Victor Oladipo Is Not Kevin Durant And That’s OK

Ten days after arriving with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Victor Oladipo was thrust into a primary role with the departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors.

The complete Orlando MagicOklahoma City Thunder trade on draft night last June sent Serge Ibaka to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis.

It took another piece from that homegrown quartet of Durant, Russell Westbrook, Ibaka and James Harden that was the envy of the league four years earlier.

When Durant delivered the fatal blow, leaving only Westbrook, the future and direction of the Thunder franchise was in question. Since then, Westbrook, Oladipo and Steven Adams have all signed extensions to stay with Oklahoma City through at least 2017-18.

This season, predictions on the Thunder ranged anywhere from top-four playoff seed to lottery team. There was so much unknown with two franchise pillars departing in Durant and Ibaka.

The outcome has landed somewhere in the middle, with Oklahoma City currently at 30-22, among the four-team logjam with the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz within 2½ games of each other.

Oladipo has been a huge part of that as the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.1 points per game. He’s also supplying 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per contest on .444/.362/.720 shooting.

His 3-point shooting is at a career high and is second on the Thunder’s roster, attempting two or more 3-pointers per game.

Still, more than 4.6 of Oladipo’s 5.5 3-point attempts per game are considered either “open” or “wide open” and he’s converting only 37.6 of those attempts, per NBA Stats. He’s never been a plus shooter and his misses careen off the rim in all directions.

Yet his blemishes align with the rest of the Thunder roster (shooting) and blend well with their strengths (attacking the rim, rebounding, playing in transition).

Coming out of college, Oladipo was a highly touted defender with elite length, lateral quickness and athleticism for his position and size. He has yet to fulfill that potential, but floundering in Orlando for years amid numerous coaches and schemes can do that.

He’s shown flashes this season of that ability when locked in.

Oladipo has even more incentive to get in passing lanes and force turnovers with the human Ferrari in Westbrook and Andre Roberson not far behind running the break alongside him.

The Thunder generate the third-most transition possessions per game in the NBA, according to NBA Stats.

Despite his lower assist totals, he’s become a pretty good pick and roll player this season, ranking in the 66th percentile on 4.5 possessions per game, per NBA Stats.

It was impossible to expect Oladipo to fill the massive void Durant left in leaving for Oakland. As we’ve learned, playing with Russell Westbrook can be challenging, and finding your niche within that environment night to night.

Despite his shooting numbers being up, he’s been unable to affect the game in as many ways, with his win shares per 48 minutes down and value over replacement player average at a career-low.

The good news is that Oladipo does seem to enjoy playing with Westbrook and Adams and the rest of the Thunder, and within that trio they have a 28-and-younger triumvirate of talent locked up through next season.

Barring any change of heart from Westbrook, general manager Sam Presti and the front office feel confident in their decision to place their faith in that core.

Oladipo is a noted gym rat and still only 24 years old. His glisten wore off in Orlando after a couple of years, but in a new organization that potential may take full form, especially within an infrastructure as sturdy as Oklahoma City’s.

When you watch a Thunder game, Oladipo has a knack for making a spectacular defensive play, but then missing the layup to finish it off. Or to start a ball movement clinic within a possession and clank the 3-pointer to receive the payoff.

It seems like Oladipo’s distance from moving into that consideration of exceptional NBA player is just that far away, inches. The flashes of brilliance are as alluring as the caroms off the rim are frustrating.

In Oladipo, Westbrook has a lieutenant to go to war with, and though it hasn’t been perfect so far it seems to be trending in the right direction. At 24, he’s got plenty of time to grow, and improve on the pock marks that reside within his game. When he does, the Thunder will only benefit.

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