For certain NBA players, being told that they getting moved from the starting lineup to the bench is received as well as a string of personal insults about one’s family. For others, like the largely unselfish players who populate the Orlando Magic roster, such as Victor Oladipo, the lesser status is accepted in the name of helping the team win.
Oladipo started in 71 of the 72 games he played in last season, and also began this season by appearing in 12 straight. Over the last nine games, though, Oladipo has come off the bench, with Channing Frye appearing in the starting lineup. Not only are the Magic 6-3 over that time, but both players have seen improvements in their personal statistics:
Oladipo: Passing More, Scoring More
As the offensive leader of the second unit, Oladipo has been able to amass far more efficient scoring statistics than he did as a member of Orlando’s starting lineup, where he had to share the ball with high-usage players Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vucevic.
As Oladipo’s season splits from Basketball-Reference show, his Usage rate has gone from 22.0% to 28.1% once he made the move from starter to reserve. Even though he is playing fewer minutes per game than he was as a starter (27.5 compared to 32.2), his raw assists per game average has gone up (from 3.6 to 4.1), as has his scoring (12.8 to 15.6). A huge part of this is the increased frequency with which Oladipo is getting to the line: he had 24 total free throw attempts in 387 minutes as a starter this season, and he already has 39 free throw attempts in just 247 minutes as a reserve.
The most interesting statistic is the increase in Oladipo’s assists. His assist percentage has gone up from 17.4 as a starter to 25.0 as a reserve. Yes, he is now more often the best scorer on the floor, and presumably, the player other teams must worry about the most. But he is not a selfish player; he is ready to burn the opponent with the correct pass when help comes too hard. Here he is, essentially collapsing the entire Phoenix Suns lineup, and then beating it with a kick-out:
While the entire Magic team does need to work on its passing, Oladipo has made individual strides here very quickly.
Frye: Making the Starting Lineup Better
Since becoming a starter, Frye’s personal statistics have hardly improved. He was promoted to the starting lineup not because he’s a better player than Oladipo, but because his skill-set improves the strength of the rest of the starting lineup. According to lineup statistics by Basketball-Reference, in the 124+ minutes that Oladipo has played with the other four starters this season, that lineup has been outscored by 8.6 points. In the 149+ minutes that Frye has played with the other four starters, that lineup has outscored the opposition by 5.6 points per 100 possessions.
Take a look at this drive by Elfrid Payton, followed by the finish from Vucevic. It almost looks easy, and it only looks easy because Frye is occupying the energetic defender Kenneth Faried out by the 3-point line:
Frye is a role player, and Oladipo is an organizational cornerstone, but swapping their roles truly has helped maximize results from the entire team.