Oladipo Showing Much Growth as Combo Guard
By John Denton
Dec. 9, 2014
ORLANDO – Assuredly, Victor Oladipo has had more impressive individual plays and gaudier statistical nights, but never has his growth as a combo guard been more apparent than a couple of mesmerizing stretches from the two most recent games played by the Orlando Magic.
In Utah this past Friday, Oladipo kick-started a game-sealing run for the Magic where he got to the rim for a layup, then penetrated the lane three different times for drive-and-kick baskets by Tobias Harris (two of them 3-pointers) and finally he finished off the Jazz with another back-breaking layup. The 18-6 spurt – with Oladipo having a hand in 12 of the points – was the knock-out punch in Orlando’s 98-93 victory.
Then, a night later in Sacramento and the Magic listing after letting a nine-point lead shrink to three in the third quarter Oladipo once again put an imprint on the game. He blew past Darren Collison for a layup, drove a second time and found Harris for a corner 3-pointer and then cut hard off the right hip of center Kyle O’Quinn for a nifty reverse layup. And just when the Kings through the onslaught was complete, Oladipo broke down the defense once again with a hard drive only to kick the ball out to a waiting Evan Fournier, who drilled a 3-pointer that gave Orlando a 13-point lead.
Another 12-2 burst – this time with Oladipo being responsible for 10 of the points – led the Magic to victory and left the guard’s teammates in awe of his dynamic abilities as a playmaker.
``Him being more of a floor general out there and making plays for other guys, it helps our team so much. I think what he’s realizing now is that when he gets everybody else going he’s able to get a lot more open shots for himself,’’ said Harris, who has six 3-pointers in the past two games – five of them coming off assists from Oladipo. ``For us that’s been huge and that’s truly why we’ve been winning the games that we’ve winning. It’s because the way he’s playing and the way he’s running our team.’’
After enduring two debilitating injuries and a couple of weeks of lingering rust, Oladipo has found his playmaking form of late and the Magic (9-14) have been playing good basketball because of it. On the Magic’s recent six-game roadtrip, Oladipo scored a season-high 27 points against Golden State, but it was the games against Utah – where he either scored or assisted on 35 points – and Sacramento – where he accounted for 34 points – where he had the biggest impact.
A shooting guard all his basketball life, Oladipo is still making the adjustment to playing mostly point guard for the Magic. He admits that he still has trouble from time-to-time at walking the fine line of setting up others for scores while also remaining aggressive himself.
``I feel like I’m getting better, but it’s a process and I’m still learning,’’ Oladipo said before practice on Wednesday. ``I’m only in my second year and I’m learning on the fly as well.’’
Everything that Oladipo has learned could come into play on Wednesday night when the Magic host Washington (14-6) and all-star guard John Wall. Not only have the Wizards beaten Orlando six straight times, including twice already this season, Wall has been a big tormenter of the Magic. In that six-game run, Wall has blistered the Magic for 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 10.8 assists while shooting 42.4 percent and hitting 11 3-pointers.
``This is a team that pretty much has been able to have their way with us,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``They’re very physical and that gives us problems. Their ability to shoot the basketball, particularly with (Bradley) Beal being back in the lineup. And then John Wall’s ability to put his stamp on the game. We saw that last night in the Boston game – his ability to push his team is pretty impressive.’’
Oladipo, a native of surburban Washington, D.C., has watched Wall since the latter came into the NBA five seasons ago. He’s seen Wall come into the league as a guard who struggled to shoot the ball and relied more on his quickness and passing abilities to set others up. For Oladipo, it’s been just the opposite for a player who was a standout shooting guard in college who is still learning many of the nuances of playing the point in the pros.
And, as he’s found out while playing the NBA’s deepest position, there are no off nights in the NBA when facing superstar point guards like Wall almost nightly.
````I mean, who isn’t an elite point guard in our league?’’ Oladipo said with a smile. ``I have to get juiced up every night no matter who it is. I’m looking forward to this game against Washington. It’s going to be exciting and a tough game, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good test for us. We’ve got to come out with more energy and be ready to play.’’
Oladipo admitted recently that he’s had to learn how to watch film ``as a point guard.’’ Rather than focusing on the ball or the shot going up, Oladipo has had to train himself to learn the roles of every player and also figure out their likes and dislikes. The conversion is something that Vaughn – a former point guard for 12 NBA seasons – has tried to work with Oladipo on.
``He’s still learning how to watch it as a basketball player,’’ Vaughn cracked. ``His ability to see not only himself, but to also see what the intent of the play was and what were we trying to get out of it and what he did right and wrong. A lot of it comes down to him being able to read the film and he’s getting better.’’
Oladipo, who comes into Wednesday’s home game averaging 14.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals a game, was never better as a playmaking point guard than Orlando’s solid 3-3 road trip to the West Coast.
Against Golden State, he attacked the smaller Steph Curry and made 10 of 14 shots – four of the baskets coming on layups, three on mid-range shots and three of them being 3-pointers. Against Utah, he dominated his matchup against former Big 10 rival Trey Burke with 20 points and six assists. And he was at his do-everything best against Sacramento with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
To be fair, Oladipo has gotten plenty of rookie point guard Elfrid Payton (6.5 ppg., 3.4 rpg. and 5 apg.), who has allowed the second-year pro to play off the ball at times during games. Also, Vaughn hasn’t tried to turn Oladipo into something that he’s not and the coach still refers to him as ``a guard,’’ instead of ``point guard’’ or ``shooting guard.’’
``I think he’s having a balance of when to pass the basketball and when to be in attack mode. That’s a tough balance,’’ Vaughn said. ``One of my mentors – John Stockton – there are no more of those guys and we’re not expecting anyone on our roster to resemble John Stockton. The guys who have the basketball in their hands have their own, unique talents and we’re going to try and push those talents forward.’’
Harris, who also played some of the best basketball of his career on the latest road trip, said that he recently had a heart-to-heart talk with Oladipo when the guard was struggling with knowing when to set up others for shots and when to look for his own opportunities. Harris, a leader for Orlando on and off the floor, said he’s tried to stress to Oladipo that the Magic can’t be successful if he’s not staying in attack mode and making plays for others.
And when Oladipo does do that, it makes the Magic a very difficult team to stop offensively – something that was evidenced late in the wins against Utah and Sacramento when Oladipo was at his playmaking best.
``He’s our floor general and our point guard. I’ve told him, `We’re only going to go as far as you take us as the (point guard),’’’ Harris said candidly. ``I think he’s doing an amazing job at it. He’s only been doing this job as a point guard for about a year, but Vic has a willingness to get better and that’s what makes him so special.’’