Only five games into Orlando's season, Victor Oladipo has already shown flashes to back up his selection as the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He's throwing down 360 dunks and troubling opposing teams with his freakish athleticism and unrelenting motor.
Still, it's too early to label Oladipo. Five games is a statistically insignificant sample size, and he's yet to settle into a particular role with this Magic team.
Will he continue to come off the bench? Will he play some point guard, as he did during the summer league? These are questions that head coach Jacque Vaughn will answer later rather than sooner.
What we have with Oladipo is a raw look at how he might fit into the NBA. That is to say, how his skill set might adapt to the longer and quicker athletes that the league features.
While the statistics speak in limited and underdeveloped terms, his instinctual movements on the floor—how he positions himself in pick-and-roll defense, how active and precise he is on offense—are all indicators of his play moving forward.
What's shone through the most in these first few games is exactly what propelled Oladipo to the national spotlight: his breathtaking speed and pedal-to-the-metal style of play. In college, it was his greatest strength. Referees called a looser game in the Big Ten, and greater contact and force of will win out more often that not.
When asked about nerves during his opening night in the NBA, Oladipo's quip (via NBA.com) touched on as much: "Maybe a little (nervous) right at the beginning, but once I got out there, it was like two seconds later and I got a foul. Oh wait a second. Then it all sunk in."
The NBA evens the athletic playing field and requires more savvy. Acceleration and proper pace facilitate success more than pure power and speed (excluding LeBron James, Derrick Rose, etc.).
This is the steepest part of the learning curve for Oladipo. Throughout his entire basketball career, he's been faster and quicker by a significant margin. No longer is that the case, and it's cornering him into making poor decisions on the floor.
Take this transition opportunity when Oladipo pushes the ball up the floor against the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn does a nice job in retreat, with four players inside the arc. Still, Oladipo decides to go two-on-four.
Instead of pulling the ball out and resetting the offense, he probes the paint, retreats and pulls up for a mid-range jumper.
The shot looked open, but he was blocked by the lengthy Shaun Livingston. Oladipo settled early in the shot clock before his team's offense could generate something better.
This time, it's the pass. Brooklyn is once again back, but Oladipo fires a 25-foot pass to big man Andrew Nicholson on the move.
Again, patience is the preferred course. Even if Nicholson catches the ball, he is covered. He's also streaking slightly away from the rim, reducing his chances of scoring an immediate basket.
Not to mention that he's not particularly effective as a transition big and isn't the type of player to whom long passes should be thrown.
Much of Orlando's offense has been initiated through pick-and-roll sets with Oladipo. Unfortunately, he's an underdeveloped ball-handler and continues to make basic mistakes both as a distributor and scorer.
The pick-and-roll is all about timing and dictating pace. If the big is slow to roll after the pick, it's up to the point guard to attack the hedging defender or keep his dribble alive to wait for his teammate. If the big rolls quickly, there's only a tiny window to complete that pass.
Oladipo pretty much fails at every read here on this pick-and-roll. After slicing around a solid pick by Nikola Vucevic, Brooklyn's Reggie Evans gets caught in limbo between the perimeter and restricted area. He's out on an island and too far from the rim, leaving Oladipo room to attack the middle using his blow-by speed.
Instead, he waits. While not an ideal decision, he hasn't yet committed to any decisive action...that is until he picks up his dribble and traps himself at the elbow.
Now Evans has the advantage with Oladipo completely stationary. Deron Williams no longer has to pull double duty watching both Vucevic and Oladipo, and he can focus on cutting off the pass to the roller.
Still, Oladipo tries to slip a pass through. He puts a bit too much on it, however, and turns the ball over.
When Oladipo does execute properly, it can be spectacular. This time, Andray Blatche has ventured above the free-throw line, and Oladipo doesn't hesitate.
He turns on the jets, whips out a silky spin move and lays the ball in. This is what he is capable of. Given proper coaching and film work watching his own pick-and-roll possessions, he will come to an understanding of what needs to be done.
This is the potential result:
Or this, when he uses a little change of pace to create a two-on-one underneath the rim for the assist to Vucevic:
Coaches, fans and NBA media alike have been quick to notice Oladipo's game. Grantland's Zach Lowe sums up what we've all been thinking:
There is no question that Oladipo has the raw skills; NBA teams value them above all else because X's and O's can be taught. But it's a fact of the NBA that most players have similar talents. Those who are able to separate themselves from the pack outmaneuver and out-think their opponents.
Paul Pierce is one of the slowest players in the game for his position, yet he has been a prolific scorer in the league for the past decade-plus. Jason Kidd was never a speedster, yet he managed to find holes and lanes to create easy buckets for his teammates. Kobe Bryant, even after nearly two decades in the NBA and endless mileage on his legs, is crafty enough to find ways to score and dish the ball.
It's possible to win by playing slowly, but Oladipo has the speed. Even by NBA standards, he's in the upper echelon in that regard. Whether or not he can squeeze the most out of those natural talents is a matter of work ethic and film study.
Given Oladipo's reputation as a hard worker and student of the game, it shouldn't be long before he picks up these nuances of offense and tempo.
And when he does put it all together, watch out.
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