The stars have aligned for Victor Oladipo to develop into becoming a star. He’s back in the place he calls home with a brick-sized chip on his shoulder. His frame is noticeably lighter, which has contributed to him setting his team’s pace while unlocking his game with transition baskets, and he’s making the most of greater opportunity playing beside a point guard who averages fewer than 70 touches as opposed to one racking up over 90-plus per game.
There’s no denying that all of that has contributed to the athletic guard making the proverbial leap, but it shouldn’t undercut the finer ways in which he’s propelled himself forward.
So, here’s four steps to recognizing that the new and improved Victor Oladipo is for real.
Step 1: When he attempted 8+ free throws against the Trail Blazers
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 game twice.
By comparison, he reached or surpassed that mark in each of his first two contests with the Pacers.
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 (5.3).
Consequently, his modestly improved free throw rate seems to have more to do with how he’s going about drawing contact than how often he is attacking the rim.
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.
Now, spot the difference this season against Portland. With the added benefit of his svelte body transformation, Oladipo 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.
Even when considered independently of the multitude of other areas in which he’s blossomed, scoring seven of his 17 points at the line in his second game with his new team seemed like an encouraging sign that he at least would be able to compensate for those wrongly expected swings in shooting efficiency that still haven’t come to stay.
Step 2: When Andre Roberson had to go under screens to keep him out of the paint
Revenge games have been very good to Victor Oladipo. In fact, he’s averaging 30 points on 17 field goal attempts in his three combined games against the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. However, in this particular contest, more eye-opening than his scoring prowess was the way in which Roberson, an All-Defensive Second Team member, conceded to guard him.
After struggling to stay in front on several possessions prior wherein the athletic guard put the turbo on en route to the rim, the Thunder’s most impactful on/off defender decided to hedge his bets on this dribble hand-off set by going under on the screen from Al Jefferson in order to contain Oladipo’s lightning quick penetration.
The only problem is that Roberson’s old teammate is making these shots, too.
Per Synergy, only Washington’s Bradley Beal (1.933) is scoring more points per possession (PPP) when defenders go under picks than Oladipo (1.786), minimum 14 possessions.
All of which suggests that elite defenders will have to continue to pick their poison against him.
Step 3: When he made multiple pull-up threes against the Pistons
Scarier still is that getting into paint will likely only become easier the more he sinks these threes off the dribble. On the season, Oladipo is shooting an absolutely absurd 49.2 percent on pull-up shots behind the arc, compared to 34.0 last season and 31.1 percent the season prior.
Here, Andre Drummond is basically in a no-win situation. If he hedges to try to force the speedy guard to dribble away from the basket, and if the weak side help defender doesn’t rotate, he risks getting beat off the dribble along with being too slow to recover to Sabonis rolling to the basket. However, because Detroit’s big man tried to dissuade Oladipo from pursuing the paint, he had just enough space to rise up and drill the shot.
Of course, it compounds the issue when he starts making these unassisted shots in transition even when contested. If opponents start to rush at him, he could easily blow by them and get to the rim.
As such, the development of his pull-up jumper is arguably the most important thing that the 25-year-old has added to his game.
Step 4: When he stopped on a dime and drained this smooth step-back jump shot
It’s important to take a step back and appreciate the ease by which Oladipo made this shot. Not only because it was his ninth shot in as many tries against the Magic, but because of how it perfectly showcases the control he now has of his athleticism as well as his ability to stop-and-go.
Please make special note that Oladipo has already made as many step-back jumpers this season as he made all of last season with the Thunder, and rest assured that none of them looked quite this effortlessly fluid.
As such, rather than fixating on the late blooming guard’s emergence from the shadow cast by the reigning MVP, it’s time to start crediting Victor Oladipo for what he has done to so rapidly realize the potential Kevin Pritchard saw in him.