Relentless Summer: Victor Oladipo’s Offseason Pledge

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

It was his best season as a professional. No doubt about it. But for 25-year old guard Victor Oladipo, the 2016-17 season didn’t make him feel validated. It shined a brighter light on where he wants to keep growing.

The numbers were truly solid for Oladipo in his first season with the Thunder – a year in which he played on a team that won 47 games, just one fewer than he did in his first two NBA seasons combined and 12 more than the 35 games he won during his third year in the league. In his fourth NBA season, alongside his new teammates in Oklahoma City, Oladipo maintained a level of production and efficiency, but did it in an environment with much higher expectations.

“He had his most efficient year as a player,” Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti stated. “The thing that's impressive to me about what Victor did is the fact that he did it with less usage, so he kept his production at a certain level, an expected level, but he did it without using the ball quite as much.”

Sliding into his new role and fitting into the group, Oladipo averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 33.2 minutes per game this past season, but a deeper dive into the numbers shows a player who made more of his opportunities than he ever had in the past. He shot a career-best 44.2 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from the three-point line, including an incredible 43.5 percent from the corners.

More than ever in his career, Oladipo scored on catch-and-shoot opportunities, the beneficiary of assists. He technically only played about two percent of his minutes this season with the ball in his hands as a point guard, but he did spend some time leading the second unit as a traditional lead guard in the postseason.

Even if he’s not the one bringing the ball up the floor in the customary manner, Oladipo is always acting as a playmaker for the Thunder. He gets the ball off missed shots, in transition in the open floor and in the halfcourt as well through movement. When he does, it gives him a chance to create by attacking the paint to score or to dish to teammates.

“I've always looked at Victor as a playmaker regardless if he's bringing the ball across half court or not,” Head Coach Billy Donovan noted.

In the playoffs, however, Oladipo admittedly struggled. The intensity and precision of the game elevates then. It was his first taste of postseason NBA basketball, and he couldn’t find the rhythm on his shot. What that experience taught him as a scorer and a defender, plus his continuing education about how he can put his teammates in position to score, will be a focus this offseason. In fact, Oladipo was very reflective at the end of the season, and brought to mind another time he felt similarly about the work he needed to put into his game.

“There was one summer I remember very, very much. The summer going into my last year in college before I got drafted,” Oladipo recalled. “I remember the work I had to put in. It's going to be very similar to the work I have to put in now, so I'm looking forward to it.”

The summer that Oladipo is referencing was in 2012, as he prepared for his final year at Indiana University. He impressively graduated in just three years, while also getting himself in peak condition to make a giant leap on the basketball floor.

His scoring average jumped nearly three points to 13.6 per game, and he averaged 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. But what was most remarkable was his efficiency, all while maintaining his reputation as one of the country’s most tenacious defenders. As a 6-foot-4 guard, Oladipo shot 59.9 percent from the field, including an incredible 64.4 percent on two-pointers and 44.1 percent from three-point range. He was named a consensus 1st Team All-America and the NABC Defensive Player of the Year.

Childhood friend and current Thunder teammate Jerami Grant had a chance to talk with Oladipo some that summer. Before he exploded onto the NCAA scene and became the 2nd overall pick in the draft, Oladipo logged hours upon hours on the floor and in the weight room. Between the intense workouts, the conversations between buddies were brief.

“He was just in the gym all day,” Grant said. “I remember talking to him a little bit during – well not really during because he was focused. (I just knew) that it was brutal, but he knew he had to go through it.”

The clarity he experienced in Bloomington has renewed again. With a five-game glimpse of playoff basketball, Oladipo feels his eyes have been opened to what he must become for the Thunder to take a step forward. Between now and September when training camp begins, Oladipo will bunker down once more.

“It's going to be a very relentless summer,” Oladipo said. “I just use it as motivation, and I'm going to come back better.”