In second season, Oladipo showed signs of being star Magic envisioned
After two seasons with the Orlando Magic, Victor Oladipo has as much swagger as anyone on a team which has lost a total of 116 games during that time could possibly have.
The second overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft followed up a season in which he was runner-up in the voting for Rookie of the Year by leading the Magic in scoring in 31 of his 72 games and forming a solid working relationship with Elfrid Payton, the point guard who led all first-year players in assists.
"I’m finally starting to realize how good I can be and what my potential is," Oladipo said after the Magic wrapped up a season in which they went 25-57. "So I’m definitely going to keep working on getting better so I can exhaust my potential."
In his first year with the Magic, approximately 59 percent of Oladipo’s minutes were spent at point guard, where he seemed to be the heir apparent to Jameer Nelson. After they got Payton the night of the draft and released Nelson a few days later, the 6-foot-4 Oladipo wound up playing 60 percent of the time at shooting guard compared to only 29 percent at the point.
With Evan Fournier sidelined for the majority of the final seven weeks with an injury to his abdominal region, Oladipo would routinely play close to or more than 40 minutes a game for James Borrego, who took over as coach on an interim basis on Feb. 5 for Jacque Vaughn.
"It was a tough year," Oladipo said. "There have been a lot of ups, a lot of downs, a lot of changes. But we’ve got the talent to be good. We’ve got a lot of tools and attributes that can definitely help us get to where we need to be. But in order for that to happen, we’ve all got to get better."
Things didn’t start off in promising fashion for him. After spraining a ligament in his right knee at the start of training camp, Oladipo suffered a facial fracture in a practice toward the end of the preseason and had to miss the first nine regular-season games.
But after making his return by coming off the bench Nov. 14 in a win over Milwaukee, the only game in which he did not start the rest of the season took place Jan. 31 against Dallas. From Dec. 26 on, Oladipo scored in double figures in every game but one, a win at Minnesota on April 3 where he went 4-for-19.
He also made an impact in the slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend in February, finishing second to Timberwolves rookie Zach Lavine.
"We love star players," general manager Rob Hennigan said. "We believe we have some players on this team who can develop into star players."
With the Magic scheduled to pick fifth in the first round of the draft June 25, Oladipo is interested to see who they will add to the nucleus of himself, Payton, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon.
"We might make some additions, and hopefully they’ll come in and help us," Oladipo said. "But at the end of the day, I feel like the core group of guys we have here has just got to get better. If they do, if we do, I think we’ll be where we need to be.
"We’re going to push each other. It’s all about winning. Everybody has to get that mentality of doing whatever it takes to win. And if we lose, they’ve got to hate losing."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
Under Borrego, Oladipo played a team-high 38.5 minutes a game after the All-Star break — second in the NBA only to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins — and was one of seven players to average at least 20 points, four rebounds and four assists. He improved his scoring average from 13.8 points as a rookie to 17.9 points and lowered his total number of turnovers from 256 to 204. During a 14-game stretch from March 4 to April 1, he hit 63 of his 70 free throws.
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
"I’ve got to add a few things to my game," Oladipo said. "I think I’ve drawn a little attention from my peers in the league, so I definitely have to get better. If I want to help this team get to where it needs to be, I need to do that."
When it comes to shooting 3-pointers, his 33.9-percent rate of accuracy is only in the middle of the pack among all guards. And for someone whose game is largely predicated on driving to the basket, Oladipo needs to average more than 4.4 free-throw attempts a contest.
March 6 vs. Sacramento. Oladipo established a career high two nights earlier against the Phoenix Suns with 38 points but turned the ball over seven times in a 105-100 loss. Not only did he go 14-for-24 from the field and finish with 32 points as the Magic defeated the Kings, but he grabbed 10 rebounds, made five steals and committed only three turnovers.
15.9 player efficiency rating (based on 15.0 league average), 52.7 true shooting percentage (accounting for free throws and 3-pointers), 25.2 usage rate (possessions used per 40 minutes).
In October, the Magic picked up their option on his contract for the 2015-16 season. Oladipo, who turned 23 on May 4, will make almost $5.2 million next season and is clearly one of the pieces of the foundation they are building in the hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.