Victor Oladipo’s performance in the 2017 NBA Africa Game earlier this month provided a unique window into what he could be capable of with the Indiana Pacers. Granted, comparing an overseas exhibition game to the rigors of possibly competing as his team’s top option requires painting with an incredibly broad brush, but that doesn’t mean those strokes are entirely void of meaning.
As Nathan laid out in his game recap, Team Africa’s dearth of scoring options on the wing put Oladipo in the position of needing to attempt 25 field goals in 37 minutes of action in order to keep his team within striking distance of Team World’s arguably more stacked roster. That reality has the potential to become a common trend for the rebuilding Pacers, especially if the offense grinds to a halt as was so often the case last season.
Alongside Russell Westbrook’s historic ball-dominance, Oladipo mostly had to shelve his isolation game in favor of forcing himself into the mold of a modern shooting guard, per The Ringer’s Haley O’Shaughnessy:
Here, as second fiddle to Russell Westbrook, Dipo had little choice but to try his hand at spot-up shooting. The former went on to claim a record-high usage rate, while his counterpart left the isolation game behind. In its place were the most catch-and-shoot attempts of Oladipo’s career. He attacked the rim less than ever, released the majority of his shots after two seconds or less of possession time, and used a greater percentage of his touches for 3-point attempts than Russ did.
Given that jokes about the potential for his usage rate to balloon were already being made at his introductory press conference, expect his role to reverse next season:
Pritchard: Victor has a unique perspective on basketball. I spent some time with him on the plane. You know...most executive and coaches know about usage rate, and he said that his usage rate should go up in the future. I was a little impressed and shocked by that. (laughs)
Oladipo: (wryly smiles)
Pritchard: So Nate, is his usage rate going up?
McMillan: No question. Absolutely.
Further corroborating the notion that the ball will find its way into the 25-year-old’s hands with more regularity is the fact that Darren Collison already has plenty of experience sharing point guard duties while Bojan Bogdanovic averaged fewer than two dribbles per touch in his primary role as stop-release for the Washington Wizards last season.
Of course, heightening his playmaking responsibility has the potential to become a double-edged sword. Only 29.4 percent of his shots came off three or more dribbles last season as compared to 40.4 percent during his final campaign in Orlando. Assuming that number is closer to the latter than the former with the Pacers, he’ll have more opportunities to score off the bounce. That will be to his team’s benefit, since he still needs to iron out his month-over-month inconsistency on catch and shoot three-pointers.
On the flip side, he only shot 38.5 percent when he got both of his feet into the paint (non-restricted) last season, a mark which placed him 37th among the 43 guards who attempted at least 100 field goals within that range. Unfortunately, feasting from the in-between area will be somewhat of a necessary evil until his shooting and decision-making can pull more even with his athleticism.
Per Synergy, he turned the ball over on 18.1 percent of his pick and roll plays during the 2015-16 season. That’s a worse figure than he notched last season (13.5%) on lower frequency.
Still, there are also some intangible factors to consider.
The pounds shed by DeMarcus Cousins drew most of the pregame attention a few weeks ago in South Africa, but the results of the athletic wing’s svelte body transformation were equally apparent. Obviously, each case is unique unto itself, but the noticeably elevated energy level of Skinny Kyle Lowry and Trim James Johnson provides modest reason to be encouraged by Oladipo’s chiseled frame.
As does the probable chip on his shoulder. It’s no secret that the Pacers were widely panned for what they accepted in exchange for Paul George. He knows it, and so do they. Therefore, it doesn’t seem particularly outlandish to believe that he’ll want to prove those critics wrong, or that his team will do whatever they can to make sure he does. (Remember, the Pacers urged Domantas Sabonis to skip representing Lithuania at EuroBasket later this month so he could prepare for the season.)
Coming back to the place he referred to as “home” probably won’t hurt, either.
"I'm a Hoosier,” Oladipo declared. “Living, breathing, anyway you can imagine, I'm a Hoosier. Representing the Pacers organization is a blessing."
So was visiting Africa and representing his Nigerian heritage. By the end of regulation in Johannesburg, Oladipo had racked up 28 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.
Characterized by high volume scoring (25 FGA), inconsistent three-point shooting (28.6%), and a low-assist to turnover ratio (1.25) as well as prolific rebounding for his position, the line’s inefficient qualities roughly seemed to foreshadow what could happen next season if he’s saddled with the responsibility of trying to keep his team afloat against stiffer competition.
Notably, the box score’s gaudiness along with its flaws are also reminiscent of former teammate Russell Westbrook’s playing style, albeit in a less competitive environment on a much smaller scale.
“I witnessed probably one of the greatest single-man seasons ever in NBA history,” Oladipo responded when asked if his offense was hindered last season. “So, that was good for me and my growth as well, and to be able to witness that and be there everyday and see how he works and see what he does and what he brings to the table was good for me...”
It could be, assuming he finds a way to support his team without doing too much. But, the student isn’t the unprecedented master. Russell Westbrook’s relentless one-man shows consistently carried the Thunder to wins. Tirelessly filling up the box score on low-efficiency in the absence of his teacher’s impervious response to multiple defenders probably won’t produce the same effect for the Pacers, especially not when it comes to the maturation of players like Glenn Robinson III and Myles Turner.
In that regard, more isn’t always more.