Projecting Victor Oladipo's Ceiling After Breakout Start

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2014

USA Today

The first half-season of Victor Oladipo's career has been no different than a vast majority of players who enter the NBA. There are constant adjustments to make and numerous struggles to battle through. 

So much is to be learned, and (hopefully) so much improvement is to be made. But Oladipo isn't like the vast majority in that he was selected with the second overall pick. Real results are expected quicker for him than most rookies.

So far, in a season where he's been in and out of the starting lineup, Oladipo has played like the clear "work in progress" he is, but his glorious upside has also been on display. Before getting into the nitty-gritty, here's a side-by-side comparison of Oladipo's current campaign with Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook's rookie season.

A three-time All-NBA Second Team member, Westbrook is similar to Oladipo in that both played lots of time at point guard, despite having the mentality and body of a shooting guard.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

One of the best things about Oladipo's game so far is he's already figured out how to get to the rim. His 5.8 drives per game are comparable with Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (5.9), who plays nearly six more minutes a game

Even though he does a great job coming back to his right hand and finishing on the right side, Oladipo struggles badly converting at the rim, shooting just 55.6 percent in the restricted area and 28.3 percent in the paint (non-restricted area). 

Both figures are well below league average, per Also below average? Oladipo's three-point shooting.

He's one of eight players in the league to have attempted at least 100 threes but make less than 29 percent of them, per Basketball-Reference. Not great, but keep in mind he's a 21-year-old rookie; there's plenty of time for that shot to improve, and it's not the worst thing in the world that he's launching three per game in the Orlando Magic's anemic offense. 

John Raoux/Associated Press

Most of Oladipo's scoring comes off pick-and-rolls, and if his screener's man is sagging, he'll either rush forward and try to blow past him or pull up off the dribble somewhere around the foul line. Oladipo is already about an average mid-range shooter (38.7 percent). Once he improves and grows more comfortable attacking in that area, he'll be an incredibly difficult cover.

Where he gets in trouble, unfortunately, is when he tries to get teammates involved. A lot of the focus on Oladipo's rookie season has been about how he's playing out of position as a ball-dominant point guard instead of the off-ball scorer it seems his game is more suited for.

This is partially true. He looks uncomfortable running a pick-and-roll when the defense forces him to pass, and whenever he meets a trap (the strategy more and more teams are defending him with), Oladipo will try dribbling out, which usually ends in disaster.

John Raoux/Associated Press

According to mySynergySports, Oladipo turns it over 19.7 percent of the time whenever he's the ball-handler on a pick-and-roll. That number is atrocious. He tries splitting double-teams instead of making the simple pass. Given his age, experience level and Orlando's long-term goals, this still isn't too discouraging.

Oladipo is a fast learner. The rate at which he's showing improvement is impressive. He's nowhere near being able to read a defense, hit his spot and then find the open guy, but his speed and athleticism open clear paths that can end with him at the rim (as was the case when he scored 35 points against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 15). 

Jacque Vaughn said Victor Oladipo is "just scratching the surface" as an offensive player. He's working every day to add an in-between game.

— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) January 17, 2014

He's averaging 3.8 assists per game, with most of them coming on designed plays where Oladipo is stationary, feeding a cutting teammate. Again, there's no reason to think he won't get better here, because that's what young basketball players are supposed to do. As he learns defensive rotations and how to attack the second level, his 3.8 assists will go up and his 3.3 turnovers per game will go down.

LM Otero/Associated Press

His ability to thrive at point guard is certainly the most interesting aspect of his development. But most scouts believed Oladipo's greatest strength regardless of position would be on defense.

Here's what Draft Express had to say about Oladipo's defensive ability last February:

Oladipo's intrigue as an NBA prospect starts with his abilities as a perimeter defender. An elite athlete with a chiseled frame and solid size and length for an NBA shooting guard, Oladipo combines his outstanding physical tools with a relentless motor, often overwhelming players at the college level as an on-ball defender and causing havoc off the ball. 

So far, he hasn't been perfect, but there are a ton of positive signs that outweigh the negatives. He's proven capable of defending three positions, and he's rarely beat off the dribble by any of them. 

Oladipo's feet move with the controlled ferocity of a jackhammer. He's disciplined on the ball and stays in front of his man. As a help defender, he's also solid, more guilty of over-helping due to dribble penetration from other spots on the court than general aloofness about where his man is at all times.

Guarding the pick-and-roll, Oladipo fights hard over screens and is quick enough to go under them, then recover and give a solid contest. He understands which way to funnel his man and how to "ice" side pick-and-rolls (jumping in front of a screen and using the sideline as a help defender).

Here's a picture of him doing so against Michael Carter-Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers. Seconds later, Carter-Williams threw a crosscourt pass out of bounds.


Forty games isn't quite large enough to predict whether someone will be a perennial All-Star, an above-average starter or merely a solid rotation player. What we do know regarding Oladipo is he can hold his own at the NBA level.

More mistakes will be made, especially on offense, where he's basically learning how to play a new position on the fly, but the benefits are clear if he can get it down. 

Oladipo is longer and stronger than most point guards, and if he can master the spot, he'll create mismatches throughout his entire career.

It's just one reason why Oladipo's "ceiling" is so high, and going from what we've seen so far, there's no reason to believe he won't eventually touch it. 


Michael Pina has bylines at Bleacher Report, Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.