. Teams will do that and test his skill, but I thought he responded and got us into our sets,’’ Borrego said. ``He was aggressive, looked for his shot and found open bodies. So overall we were very pleased with his effort.’’

Oladipo said that alternating roles between point guard and shooting guard isn’t a big deal to him because he often initiated the offense while at Indiana University. He said he knows he still has much to learn while at the point, and the challenges will only get more difficult as he faces NBA star guards Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.

``It’s pretty cool, I’m not going to lie to you,’’ Oladipo said of playing point guard. ``I enjoy playing the position and I’m looking forward to growing at it and learning all of the things that I need to learn and trying to perfect the position.

``Whatever you want me to play, I’ll play,’’ he continued. ``If you want me to come off ball screens, I’ll come off ball screens and if you want me to set up the offense I’ll set up the offense. If you want me to stand in the corner and shoot, I’ll do it because that’s how badly I want to win.’’

Oladipo’s foray into lane late that ended with the no-look pass to O’Quinn was certainly a winning play. Not only did the play speak to Oladipo’s maturity and basketball smarts, but it also addressed his vision and willingness to pass the ball as a point guard. And O’Quinn said the play didn’t happen by accident as Oladipo is ``one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.’’

``That showed his trust,’’ O’Quinn said. ``We’ve had, what, five practices with him, and he looks at us second-year guys as somebody he can trust. He trusted me on that play and it showed chemistry.’’

Oladipo stressed last week that he hoped to savor all of the moments of his NBA debut, and he’s trying to have as much fun as possible. He said the Magic executives and coaches are a lot more patient with him than he is because he wants to win so badly. He said he’ll always remember Sunday because of the success both he and the team had and because it could be the start of big-time success in Orlando.

``It was fun. I’m just going to continue to have fun with these guys and build a relationship with them because it’s going to be a long journey,’’ he said. ``We’re looking to build a dynasty here. So we’re trying to learn each other on and off the court and have as much fun as we can.’’

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