Photos by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images
Victor Oladipo’s best asset might be his versatility. Few guards in the league boast his combination of strength, length, athleticism, intensity and burgeoning overall offensive skill-set. In Oladipo, the Orlando Magic drafted a player certainly capable of defending multiple positions. And this summer, the Magic made clear they thought the rookie could play more than one spot on the other end, too.
Whether or not Oladipo has the makings of a full-time point guard is mostly irrelevant for now. Jacque Vaughn’s team has no playoff ambitions this season, and is content spending another season — and high lottery pick — building from the mess left by Dwight Howard’s departure.
Oladipo projected as a playmaking guard leading up to the draft anyway, too. He’d always spend at least a near lion’s share of time with the ball in his hands — his eventual role was never going to be as a jump-shooting, off-ball screen using marksman.
So it makes sense on several levels for the Magic to experiment with him running the show, but the reality could be that his play as a point guard this season won’t matter. Oladipo’s future wasn’t as a Chris Paul-type floor general in June, and it won’t be after his rookie year, either. Another ballhandler will usually be at his side for his time with the Magic. The positional distinctions might very well prove meaningless in the long-run. Oladipo’s ability to do different things on offense makes that scenario the most likely.
So it’s hardly unexpected that he’ll score and assist in many different capacities. Ball-screens, transition, 3-pointers, catch-and-shoot — Oladipo has the tools to create most every manner of offense for Orlando. And after his best professional performance to date — 22 points (9-for-19 shooting), five rebounds, and six assists against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday — it’s clear he’s comfortable taking an additional route to creating, too.
Via post-ups. Post-ups? Yes, post-ups. Check out the video.
Oladipo as a threat from the block is a wrinkle that was hard to see coming. He operated almost exclusively from the wing at Indiana, where crowded halfcourt offense — thanks to the shorter 3-point line in college — and the presence of Cody Zeller prevented the opportunities he saw against San Antonio. And what a shame! It’s very, very early, but all indications point to Oladipo having the comfort, knack and vision to thrive as a creator in the mid-post.
In the clip above, Oladipo hits a turnaround over Manu Ginobili, draws double-teams and finds the open man, splits defenders for a thunderous dunk and exploits an overplay by darting back door for an easy layup. All of this is encouraging, and again, mostly unexpected. The patience Oladipo exhibits in these situations might be what’s most impressive. He refuses to rush, instead goading the defense into adjustments and taking the best route to a basket from there. Great, great stuff.
But the preseason caveat casts a skeptical light on Oladipo’s exploits from the post. Is this replicable during the regular season? As far shot-making goes, no one really knows. The fickle nature of basketball means that smooth jumper or high-arching layup might not fall when the lights are brighter.
But from a scheme perspective? Based on what we saw against the Spurs, there’s no reason to think the Magic can’t find Oladipo ample opportunities from that spot on the left block extended.
In each highlighted sequence (except the last one — the rookie just makes a sly play there), the action begins with the ball in Oladipo’s hands on the right wing. He initiates play by swinging the ball to the top of the key, then takes a back-screen at the near elbow from an Orlando wing to get to the left post. Easy enough and certainly sustainable, especially considering San Antonio switched that pick on one instance, and Oladipo was playing shooting guard alongside Ronnie Price for another.
Who knows if this becomes a staple of Orlando’s offensive sets during the regular season?
But it’s clear that Vaughn and company have seen enough from Oladipo in practice that this is action worth experimentation. After the overwhelming success the Magic enjoyed last night with the ball in their prized rookie’s hands down low, it will be interesting to watch as the season wears on. And if Oladipo makes good on this early promise from the post in the long-run, it will be just another aspect the opponent must monitor.