Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kids make mistakes, and in the world of the NBA, 21-year-old Victor Oladipo is still a kid. Sure, he’s a pogo stick on the hardwood, but he’s turning the ball over more than you’d like with very few assists to offset those mistakes. He’s not an NBA-level ballhandler yet, and his ability to finish or make decisions after blasting by the first line of defense remains a work in progress.
But ‘Dipo continues to be a fantastic defender, someone Magic fans can count on for the foreseeable future to give a crap about keeping his man out of the lane, going over screens, and using his strength to defend larger shooting guards and wings if they try to post him up. He’s a joy to watch on that side of ball and the team is stingier with him on the court as a whole. But because so often we’re watching games with offense-only blinders, it’s hard not to nag about his blunders out of the gate.
Every time we curse him when gets whistled for double-dribbling or palming, or when he leaves his feet without knowing where he’s going with the ball, or when he tries to thread the needle into an opening that’s no longer there, we forget that until last spring, Oladipo had never legally consumed an alcoholic beverage. He is the Lamb and NBA defenses are the Tyger, even though he’s one of the few recent draftees to have stayed in college for his junior year.
Despite that third year at Indiana, he’s still very, very young, and inexperience is his largest culprit for squiggling his dribble away in the lane. He’s already improved what was once an awful outside shot while at Indiana, and now he can make opposing guards pay when they go underneath that high screen.
But for every double team he tries to split when the defender shows on the other side of that pick, for every palming call he gets called for because he’s a rookie, you just have to smile like you would with a teenager. If you’re coach Jacque Vaughn, you provide encouragement and advice instead of vitriol after every dumb-headed mistake.
I’ve only gone back and looked at ‘Dipo’s performance as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, which makes up 40.9 percent of his offensive possessions that end in a shot, turnover or foul, per Synergy. He’s turning the ball 22.1 percent of the time, which isn’t very good if that’s his predominate method of getting a look.
But whenever you’re watching him forcing the action or playing just a little out of control, remember how out of control you were when your friends took you home following your first night out as a legal drinker.
Then compound that by all the unusual stressors that can knock rookies down before they’ve even gotten settled: the new money, the groupies, the older and usually stronger opponents and teammates that have been doing this professionally for a long time.
Those first couple years after kids get an undergraduate degree can often make or break how their adult life shapes up. That’s where Oladipo stands right now, on the threshold of doing something great. Lets remind ourselves of that the next time he throws the ball directly to a defender.