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Victor Oladipo is a rookie guard, still only 21 years old, so he’s struggled a little bit with the pick-and-roll, the predominate action NBA teams run after the implementation of zone defenses and the end of hand-checking. As such, ‘Dipo’s success or failure in the NBA can be tied to his ability to efficiently score out of the pick-and-roll or help his teammates score.
Except, as noted, he’s a rookie, and navigating the various defenses he’s faced isn’t the easiest thing in the world for a guard that only came into his own offensively in his junior season at Indiana. Before then, he was a hawkish, defensive guard, unused to much ballhandling and the split-second decision making elite point guards perform as naturally as breathing.
As such, we thought it best to note some of Oladipo’s primary mistakes to best acculturate him on the pick-and-roll strategies of the masters: Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, etc.
Once a big, or a wing, sets a screen, whether its at the top of the key (more likely), or on the wing, Oladipo has to either turn the corner and take it all the way to the iron, pull up for the jumper (usually from midrange), hit the man rolling to the rim, hit the man popping out, or hit the man who is open once Oladipo makes the turn and forces another defender to rotate over. Oh, and he has to do this all within the split-second it takes the defense to react — at least the better defenses (we aren’t talking about the Sacramento Kings here).
Of all of Victor’s possessions ending in a field goal attempt, foul, or turnover, 40.4 percent of them start in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy. That’s a huge percentage of his offensive touches, which is why it’s so important to look at how he’s handling that responsibility within the Magic’s offense. Sure, he’s going to improve, but what are some of the things he needs to work on? What are the early pick-and-roll peccadilloes we can identify, so he can clean them up as the season progresses?
Obviously there are going to be growing pains, but what has ‘Dipo shown us in the pick-and-roll during his first trimester at the NBA level?
Let’s break down the three different results from a pick-and-roll: finishing at the rim, pulling up for a jumper, and turning the ball over.
It’s that last one Oladipo has struggled with through his opening 25-plus games at the NBA level, but it’s important to keep in mind his age and experience. This is constructive criticism and in no way a critique that should extend beyond the usual growing pains of a young NBA guard.
Turnovers out of the pick-and-roll
Since ‘Dipo is a rookie, it makes more sense to compare him to some other rookie guards rather than the top guards around the league. He’s still sharing the ball with Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, but he’s getting more offensive reps than most of his peers. Still, he really needs to take care of the ball more. He’s slack with his handle sometimes, and it can get him into trouble when he’s careening past a screen.
He’s turning the ball 20.1 percent of the time he’s initiating a pick-and-roll that ends in a shot, foul, or turnover, per Synergy. That’s higher than rookie peers Michael Carter-Williams (17.2 percent) and Trey Burke (15.4 percent). Burke is also shooting better than either Oladipo or Carter-Williams from the field and from behind the arc out of the pick-and-roll, so Utah might have found their point guard of the future.
But Oladipo’s turnovers are coming as a result of poor mastery of the ball. Remember, ‘Dipo isn’t a natural point guard. He’s long and athletic enough to play the two-spot, but even shooting guards need to run the pick-and-roll on occasion, and the Magic have given Victor a lot of responsibility in that role.
First, he has to cut down on the slopping dribbling. Watch as Nikola Vucevic comes up beyond the arc to set the screen. The Hawks immediately double ‘Dipo and force the turnover for a fast break opportunity going the other way.
It shouldn’t be that easy to frazzle Oladipo. Sure, the Heat do it all the time when they trap pick-and-rolls above the arc, but that’s the Heat, and these are the Hawks. ‘Dipo should have either split the double, or pass through it to Vucevic.
And here ‘Dipo is jumping in the air behind the screen, a big no-no if you don’t have a pass to throw. Turnover, yet again.
These two examples don’t even feature the errant passes that have made up a lot of ‘Dipo’s turnovers. He’ll either throw the ball out of bounds, or into a defenders hands in an attempt to thread the needle. He doesn’t do well in traffic yet, and he can rush the entry pass sometimes before his teammate has rolled past the first defender.
Driving out of the pick-and-roll
Not only is Oladipo making some careless mistakes (that Magic fans all hope subside with more experience), but he has a tendency to rush when the screener is coming over.
The best pick-and-roll players in the league wait for the screen, and even pause a fraction of a second longer than they need to after the screener rolls. Younger players will often make their move early before the screener has fully planted. This problem is that it’s the easiest way for a screener to pick up an offensive foul, especially with the referees making moving screens, or screens where a defender gets tripped or knocked back by an errant foot or a wide elbow, a point of emphasis this season.
Watch here as ‘Dipo goes early on the pick-and-roll and forces a bad shot from the left baseline, rather than using Jason Maxiell’s screen to get to the middle of the floor where he can put more pressure on the defense, even though Maxiell’s defender jumps out.
But man, it’s glorious watching the way ‘Dipo can sometimes accelerate past the screener’s man on the way to the rim. His athleticism is off-the-charts and that explosive step isn’t something you can teach or glean from watching tape. You either have it or you don’t, and Oladipo has it. You almost have to put him in pick-and-roll situations high above the arc to take advantage of that speed and quickness. You’ll notice Washington’s John Wall does a lot better the higher out the screen comes for him.
Now here, he also goes a little early, but it pays off with a bucket plus the foul, so we can’t just tell Victor to always wait for the screen, since he’ll sometimes spot an opening before that screen arrives and he should take advantage of it. But spotting those openings takes more experience handling the ball in the pick-and-roll.
But you got to preach patience. ‘Dipo can finagle easier buckets for his teammates if he draws the pick out for a beat longer, rather than just relying on his first step to get past the first defender (and often the second). However, that ability to wait just a hair longer takes years of practice, and we can’t expect the rookie to have mastered all the nuances and player undulations in a good pick-and-roll so early in his career.
Shooting out of the pick-and-roll
Here are a couple instances of ‘Dipo getting set after the pick to shoot. The first is from behind the arc, where the defenders switch, and he takes advantage of that confusion to knock down a 3-pointer.
In this one, he calmly takes what the defense gives him, and sets his feet before taking the jumper on the left wing.
Oladipo isn’t shooting well overall (close to Ola-dipping below 40 percent overall — sorry), but he is shooting slightly better out of the pick-and-roll (41.9 percent). That’s because he sometimes gets enough separation from the pick to take his time with the jumper. Defenders are hedging a little and going under screens, to avoid that first-step, and it’s giving him more time to get set.
He’s improved his shooting a lot while he was at Indiana and should continue to improve his shot at this level. Magic fans can only hope that he’ll improve his pick-and-roll play, too.