Oladipo Putting Growth on Display

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By John Denton
July 30, 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Victor Oladipo rubbed defender Bradley Beal off a screen, took a hard step toward the rim before slowing up to survey what was before him – namely shot-swatting power forward Anthony Davis and the monstrous center Andre Drummond.

This was the exact moment when one could see Oladipo’s experience from his rookie season with the Orlando Magic start to pay dividends. Rather than throwing caution to the wind and driving all the way to the rim – where hard contact and a nasty fall to the floor were near certainties – the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Oladipo wisely pulled up for a short jumper that confounded Team USA’s National Team defense.

A year ago, things likely would have gone down a lot differently for Oladipo. Fearless almost to a fault sometimes, Oladipo lived in the paint and attacked the rim several times a game as a rookie. That aggressiveness made him an All-American in college at Indiana and it got him picked No. 2 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to finish dunks over centers and curl in reverse layups around power forwards.

But things are dramatically different in the NBA, something that 80 games of experience taught Oladipo last season with the Magic. At times, the rookie was on the floor more than the mops used to dry the sweat and it wasn’t uncommon for Oladipo to be sent skidding into the courtside cameramen or careening in the laps of the dancers following contact.

When it comes to basketball, Oladipo is as smart as he is a relentless worker, and playing the game at the highest level has taught him that to find different ways to score now. He still plans to be an attacking guard next season, but he also wants to be a smarter one who knows when to pull up and avoid the car-wreck collisions that he endured so often last season.

``I feel like I know different ways to score the ball now. Now I realize that everything doesn’t have to be to the rim or through guys,’’ Oladipo said. ``I can mix it up now. I am just going to keep getting better. Some days I’ll make shots and some days I won’t, but at the end of the day I have to keep playing my game.’’

Oladipo, 22, has been showing off the tremendous growth in his game this week while competing on USA Basketball’s Select Team. The squad is composed primarily of young and promising players who could someday fill spots on the National Team for the 2016 Olympics, the 2018 World Championships and the 2020 Olympics.

Oladipo called it a blessing just to be able to tug on his red, white and blue jersey, but USA Basketball Executive Director Jerry Colangelo said the young guard has opened plenty of eyes this week with his dramatically improved play. Colangelo pulled up a chair beside of Oladipo following Wednesday’s workouts and had some promising words for the young Magic guard.

``I was complimenting him on his effort and his play and I just love that motor. I was also thanking him for being here and telling him that I really like his game,’’ said Colangelo, the architect of the 2008 and 2012 teams that won Olympic gold. ``Victor’s done extremely well. I tell him, `We’ll definitely be watching him.’’’

The Magic have been well-represented at the USA Basketball drills this week, what with forward Tobias Harris teaming with Oladipo in scrimmages. Harris, a versatile 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward, showed up at the camp in great shape and dramatically stronger than he was last season when he averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. He missed a large chunk of last season with an ankle injury and Colangelo was delighted to see Harris’ abilities as a do-everything forward who would likely mesh with the free-flowing international style of play.

``Tobias is another one who has really surprised me,’’ Colangelo said. ``I have not seen much of him personally and he’s been very impressive here. I want to see more of him.’’

Magic fans are eager to see more of Oladipo following a stellar rookie season. He lived up to the high expectations of being a high draft pick by averaging 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game to finish second in the NBA's Rookie of the Year voting. Oladipo recorded a triple-double (26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) on Dec. 3 in Philadelphia and he had a career-best 35 points against Chicago in January. The finest game of Oladipo's young career came last February when he battered the New York Knicks for 30 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds.

But Oladipo was far from satisfied with his play, and he went to work on his game and his body almost immediately after last season ended. He’s worked throughout the summer to drop 20 pounds – something he feels will make him quicker on defense and more agile on offense whether he’s playing shooting guard or point guard.

Oladipo’s best highlight of the week came on Tuesday when he used his cat-quick first step to beat Indiana Pacers forward Paul George off the dribble. Then, he used his body to keep Pelicans’ forward Anthony Davis away from the ball as he converted a layup. It’s those kinds of plays that have impressed the coaching staff and teammates the most.

``It’s always good playing with Vic or playing against him because of the kind of competitor he is. He pushes me as much as I push him,’’ said Trey Burke, a teammate of Oladipo’s on the Select Team and a former rival from Indiana-Michigan battles in college. ``Those old wars we had in college, it reminds me of that every time I step on the court with him. Vic has played well this week.’’

In addition to the on-the-job training that he’s gotten on the court this week, Oladipo said another perk of being in the USA Basketball system is getting to spend time with some of the best players in the world off the court. Derrick Rose called Oladipo ``a big-time talent,’’ while Kevin Durant marveled at the young guard being, ``absolutely like a sponge and he’s soaking in everything.’’

Oladipo admitted to be somewhat in awe each day as he glances out at the talent on the court. Also, he said it’s ``surreal’’ looking down at the USA on his jersey and playing on the team that he idolized as a kid.

``A lot of these guys are busy, they’re hooping and trying to get ready for the games, but every now and then I’ll try to pick their brains,’’ Oladipo said. ``But a lot of them are my age. Hanging out with Kyrie (Irving) and Anthony Davis and a guy like Paul George is only a year older than me, so they are all in my age group. So it’s easy to talk to them. They’ve been here with USA Basketball and they have experience in the system, so it’s cool to have those guys to talk to.’’

Oladipo is hopeful that all of the work that he’s put in will lead to growth next season for the Magic. Little moves, such as the pull-up jumper in the recent scrimmage, show that he’s maturing as a player and promises to be better in the near future.

Oladipo said on Wednesday that in addition to having pride about representing USA Basketball, he’s also happy to be in Las Vegas as a member of the Magic. He feels that Orlando is a team on the rise, and Oladipo is hopeful that he can give Magic fans a great season ahead.

``It’s a huge honor to be here representing the Magic,’’ he said. ``We’re looking forward to representing Orlando and giving them something to cheer for this season. I’m looking forward to the season, I can’t wait for it to start and it’s going to be a fun experience.’’