Sensational Performance Not Satisfying Enough For Oladipo

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
Jan. 16, 2014

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo played 57 minutes on Wednesday – the most of any NBA rookie in almost 60 years – yet he couldn’t sleep afterward and said his overriding emotion was more so anger than fatigue.

It didn’t matter so much to Oladipo that he had just become the first rookie in Magic history to record 35 points and eight assists in a game. He was frustrated that he had just one basket in three overtime periods and that Orlando dropped a triple-OT thriller to the Chicago Bulls.

It was, in the words of head coach Jacque Vaughn, Oladipo’s best night as a professional basketball player, yet the rookie wanted more and expected more out of himself.

``Overall, I was mad at the result and mad at myself for not being as aggressive as I could have been in the overtimes,’’ Oladipo said with a sigh. ``But it’s all a learning process for me.’’

There was a great deal of disappointment stemming from the Magic (10-29) on Thursday after they fell 128-125 to the Bulls in just the fourth triple-overtime game in the 25-year history of the franchise. The crushing defeat extended the Magic’s losing skid to nine games, the longest of the season.

But the hurt feelings were stemmed by the incredible promise displayed on Wednesday night by Oladipo, Orlando’s prized pick from last June’s NBA Draft. He mostly scored at will, hitting 15 of 24 shots while spending nearly as much time at the rim as Chicago’s trio of big men.

When the Bulls put Kirk Hinrich or D.J. Augustin on Oladipo, he used his strength and size to simply shoot over them. And when Chicago assigned bigger defensive ace Jimmy Butler to him, Oladipo would blow past the defense for dazzling layups over the shot-blockers.

``People are going to give me a lot of different looks,’’ Oladipo said of the many defenses that teams have used against him this season. ``Against Dallas (on Monday), they just came and fully trapped me. (On Wednesday), they put a bigger guy on me and who knows what they are going to do next? They’ll probably put an even bigger guy on me. Whatever guy it is, I’m just trying to learn to score on whatever kind of defense. That’s a process and being consistent with it takes time.’’

By playing 57 minutes and 11 seconds, Oladipo came within 49 seconds of equaling the Magic franchise record for minutes played of 58 by Horace Grant in 1998. Also, it was the most minutes played by a NBA rookie since Baltimore’s Ray Felix and Bob Houbregs both played 63 minutes on Feb. 22, 1954. A day later, Oladipo said other than a few bumps and bruises he felt no after-effects of playing nearly five straight quarters.

``I’m a little sore, but it’s all a part of your mind,’’ he said with a snicker. ``If they told me to play again, I’d come to play. I feel good. I’ll do a great job of recovering and stretching to get back because we have another game (on Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats).’’

Vaughn marveled at the ferocity and aggressiveness that the rookie played with on Wednesday night, saying: ``I think the extent of the game and the sample size of that game, from beginning to end, that was probably his best game for us.’’

Vaughn was asked if there’s a temptation now to simply let Oladipo freelance more on the court because he is so difficult to stay in front of defensively. Much to his credit, Vaughn has allowed the 21-year-old Oladipo to have the freedom to create on the fly and play through his mistakes. The rookie’s only negative from Wednesday’s stellar showing was his eight turnovers. Still, the coach stuck with Oladipo down the stretch and the game on the line against the Bulls.

``How loose can I cut him? I think I’ve been the biggest proponent (of Oladipo’s style). I don’t think many coaches would give him the leeway that he has,’’ joked Vaughn, who broke into the NBA as a rookie point guard under ultra-strict head coach Jerry Sloan. ``He played (57) minutes and he handles the basketball. You will see him multiple times throughout the game where he doesn’t even pass and he dribbles up as one of the fastest ones and he pulls up from 15 feet. So I think he has a pretty decent leeway, especially as a rookie.’’

Vaughn has also shown great flexibility in playing Oladipo at both the shooting guard and point guard positions. Since the Magic drafted Oladipo No. 2 in last June’s Draft, there has been debate over where to play the former college shooting guard. Should he be a point guard where he will have the ball in his hands and can use his explosiveness off the dribble to score and create for others? Or is simply better suited as a wing scorer and someone who can make dazzling plays out of pick-and-roll sets?

In Oladipo, Vaughn still sees a player capable of juggling both roles. That’s why Vaughn played him mostly off the ball Wednesday night alongside of point guard Jameer Nelson (31 points, 10 assists and six rebounds). And during the nine minutes that Nelson rested, Oladipo filled in at the point while having the safety net of also playing with ball-handlers E’Twaun Moore and Ronnie Price.

``I don’t know if (anyone) can name five traditional point guards. I just think that’s the way the game is evolving,’’ said Vaughn, who played with John Stockton and Jason Kidd during his playing days. ``We’ve talked about with Victor in that he’s unique in his ability of what he can do for us. I think it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole him into exactly how we want him to play for us on the floor. That ability to be versatile and do things on instinct, they play to his advantage and to our advantage.’’

The easy-going Oladipo said it actually matters very little to him which position that he plays in the future because his mindset remains the same as far as staying in attack mode. He has said repeatedly of late that he’s already anticipating the offseason because he has so many things he wants to work on from his ball-handling to his spot-up jump shot to his high-arching floater in the lane.

``It would be nice (knowing his position), but either way, if they tell me or not, when the offseason comes, I’m going to go into the summer time and go to work like I always do,’’ said Oladipo, who is now averaging 13.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists a game. ``I’ll take (the offseason) as serious as possible. It’s definitely going to be a big summer for me.’’