AP Photo/Matt York
The players that we consider the NBA’s best defenders — at perimeter positions, at least — are usually those who guard the ballhandler well: the Tony Allens, the Paul Georges, and the Andre Iguodalas of the league.
Perhaps players feel particularly pressured to guard the ball well, since everyone is always watching what the ballhandler is doing, therefore if you get beaten and scored on, everybody will notice.
Naturally, this notion of giving so much praise to the elite one-on-one defenders means that the best defenders off the ball will often fly under the radar.
Not that the players mentioned above don’t play great defense off the ball, but with fans putting so much emphasis on the ability to shut down a player in isolation, the players doing the work off the ball will often go unnoticed — the guys who are willing to fight through the hard contact of a screen while chasing a shooter, the guys who know whether to go over or under the player making the dribble handoff: the Victor Oladipos.
Coming out of college, Victor Oladipo was expected to be an impactful defensive player at the NBA level, but the jump in offensive talent from college to the pros is huge, and it’s not uncommon for elite college defenders to struggle defensively in their rookie year.
For Victor, that hasn’t been the case.
It hasn’t just been his offensive game that has been surprisingly good this season — ‘Dipo has thrived defensively, particularly in the aforementioned category of defense off the ball.
Victor is ranked 13th in the league in defending players coming off screens and in defending players coming off a handoff pass, per Synergy Sports. Have a look at the seriously low field goal/3-point percentages he allows in these situations:
Not only is this pure testimony to how hard Victor works on the defensive end, but also to the great decisions he makes.
See here for instance, as he has two pin-down screens set on him by David West and Paul George, which all but take him out of the play, yet he doesn’t give up on the possession and still gets out to at least somewhat contest the 3-pointer.
Another good example of his hustle is displayed here, as he fights through the down-screen set by Amir Johnson to get out and put a hand up as Greivis Vasquez attempts the 3-point shot.
As mentioned earlier, it’s not just Victor’s ability to fight through screens that is valued on the defensive end. He also reads and plays dribble-handoffs just as well as anybody.
Granted, players do generally shoot worse off dribble-handoffs than they do in other situations — Stephen Curry, for instance, shoots 29.3 percent off handoffs compared to 40.6 percent when spotting up — but considering Oladipo’s opponents are shooting below 30 percent in these situations, and he has such a high league-wide rank in defending them, he must be doing something right.
When defending a handoff beyond the arc, Oladipo’s preference seems to be to go under the player handing off the ball. If he respects the shooter, he’ll quickly recover to either get a hand up and contest the shot, or force them to put the ball on the floor. If he doesn’t respect the shooter, he’ll recover far more slowly, daring them to shoot.
Here’s an example of the former, as he hustles back to Kevin Martin to force the miss.
And the latter, closing out slowly on below-average 3-point shooter Reggie Jackson, who obliges by taking the shot, and missing.
Victor showing these types of defensive instincts in his rookie year is an excellent sign that he’ll grow into becoming one of the top wing defenders in the NBA. He has already proven to be a solid defender on the ball, with good foot speed, lateral quickness, quick hands, and superb athletic ability. Granted, there are times when Oladipo loses his man off the ball — usually from backdoor cuts — but those are fixable errors.
When combined with the great hustle and decision-making that he’s shown, and taking into account the great offensive strides he’s made, ‘Dipo is showing that he has all the capabilities to be a truly excellent two-way player in the future.