Oladipo: "I Feel Like I'm No Longer a Rookie"

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
Jan. 21, 2014

NEW YORK – Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo is just 41 games into his first NBA season, but he has a proclamation that might surprise some people. And in many ways, Oladipo’s bold talk lends insight into the soaring confidence of the dazzling combo guard.

``I feel like I’m no longer a rookie,’’ Oladipo said as the Magic hit the official halfway point of the season. ``I’m 41 games in and it’s time to turn up the juice a little bit.’’

It might be hard to imagine Oladipo turning it up even more over the final 41 games of the season considering how well he’s played already as a rookie who has had a lot thrown at him. Despite having to juggle positions and have veteran players test him on a nightly basis, Oladipo has been just the electrifying shot in the arm that the franchise hoped he would be when it drafted him No. 2 overall last June.

Thus far, Oladipo is tied for third on the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game. He’s also contributing 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals a game for a Magic team that has relied on his energy and athleticism during long stretches of this season.

Oladipo will have a big challenge tonight when the Magic (11-30) kick off the second half of the season against the surging Brooklyn Nets. Orlando thumped Brooklyn early in the season when the Nets were being engulfed by the massive expectations surrounding the club. However, the Nets (17-22) have won seven of their last 10 and they routed the rival New York Knicks on Monday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. They were once 11 games below .500 after losing six of seven games to end December, but have since started to play to their potential despite the season-ending injury to center Brook Lopez.

Oladipo, who has shuffled between shooting guard and point guard this season, will likely be matched up with Joe Johnson and/or Deron Williams throughout the game. Johnson has fueled Brooklyn’s resurgence by averaging 24.5 points over the past six games. He had 25 on Monday in the Brooklyn’s 103-80 drubbing of the Knicks.

Per his request, Williams came off the bench on Monday. He had missed the last five games with nagging ankle injuries and didn’t want to damped the chemistry of a starting five that included Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Alan Anderson, Shaun Livingston and Johnson.

Frigid, snowy conditions in the area could make for an interesting night for the Magic. Because of traffic gridlock in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the snow, the Magic needed extra time to get to their shootaround practice on Tuesday morning.

The team is scheduled to fly out after the game so that it can host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at the Amway Center. However, the New York area is expected to get hit with six-to-10 inches of snow and gusty winds. Thousands of flights to and from New York have already been cancelled.

Oladipo is excited about the challenge of trying to slow down all-stars such as Williams and Johnson. Oladipo had a stellar game on Nov. 3 when Orlando rocked Brooklyn 103-86. The rookie contributed 19 points, six rebounds and four assists. And when he swiped the dribble away from Williams in the fourth quarter he finished the play with a dazzling 360-degree dunk.

Oladipo said the awe factor of facing players that he watched play on TV for years is long gone. He said he loves the challenge of facing an all-star player. He said he’s worked hard to become a more mentally strong player who is ready to respond to any challenge.

``We’re going to be in tough games the rest of the way and we have to be tough,’’ he said. ``We’re only halfway through. There are 41 games left, which is like another whole season. And I’m looking forward to it every step of the way.’’

Oladipo said of the many improvements that he still needs to make, he wants to be more assertive and aggressive during the next 41 games of the season. He has been dogged by turnovers at times, twice committing eight and seven miscues in games. Also, his 3.3 turnovers a game lead the Magic.

In time, Oladipo said he will know better when to be aggressive and when the hold back so that others can have scoring opportunities. As a point guard in training, he’s had to walk the fine line of knowing when to get others involved and when to look for his own shot.

Oladipo predicted that Magic fans will see a different sort of player over the next 41 games than they did over the first 41 games. After all, he doesn’t consider himself a rookie any longer and he said he will no longer tolerate himself making rookies mistakes.

``Man, I’ve just got to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor,’’ he said. ``I just feel like I’ve got to be more confident. Not saying that I’m not confident, but it comes in spurts for me right now. I can’t be so passive and second-guessing.’’