Not to disparage Mike Miller, J.J. Redick or Courtney Lee, but the Orlando Magic haven’t used a first-round draft pick on a truly tough, defensive-minded shooting guard since Nick Anderson.
On the eve of the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo could bring things full circle.
It’s easy to forget that Anderson, the Magic’s all-time leader in games played and steals, was thought of more as a small forward heading into his rookie season and had a virtually non-existent 3-point shot.
Although the 6-foot-4 Oladipo can slide over to the 3 spot in a pinch, he is first and foremost a shooting guard who led the Big Ten in field-goal percentage last season and connected on 44.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
But what sets him apart from Kansas’ Ben McLemore is his defense and relentless drive. Oladipo earned honors as the conference’s defensive player of the year, and he was also the only guard ranked among the top 50 players in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.
When the Magic finished second behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft lottery, little consideration was given to Oladipo possibly going that high. In the past month, some reports and mock drafts have him moving up and threatening to break the stranglehold that Nerlens Noel and McLemore were thought to once have on the first two selections.
“You’re looking at a guy that’s rapidly improved over three years,” ESPN college basketball and NBA draft analyst Fran Fraschilla told the Arizona Republic. “A ridiculous athlete, plays with high energy, high motor, low-maintenance guy, wants to be not just in the NBA, but wants to be an NBA player.”
He can impact the game on both ends of the floor. Oladipo has a 6-9 wingspan and a 42-inch leap that should prove valuable when he’s guarding players on the perimeter. The Miami Heat have shown how essential it is to get points off steals and turnovers, and he can do just that.
His athleticism appears to lend itself to an uptempo system where he can lead a fast break. To put it another way, he’s NBA-ready. And his work ethic and character are reflected in the strides he has made from someone who wasn’t recruited all that heavily and came to a program that had fallen on some lean times.
Some concerns remain about his ball-handling skills and the mechanics of his shot. He’s not as smooth as McLemore is. A statistic that leaps out in a negative sense is he had more turnovers than assists. For as much as Arron Afflalo struggled at times in his first season with the Magic, he had 206 assists and only 138 turnovers.
As good as Oladipo is defensively, he got into occasional foul trouble. That problem could be magnified when he’s matched up against bigger and more experienced shooting guards.
Why the Magic should draft him
He’s not a risky pick in that, unlike some players who were chosen second in the past (Darko Milicic, Hasheem Thabeet) or whose names are being tossed around now (Noel, Alex Len), there’s a body of work to judge him on rather than potential. The Magic ranked near the bottom of the NBA in steals, so Oladipo’s skills on defense would clearly address a need. He has shown a willingness to work to get better, and his level of motivation is unlikely to be diminished any after turning pro.
Why the Magic should avoid him
Despite the improvement Oladipo has made in his 3-point shot, he’s not someone who will stretch a defense like McLemore can. He would make a good pick later in the first round, but not where the Magic are selecting. Then again, this isn’t a draft where any prospects stand head and shoulders above everyone else. He could develop into a star, but for now, how much of an upgrade would he be over Afflalo? He’s still a work in progress.
Oladipo started in only five games as a freshman and made just eight 3-point field goals that season. His Indiana debut came against then-unknown Florida Gulf Coast.