Over the final three games that the Oklahoma City Thunder played against the Houston Rockets in the 2016-17 postseason, Victor Oladipo never made it to the charity stripe — not even once — on 35 field goal attempts. On the season, he only attempted eight or more free throws in a single game twice.
Compare that mark to his first five games with the Pacers, in which he’s already managed to reach or surpass that benchmark three times. It’s early, but his unexpected turnaround in that particular category has ballooned his free throw rate (ratio of foul shots to field goal attempts) by more than double.
So, how did the 25-year-old speedster suddenly get foul calls to go his way?
Take a look back at Game 5 from that series with the Rockets. Though he went a cringe-inducing 4-of-17 from the field in that contest, Oladipo attempted four of those shots (to no avail) inside the restricted area, which was on par with his season average last season (4.0) and only slightly below it this season (5.2).
At issue, then, wasn’t so much that he wasn’t attacking the paint in the half court as it was how he was attacking it.
Check out this possession against Ryan Anderson, for instance. Acting as point guard, Oladipo gets the switch he wants using 1-4 pick-and-roll action. However, instead of blowing right past his defender or driving through his chest, he settles for a four-foot floater and actually contorts awkwardly away from the contact in order to get the shot off and comes up empty, anyway.
Thus far in this young season, he’s shown more flashes of veteran savvy. Below, as soon as he feels Pat Connaughton’s hand on his back, he rises up for the shot and draws the foul.
More than anything, though, his chiseled frame is accelerating as well as excelling in the open floor like never before and, currently, like no one else.
In fact, his 10 transition points per game lead the league, and only Giannis Antetokounmpo (6.7%) is turning the ball over less frequently than Oladipo (7.9%) when he gets out into space, among players with at least six transition possessions per contest.
Stacking him up against himself, he’s getting to the line on 18.4 percent of the transition possessions he uses as compared to 10.4 percent last season.
Here, with the added benefit of his svelte body transformation, he shifts into high gear and doesn’t slow down until he reaches his desired destination at the rim. Rather than an off-balanced missed shot, he earns two free throws.
Through five games, Indiana ranks ninth in the league in attempts at the line per 100 possessions and Oladipo is leading the charge. For context, they haven’t cracked the top ten since the 2012-13 season, when they were playing more inside-out with David West (4.3) and Tyler Hansbrough (3.7) earning the most free throw attempts per game.
Still, with the athletic guard continuing to resemble some sort of hybrid cross between a one-man wrecking crew and a blur, the potential for opponents to test the sustainability of his suddenly above-40 percent three shooting in an effort to keep him out of the paint and off the line looms large.
Of course, in order to force him to shoot threes, they’ll have to catch him first.