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Potential is an interesting thing. It’s exciting, a little bit scary, and truly hard to gauge. Just ask every GM who has participated in an NBA draft. You can crunch the numbers, consult the experts, or even just have a really good feeling about someone. Trouble is, you don’t know. You kind of know, or at least you think you kind of know, but you don’t.
For Orlando, potential is a word you’re going to hear a lot when it comes to Victor Oladipo. In these early stages of his career, it’s hard to know how his development will pan out.
These are the very first steps of Oladipo’s career. He’s an infant. That is not to say that he’s going to steal your crayons and cry when you take his iPad away. He’s just young, malleable, impressionable, and at a pivotal juncture in his development.
For instance, he could decide it’s all about him, and try to leverage his position on a young and largely unsuccessful team to fill the stat sheet and work towards a max contract. He could also choose to resent the fact that he was drafted by a team in transition and purposely avoid a leadership role.
The third option, that of humbly growing within the system, while showcasing his natural abilities without being a ball-hogging prima donna, seems right to most of us, but it’s easier said than done. Nonetheless, it’s the route Dipo looks like he’s chosen, and this has been most evident in the graceful way he has asserted himself in preseason.
Let’s talk details. Through four preseason games, Dipo is averaging 12.2 points, 4.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game. Generally speaking, this is right where you want him, and if he could get those numbers for the entire season, he will have effectively lived up to the hype. But these numbers could be higher, and I’m not so sure that the Magic would prefer that.
Go watch the highlights from the preseason game against the Cavs. Oladipo hit 3s, torched Kyrie Irving off the dribble, and had his midrange jumper falling like rain. A Dipo with hubris might take 10 more shots in that game. He might over-assert himself and force his will. He might get frustrated with his 3-point percentage and try to prove to everyone that he can make them. He might beat Kyrie once and then try to show him up a few more times in the game. Fortunately for Magic fans, we haven’t seen that side from Oladipo, and frankly I do not think it’s in his DNA to play like that.
So when we talk about potential, we typically talk about it in the context of the team. Because why would we care about his potential if it didn’t have an impact on what happens to the Magic as an organization? Ultimately, it’s all about winning games, contending for titles, and so on.
So the question is how much room does Oladipo have to improve in ways that will help the Magic be good again? For some guys, that means being a constant double-double threat. For others, it means playing lockdown defense and never conceding an inch to your opponent.
Dipo is a bit of a hybrid as far as potential goes. He’ll need to score. He’ll need to command the offense. He’ll need to guard good players. He’ll need to shoot the ball well. And so on and so forth. That doesn’t mean he needs to be the best at any one of these. It means he needs to be solid at all of them. That’s the type of player he was in college, and from what we’ve seen so far in preseason, that’s the type of player he is hoping to be in the NBA.
As far as evidence, of which we have little, Oladipo seems to have defined his potential sphere. While some might criticize the man this season if he doesn’t live up to arbitrary expectations, the best thing Dipo can do is put his head down and listen to the important voices in his ear: Jacque Vaughn, Jameer Nelson, and any other veteran he might have the pleasure of hanging out with. The good news is, he’s already seemingly doing that.
That’s part of what makes his early highlight reel so special. He’s making a lot of his buckets look easy, he’s scoring in a multitude of ways, but he’s not ball-hogging. He’s playing within the system. He’s thinking, learning, growing, and developing. All the while, he’s delivering. No, not at an All-Star rate, but at the exact rate he should be delivering, the rate of a budding young player who is still in his infancy of his career.
Several years down the road, Oladipo may develop into a perennial All-Star who gets bucket after bucket. He may be the guy that needs to be double-teamed in the second half of nearly every game he plays. Teams might start sticking their best defender on him to keep him locked up. But that’s not right now, and Oladipo knows that better than anyone else. To get to that point, you have to learn to walk first.
We’ve seen GMs swing and miss in the draft. We’ve seen hype turn into nothing but asinine contracts. I don’t think that is the case with Victor Oladipo. Thus far, it appears he’s making the right steps in reaching his potential and living up to the hype.