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Magic must carefully develop exuberant youngster Oladipo

POSTED: Oct 22, 2013 9:49 PM ET

By Sekou Smith,


The Orlando brass will be carefully monitoring the progress of rookie Victor Oladipo (center).

In basketball terms, Victor Oladipo is a relative newcomer to this part of the business. He wasn't some AAU superstar in middle school. He wasn't even a McDonald's All-American in high school. And he was considered a mid-level recruit when he headed off to college.

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He's only been in high demand for the better part of the last 10 months or so. He wasn't even the most high profile member of his college team before his junior and final season at Indiana. That honor belonged to Charlotte Bobcats rookie power forward Cody Zeller.

But make no mistake, Oladipo is the man of the hour in Orlando. The No. 2 overall pick in the Draft -- and taken two spots ahead of Zeller -- Oladipo is being counted on to lead the Magic out of the haze of the past two seasons and back into the mix relevant mix in the Eastern Conference.

A dynamic shooting guard in college with wicked athleticism and a defensive presence that was more formidable than his offensive game, Oladipo was favorably compared to Dwyane Wade at the same stage. The proper comparison for Oladipo in Orlando, however, is Russell Westbrook.

The Magic are hoping to use him the way the Oklahoma City Thunder did Westbrook when he transitioned from being a somewhat raw shooting guard at UCLA into an All-Star point guard alongside Kevin Durant on a Finals team.

Magic general manager Rob Henningan proclaimed early on that an explosively athletic combo guard like Oladipo is the "future of the league" in many respects. And Oladipo declared himself ready for his close-up in NBA Summer League play, dazzling at times and showing off facets of his game that he simply could not in college.

A fearless competitor and team-first guy all the way, Oladipo dove in on this experiment from the start.

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"I can play the one, two and if they want to me to play the three, I can do that, too," Oladipo said. "Wherever they need me to play and whatever they think is best for us to win, that's what I'm going to do."

It's not a matter of if Oladipo can make the transition. It's how quickly he manages to make the transition that will determine the course of his rookie season. Veterans Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo have the point guard and shooting guards slots locked down. Oladipo will spell them both and if he's the instant-impact performer the Magic believe him to be, he could force Afflalo to move over and work at small forward to make room for him. Or, he could even supplant Nelson, who could be in for a rough ride in what could be his final season with the franchise.

Whatever happens, Oladipo will continue to provide the things he always has to whatever team he plays for. The unbridled passion and a frantic energy that was missing from the Magic's DNA before his arrival is there now. It was evident the first day of training camp.

"That's something that he's going to bring every day, and I expect him to bring it every day," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "Whether it's in sprints, whether it's in drill work, whether it's playing a scrimmage -- his ability to compete and raise our level of practice -- I'm going to lean on him every single day for that."

Vaughn will have to exercise some restraint where Oladipo is concerned, though. He'll have to make sure that Oladipo's gusto doesn't go overboard, that he doesn't allow his desire to be great overshadow the fact that he's the future face of the franchise. Until we see what happens this season and with the 2014 Draft, he could be the player Orlando builds around.

They need to learn from the way the Thunder allowed Westbrook to mature and play through his mistakes. Some would argue that Westbrook was reigned in enough. Others will argue that you shouldn't get in the way when a player owns as many of the game-changing qualities as a Westbrook or Oladipo has.

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It certainly helps when the player has the wherewithal to recognize the instances when his own ambition crosses the line to recklessness that could hurt his team, as Oladipo did in evaluating his own performance after Summer League and early on in training camp.

"I made some mistakes here and there because I was going a little too fast," he said after that first training camp practice. "I was a little to anxious. but it was fun. It was just a learning process for me. I've got to remember that, because it's easy for me to get frustrated because I want to do well so badly."

That is the attitude the Magic need in the face of their franchise, the presence and poise that will help their prized rookie navigate the rigors of his move up to the next level and his transition between guard spots in the backcourt.

It's also the understanding of the bigger picture that you might expect from a player still getting used to the intense spotlight that is sure to follow him along on his journey.

Three points

1. Glen Davis better get back in the rotation before Tobias Harris takes that starting job at power forward. Harris is a young prospect the Magic get to develop themselves, which is always an enticing prospect for a team in rebuilding mode.

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2. Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn looked really good at times in summer league. Where are they going to play with so many young big men in the mix?

3. Maxiell never did make the transition from solid reserve to full-time starter in Detroit, but he should be a good fit with a Magic team in need of added toughness.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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