Oladipo Spending Countless Hours in Gym Improving Shot

By John Denton
Oct. 19, 2015

ORLANDO – It was already more than an hour after the Orlando Magic’s practice had ended and most of Victor Oladipo’s teammates were long gone, yet the standout guard locked himself into a setting that was seemingly out of one of those Snickers commercials.

You know, as in, ``Not going anywhere for awhile …’’

Oladipo had already gone through a two-hour practice and another 60 minutes of drills working to perfect his decision-making in pick-and-roll sets and his shooting off dribble-handoff plays. Then came the outside shooting session where Oladipo had to make at least eight of 10 tries from five different spots around the 3-point stripe.

Fatigue was clearly setting in, but none of that mattered to the guard. He got close on his first try, drilling seven of his first nine shots and needed only a corner look to head for the showers. But it uncharacteristically missed.

Then, the second, third and fourth tries ended prematurely because of consecutive misses. Drill-mates Aaron Gordon and Shabazz Napier were already finished and in the locker room and even rookie Mario Hezonja, who had been working on the other end of the court, was done for the day.

But Oladipo pushed on. And by the fifth time around the arc he made nine of 10 3-point shots – an impressive feat even with no defenders around him. There was no way, Oladipo stressed, that he was leaving the gym without hitting the goal for the shooting session. Even if it would have taken him all night.

``Damn-sure would have been,’’ he said with a sly smile referring to the possibility of him having to stay all night.

``When you know you can finish the drill, you finish the drill,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m a good enough shooter now to finish drills. So I wasn’t going anywhere until I finished that drill.’’

Of all the tools in Oladipo’s arsenal – and there are more now than in his previous two NBA seasons after another summer of work on his game – it’s his unbreakable will that might be the most dominant. It drives him daily to be better and, at times, it becomes infectious to his Magic teammates and it lifts them to higher levels.

Oladipo’s will was on display this past Saturday night when the Magic thumped Flamengo 90-73 in Brazil. The completely partisan crowd at the HSBC Center in Rio came to root on the home team, and they were singing and chanting even before the game started. But minutes into the night, Oladipo took away any intrigue by taking over the game with his energy, skill level and willpower. He was so good at everything he did – he scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds, handed out three assists and pilfered two steals – that during his 28 minutes on the floor the Magic were a plus-28 on the scoreboard.

It was the kind of do-everything performance that had even Oladipo’s teammates amazed at the razor-like focus that he has brought to this season.

``He’s the kind of player who can definitely impose his will on a game,’’ marveled Magic forward Aaron Gordon. ``We’re going to need even more of that from him if we’re going to keep improving. He’s a beast and he’s got a lot of stuff in his game. He’s just going to get better and better as he continues to play.’’

First-year Magic coach Scott Skiles, who himself was once a standout guard who often willed teams with his guile and grit as a player, has been very impressed with how Oladipo has worked to be a leader with his actions this preseason. The two of them talked over the summer about Orlando’s need for Oladipo to be a much more efficient player and the guard took it seriously by working to improve all aspects of his game. Thus far, Skiles couldn’t be more delighted with the progress that Oladipo has made.

``He’s played really well, from the first practice all the way through so far,’’ Skiles said. ``He’s played good defense, he’s bought into what we’re doing, he hasn’t overdribbled and he’s trying to move within the offense and create opportunities where he can. So he’s been great. I really like the way that he’s played so far.’’

Oladipo’s improvement hasn’t been by accident. He made steady improvement from his rookie season to his sophomore season, but it didn’t translate into much team success as Orlando won just 23 games in the 2013-14 season and 25 games in 2014-15.

Because he is such a focal point for everything that Orlando wants to do defensively and on offense, Oladipo knew that he could very well be a barometer for the squad this season. If he could make a jump in everything that he does, that improvement could pay big dividends for a Magic team expecting to make major strides this season.

``I pretty much can shoot it better now and that opens up a lot of things for me,’’ Oladipo said following Monday’s marathon workout session. ``That opens up the mid-range (shot), it opens up the lane for driving. There’s a variety of stuff now that I have in my arsenal. And it’s easier to draw defenders when you can shoot. They’ve got to come and play you and when you can drive they have to come and play you. And that’s what gets other people on the team open.

``The game is really simple and you’ve got to make it that way,’’ he added.

Now in his third NBA season, Oladipo knows that others on the Magic and throughout the NBA are looking to him this season to see what kind of player he’s going to be. Thus far, Oladipo, 23, has been a good, but not great player. He has been limited, at times, by his mediocre perimeter shooting, his struggles finishing around the rim, the lack of variety in his mid-range game and the over-gambling he’s been prone to doing on defense.

Now, Oladipo said he feels more of a responsibility to elevate the Magic with his actions on the court and his words in the locker room. He feels that he’s better prepared to be the kind of player others can feed off of because of the growth in his game.

``I think if I can set the tone everybody can feed off that and it will be contagious,’’ Oladipo said. ``But at the end of the day, I’ve got to bring that edge, that drive and that hunger every game. When things are going good and when things are going bad – because at the end of the day we’re trying to win games here. I have to make that a consistent effort.’’

Oladipo admitted that he’s heard the whispers of those wondering if he can ultimately take his game to the next level of if this is simply who he will forever be as a basketball player. Will he simply be a good player on a Magic squad fighting for some measure of respectability? Or is he poised to become the kind of transcendent figure who can take over games with his will, talent and stubbornness and make the Magic contenders again?

Oladipo himself has wondered about many of those same things. In addition to putting in the work to try and make himself a better player, he’s even turned to a higher power in hopes of exhausting every avenue so that he can get the maximum out of his enormous potential. When he gets to the point that he can be a dominant player every day who makes the Magic better, then Oladipo will know he’s truly elevated his game to the next level, he said.

``Something that I pray about and something that I’m working on is my consistency in my approach and the way that I play every game,’’ the guard said. ``I feel like the greats are consistent and that’s what I’m trying to be.’’