The “sophomore slump” is something most NBA second-year players go through to some extent. After a full year of scouting, opposing teams have the book on how to stop said youngsters from getting what they want on the court.
The Orlando Magic’s Victor Oladipo is not one of those players.
Oladipo has not only beaten the sophomore slump—he’s thrown it on the ground, trampled it for awhile and danced the cha-cha on top of it. Knowing him, he probably taunted it with a song, too.
From last season to this one, the 22-year-old shooting guard has upped his per-game scoring from 13.8 to 17.5 and his field-goal percentage from 41.9 to 45.4 while decreasing his turnovers from a ghastly 3.2 to a manageable 2.8.
Oladipo’s in pretty good company with his numbers, too—only he, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Grant Hill have averaged at least 17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists while handing the ball to the opposition fewer than 2.9 times before turning 23 years old. All four of those players Oladipo was listed with didn’t just become stars in the NBA. They became superstars.
But is the former Indiana star headed toward a similarly amazing career? Let’s look at what the future may have in store for the Magic combo guard.
The main point of potential for Oladipo is his freakish athleticism. Just watch the below video to get an idea of the sort of acrobatics he can pull off in games.
At 6’4″ and a compact 210-pound build, Oladipo has both superstar-level explosiveness and strength necessary to blossom into a star.
But what about his skills? Although offensive exploits are often what gets players into the “superstar” discussion, defense is Oladipo’s strong suit. According to NBA.com’s Josh Cohen, “Oladipo generally guards the opposing team’s best player and tends to [fare] well against them. … All tied to his relentless work ethic and determination to improve, Oladipo plays with boundless energy and drive. He never quits on a play, dives for all loose balls and is willing to fight for rebounds against big guys in the paint.”
He’s not perfect on defense yet by any means, still allowing 47.9 percent shooting to the main he guards, per NBA.com, but his activity and potential on that end is undeniably excellent.
The offensive end is where Oladipo needs more work. Coming out of college, the former No. 2 overall draft pick didn’t have a clear-cut position. His jumper was a bit shaky for a shooting guard, and he wasn’t a good enough ball-handler and playmaker to play the point.
In some ways, those criticisms were fair. Oladipo has only shot 36.6 percent from 10-16 feet and 37.0 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line in his NBA career and his assists-to-turnover ratio is just 1.33.
However, some of the offensive work Oladipo has needed to do is being done as we speak. In his four March games so far, the Magic combo guard is averaging 28.3 points, 5.8 assists and 3.0 turnovers on 54.4 percent shooting. He probably won’t keep those numbers up the rest of the season, but he’s showing the rest of the league he is capable of handling a large portion of a team’s scoring load.
Speaking of being that go-to scorer that people associate with superstardom, Oladipo’s ability to create his own offense stacks up quite nicely with some of the NBA’s best perimeter scorers.
Oladipo is unassisted on a whopping 63.3 percent of his field-goal makes, behind James Harden’s 73.4 percent and LeBron James’ 65.9 percent. Stephen Curry lags slightly behind, at just 58.7 percent.
So, looking toward’s Oladipo’s future, he may never have a clear-cut position, but that’s not a bad thing. He’ll continue to play well at both the point and shooting guard positions, playing maniacal defense against whoever he’s matched up against. On the offensive end, he’ll continue to develop his mid-range game and ball handling to further refine his skill set. Hopefully, his young Magic teammates can also capitalize on their potential and give Oladipo some more help on both ends of the floor, which I believe they will.
In his prime, the 22-year-old can be the No. 1 scoring option on a good team. If he’s on a championship-level team, Oladipo may take the second banana role on offense, a la Scottie Pippen, preserving his energy to shut down opposing perimeter players.
Oladipo isn’t a lock for superstardom, but he’s got a great chance to be one of the top 10 players in the NBA at some point in his career. I think it’s safe to say he’ll be an All-Star at least once.
But probably several times more, too.