Oladipo Ready to Take on Leadership Role

By John Denton
July 3, 2014

ORLANDO -- It is most certainly cliché and it definitely sounds like some sort of rah-rah coachspeak, but experience truly is the greatest teacher when it comes to young players making the transition to the NBA.

Orlando Magic standout guard Victor Oladipo is well aware of this now.

Challenged throughout his rookie season with position changes, role switches, veterans testing his mettle and a whole lot of losing, Oladipo said that he learned plenty during an oftentimes trying rookie season. He came out on the other side of a first season filled with numerous highs and lows experienced vowing that he will be much better in the years ahead.

Being somewhat humbled as a rookie opened Oladipo’s eyes to the work and dedication that he needed to put into his game this summer. He hit practices for this week’s Orlando Pro Summer League ready to prove himself to be vastly improved both with the physical and mental sides of the game.

Experience has taught Oladipo that his youthful exuberance and quick-trigger excitability can sometimes work against him, so he’s learned to dial his game back a tad so that he plays more under control. And now fully comfortable with his surroundings, Oladipo is vowing to firmly grasp more of a leadership role – in Summer League action that starts on Saturday at the Amway Center and in October when the Magic hit training camp.

``(Leading) was something that I had to learn and I want to be a leader of this team,’’ said Oladipo, whose Magic face the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday in first-day action of the 10-team, seven-day Orlando Pro Summer League. ``I want to help this team, so leadership is something that I need to work on. When better to do that than starting now?’’

Oladipo has been itching to get back to competitive action since completing a first season that saw him finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams. Despite bouncing between shooting guard and point guard, starter and reserve, Oladipo still averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and a team-best 1.61 steals a game last season. He had two 30-point games, 12 20-point games and a triple-double in December. He also had a stellar effort against New York when he became just the fourth rookie in the past 20 years to have at least 30 points and 14 assists in the same game (Feb. 21).

Still, Oladipo wasn’t totally happy with his turnover woes, his shooting struggles during some stretches and the Magic’s 23-59 record. He said he’s spent much of this summer going back through his rookie season and trying to come up with ways that he can be more consistent in the future.

``It was fun, but at the end of the day I had my share of ups and downs like any rookie has,’’ he said. ``I had some really good games and some really bad games. But at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I even scratched the surface of how really good I can be. I’ve just got to continue getting better.’’

The Magic’s Summer League roster is filled with two holdovers from last season – center Dewayne Dedmon and Oladipo – three recent draftees – Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble – the brother of a NBA superstar – Seth Curry – and several players looking to open GMs eyes and earn invites to training camp. Magic assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. will serve as the team’s head coach and he’s excited about the mix of players for the seven-day schedule of games.

``I think the intensity of our practices show that there is a level that has been escalated,’’ Unseld Jr. said. ``We have some athletes out there and we look dynamic. So just the pace of the game has quickened.’’

That quick pace suits Dedmon, the 7-footer whom the Magic signed to a couple of 10-day contracts and then kept him around for the rest of the season in March and April. In 16 games with the Magic, Dedmon averaged 3.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.81 blocks, and his numbers in six starts (4.3 ppg., 8.7 rpg. and 1.5 bpg.) were promising. He has spent all summer in Orlando working at the Magic facility and he’s added some noticeable muscle to make himself a better defender in the low post.

``I’ve been here every day going to work with (Head Strength and Conditioning coach) Bill (Burgos) and (Assistant) Anthony Harvey in the weight room trying to get bigger and stronger and pick up my weight,’’ Dedmon said. ``I’ve changed my eating habits. I was 238 at the end of the season and about 245 now. I feel a lot stronger and I can hold my ground a lot better.’’

Unseld Jr. said he’s been impressed so far with the maturity and comprehension of Gordon (18 years old) and Payton (20 years old) so far in the two-a-day practices for the Summer League. Both are eager to learn and have been dialed in so far in an attempt to pick up the Magic’s schemes.

``Surprisingly they are more mature than an 18 and a (20) year old, so that’s refreshing,’’ Unseld Jr. said. ``They’re competitors. As you scout them and watch tape, you see it. But when you get them out here, they really compete.’’

The Magic have no questions whatsoever about the competitive nature of Oladipo, who at times willed Orlando to wins last season with his grit and hustle in the fourth quarter of games. What Oladipo has worked on, however, is his ability to process the game at a slower rate so as to make better decisions. Often last season, he over-penetrated into the teeth of the defense or got himself into bad spots with the ball, resulting in waves of turnovers. After a year of experience and an offseason of reflection, Oladipo has figured out ways to be a much more efficient player next season.

``After watching film and just playing for as many games as we played, I know that I have to keep learning so that we can be a better team,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m feeling more comfortable out there and making better decisions. I think the biggest thing is not going 2,000 miles per hour and using my speed when I need to.’’

A rising star in the NBA and arguably Orlando’s most important player, Oladipo’s charmed life received another perk recently. Out in Los Angeles last month for basketball drill work, Oladipo went to his first ever Major League Baseball game. Sure enough, Dodgers star pitcher Clayton Kershaw fired a no-hitter – much to Oladipo’s delight.

``It was so intense and every second that he was pitching I was locked in,’’ Oladipo recalled. ``It was a baseball game and I’m thinking you just order hot dogs and watch. But I was on the edge of my seat and locked in to every pitch. … I still have the video on my phone and I was screaming and hyped like I was from L.A. or something. I was going crazy. I went and bought his jersey like I was a little kid. It was an amazing experience.’’